As an editor with the Writer's Market Books for more than a decade, it's my job to keep tabs on how thousands of publications are evolving. However, I admit there are a few that mean more to me than the rest. After all, I'm also a fiction writer and poet under my editor suit. And one publication I've been following for the past few years is The Atlantic.
When I was in the writing program at the University of Cincinnati, most of my fellow writers (and professors, for that matter) focused on getting published in one publication: The New Yorker. However, I've never been too interested in The New Yorker. No, my aim was always focused on The Atlantic Monthly and Harpers.
So I was saddened years ago to see how much The Atlantic was struggling and that it's future really was hanging in the balance after decades of unprofitability. In fact, the publication seemed to be heaving a hail mary pass by trying (a then innovative) digital first strategy that included taking down its pay wall.
Miraculously, the gamble payed off. The Atlantic has gone from a red ink enterprise to a very profitable company with a mixture of offerings, including print, digital, and events. And now, the publication is striking again by openly stating that The Atlantic has turned their backs on SEO.
Scott Havens, SVP of Finance and Digital Operations at The Atlantic explains, "Truly [our writers] are not really thinking about SEO anymore. Now it's about how we can spin a story so that it goes viral." Then, he goes on to add that they're more concerned with amazing content than meta-data and boring (SEO-enabled) headlines.
If Not SEO, Then What?
The Atlantic has not abandoned SEO for nothing. Instead, they are focused on sharing content that has good odds of being shared by those who read it. Or in other words, content that is written to "go viral."
Another way to look at The Atlantic's shift in strategy is that they're choosing social over search. With Google changing its algorithms regularly, including a shift to a more social-centric search, this new shift in methodology seems to make sense on the surface. But no SEO at all?
This or That
Maybe the article was an oversimplification and The Atlantic is still paying attention to SEO--just not letting it dictate content. Or maybe they've really abandoned SEO altogether and are relying on social media to pick up the slack. Maybe the future of digital is that writers and companies have to choose this or that. But I'm not buying it yet.
I've seen first hand on this blog the power of social and the power of search. Call me crazy, but I think a writer can learn and understand the concepts of SEO and apply those principles to amazing content. If changing a word in the headline from "great" to "best" means the difference between showing up in 100 searches a month or 1,000 searches a month, then I think that's worth knowing and using.
At the same time, I think content should always lead the way, because that's what people care about--and it is what people share. As Bob Cohn, the editor of The Atlantic Digital, says, "We're not writing for machines. We're writing for humans."
Here's a great book on writing for social media!
Popcorn Content: The craft of writing short-form content for social media
by Nick Usborne
I've been a fan of Nick's writing ever since I read Net Words about a decade ago when I first getting my bearings online. For instance, I subscribe to his Excess Voice newsletter, and you should too. It's free. Anyway, Popcorn Content shares Nick's professional insights into making social media have the most impact with the least amount of investment--so that we can be social and get away from the computer, smart phone, tablet, etc., from time to time.
Read Nick Usborne's Popcorn Content today!
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