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My Failure at SEO: A Writer's Confession about Internet Marketing: Or, Why You Probably Won't Find Me Easily Online

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My PR-savvy brother and all of the other entrepreneurs out there just shake their heads at me in disbelief. They think of me as a lost cause. Yes, she wrote some parenting books, in fact really well-written books to help anxious and pessimistic children, and of course she wants tons of people to know about those books, so they can bring relief to their kids, but why, oh why is she constantly doing everything in her power to get in her own way?

Mea culpa. I write books that are too long. I write books with titles that are too long. If your book title can't fit under your talking head on the Today Show, no wonder Meredith Vieira hasn't called!

Realizing I needed professional help, I sought advice from an expert. I wrote an email to a particular marketing guru asking him to explain to me why I would want to pay $1,000 to join a press release service that gives me up to 50 press releases a year. I'm a psychologist I say, I'm not sure that I do 50 things, or even 5 things a year that are remotely newsworthy.

His reply: "Newsworthy? Give it up!"

After I peel my ego and integrity off the floor, I read on.

"Unless you're Donald Trump or something, no one cares about your life. It's all about SEO."

SEO? I was a rookie in the whole marketing business, but after a few weeks, my PR neurons brainstormed for a second and suddenly the answer flashed in my mind. Eureka. SEO = search engine optimization. Google hits, Google hits, Google hits. It's a numbers game. The more information you put out on the web, the higher your Google ranking, and the higher up on search results your website appears. But it's more than just numbers; it's letters too. SEO is stealth, it's sleek; it's all about titles that are short, searchable and to the point. It doesn't cater to the clever book title or site name, it could care less about how erudite you are, in fact I think SEO points are automatically deducted from your score when you use words like erudite. It's the tech geek's revenge. They bury you.

You'd never think it would work this way, but these clever folks who built search engines did the darnedest thing. They programmed the system so that the more that people can actually find what they're looking for in your work -- the key words and phrases that quickly identify your topic -- the more they'll click to your site, and the more clicks, the higher you move up on the Google link food chain. Instant recognition and accessibility pay off? Go figure.

But that's not for me. Befitting my reigning title as the run-on sentence queen, so named by any of my editors and teachers before them, my book and article titles are afflicted with long-windedness -- they are interminable and even oblique. Shoot! Oblique and interminable? There goes another 10 points.

Blink, Tipping Point, Outliers, no, no, no, leave those succinct titles to Malcolm Gladwell, that's not my angle. In fact, I'd tell you the names of all my books, but space limitations don't allow. The thing is that finding the key words, or even on occasion the purpose of the articles I write, can be akin to doing an archeological dig.

For example, recently a kind parenting website owner gently suggested to me in an email, "Why don't you say 'Tics and Kids' first in the title, so that parents can actually grasp what your article is about and more easily find your useful suggestions." Didn't think of it, to me "Unvoluntary: Catch What you Can: Eight Strategies to Help Kids Manage Tics" was my solid instinct.

Or my latest article, "Disturbances in the Field." Come on, I bet you can guess where I was going with that. That was the perfect segue to the subtitle: "Eight Strategies for Parents to Raise A More Resilient Athlete." I couldn't help myself; I was an English major for two whole years of college. I clutched and rehearsed tragedy, reading and re-reading Lynne Sharon Schwartz' novel, Disturbances in the Field, during the first tender years of my marriage when life felt as precarious as the fine crystal wedding gifts which I washed and meticulously stacked in the drying rack, praying they wouldn't break. (I've been waiting to share that image for 24 years). Stick that into your search engine optimization and smoke it!

So this whole SEO debacle is yet another free parking for my identity crisis, which is my real problem. I want to be a creative writer and I want to help children, and for that, parents have to be able to find my books. But the yin and my yang of my life missions aren't able to find each other's locations yet to create that perfect circle of serenity -- that, I don't think I can blame on Google, but at this rate, if I did, who would ever know?

When I was working on my recent book about preventing depression in children, a best-selling author friend of mine said quite pointedly: "short titles sell -- call it 'Happy Kids'." Google hits for "Happy Kids": 126,000,000. What I called it instead: Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking (I'll spare you the subtitle: it's 11 more words) Google hits: 246,000. Oh well.

So while the PR gurus are wringing their hands trying to get this stuff through my thick head (not really, they moved on nano-seconds after they saw the non-sound-bite writing on the wall), I'm just sitting here trying to figure out how I can work a title from my all-time hero, Joan Didion, into my next article. Hmm maybe, Play It As It Lays? Darn! That would have worked great for the Raising Resilient Athletes piece. No worries, I'll figure it out and if you're interested, just set aside about 20 minutes to search Google for it, because, eventually, that's where you'll find me (thank you for that short story, Ann Beattie) -- buried deep in the hinterlands of cyberspace.