How do we discover what we want to read? By Roz Morris

According to a post on Problogger, my Undercover Soundtrack series might doom me to deepest obscurity because of new Google search algorithms.
In a post titled Why Blogs that allow Guest Posts Will BePenalised in 2013, Problogger explains that the term ‘guest’ and the use of multiple links are now likely to make Google bots condemn my content as spam. 
In the Undercover Soundtrack, I host writers who use music as part of their creative process (here’s a recent post that explains). It’s guests galore. 

Don't say 'guest'
Problogger says: ‘Stop using the words “guest post,” “guest blog” etc. Oh dear. What other noun do I use to introduce a post that’s not by me? ‘Guest’ is perfect. Like ‘said’ in dialogue, it does its job and doesn’t get in the way. Anything else is absurd.

Bad to link
And what of the other major SEO clanger, links? They’re not all bad, says Problogger, as there’s a difference between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ links. 
Here I’m puzzled. A sentient human can tell at a glance whether a link is useful, but how can an algorithm? My Undercover Soundtrack posts are full of links to Youtube - all part of the experience. How will Google guess they’re justified and essential?
(Perhaps as a warning of what happens when you worry too much about SEO and not enough about content, the Problogger post is full of typos. Or perhaps ‘mecognizsim’ is a word they’ve invented to stay out of a blue hole.)

Searching questions
Of course, we couldn’t function without search algorithms. But are some things, particularly the arts, unclassifiable? We try to teach machines how we browse and what makes a result helpful, but to do that we have to write the perfect wishlist. If I search for a book, I’ll type keywords. But there might be a book without them that is more perfectly what I want, only I didn’t know how to ask for it. And art works by surprising us, by taking us to places we can’t invent for ourselves.
This is where SEO fails. 

SEO certainly works for non-fiction. I’m careful about it with my Nail Your Novel blog (was that link allowed, Google?), because it seems entirely possible that a reader could find it with keywords. Even so, its real appeal is probably more a matter of unmeasurables such as personality. And I still think I get more readers from making connections on Twitter and Facebook. (Since I must be damned, I'm gonna link.)
Heart and art
The more the content is designed to speak to hearts and imaginations, the less it can be adequately sifted and served by the literal eye of a formula. A poet chooses a word because he likes its beat. A stranger reads it and finds himself beguiled. Neither of them can exhaustively define why, or how it should be bottled, labelled, number-crunched or tagged. It just is.
Google may not approve of The Undercover Soundtrack, but I’m gathering a bunch of human readers who do. They love to see authors unpeel about the process of creation, to see the writer in private, on their lonely, individual voyage to make a novel.  
Even better, it’s selling books. Increasingly, subscribers comment ‘I’m off to buy’, or tell me on Facebook how they’ve discovered several new authors through following the series. 

D.I.S.C.O (verability)
Savour that word: discovered. Discoverability is a holy grail for authors and publishers alike. How do I let you know I’ve written a book you might like? With non-fiction it’s relatively easy: tick the right boxes. Genre fiction too. But for the literary, extraordinary and less classifiable, we woo our readers on the gut level where algorithms don’t go.
Or can they?
How do you help readers discover your work? How do you find what you want to read? What impulse buy have you stumbled across online and how did you discover it? How accurately can we specify what we’re looking for until we find it? How will we teach our machines to help?
Let’s comment.
Thanks for the mountain pic Daveynin
Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. She blogs at Nail Your Novel  and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris. Her books are Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books And How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, available in print and on Kindle  She also has a novel, My Memories of a Future Life available on Kindle (US and UK) and also in print. You can also listen to or download a free audio of the first 4 chapters right here.


Dan Holloway said…
Very interesting. I have to say I think it will affect non-fiction writers more than fiction - the only things that have happened through my blog have been invitations to speak about things or take part in projects rather than people getting interested in my books (though that might have happened indirectly).

The links thing seems very strange - I use random links as part of my exhibitions sometimes, playing on readers' word associations. It's something that a lot of people I know are starting to do. It seems very strange if google are going to "punish" creative uses of technology.
Hi Dan! Yes, machines can't legislate for creativity - but it would be interesting if they could. That would be one awesome artificial intelligence. Tempted to put a link to Blade Runner.
Annecdotist said…
Thanks for this, it's good to know what the gods are up to, but as one very new to this blogging lark it can be quite overwhelming thinking of ways to bring people into my site as sometimes I'm quite certain I'm talking to myself and did think a guest blog might be part of the solution. What to call it now? Back to the thesaurus.
Annecdotist (great name) - I found Twitter and Facebook really helped build my readership. Good luck and enjoy the blogging!
Lydia Bennet said…
hm Interesting! now trying to think of another word for guest in this context. it's perfect for the context so it's not easy to replace. 'Visitor' describes people who click and read. 'Visiting blogger' perhaps though it's clumsy. Perhaps a whole new expression but then people have to know what it means - 'drop-in blogger/poster'? Here's Roget on 'guest': bedfellow, boarder, caller, client, companion, company, customer, ephemera, frequenter, habitué, inmate, lodger, mate, out-of-towner, partaker, patron, recipient, renter, roomer, sharer, sojourner, tenant, transient, vacationer, visitant, visitor. Any ideas there?!
julia jones said…
We're so lucky to have posts like this - readable, important, up-to-the-minute and ahead of the game but ... what is SEO please, miss?
Lydia - I rather like 'sojourner'. 'My sojourner this week...'
Julia - my bad, should have explained. SEO is Search Engine Optimisation. It helps make a website more visible to people using search engines - ie on the first pages of search results. Wiki explanation here -
Jan Needle said…
Please Miss, what does 'my bad' mean in English? Only joking...

Fascinating stuff, thanks.
julia jones said…
Ah ha - well that'll do my street cred good when dropped casually in conversation. Need this stuff to impress the younger generation (No, jan I don't mean 'my bad' already using that every half hour or so)
Seriously Ros, you and John Logan and probably others as well seem to be able to make the internet sit up and beg. It's awesome!
Bill Kirton said…
Every revelation such as this scares me a little more. I use all this technology but have no idea how it all works. It does, though, seem perverse of Google to be messing so comprehensively on its own doorstep.

But,Jan, I'm more at home with modern colloquialisms so may I suggest you'd probably understand 'my bad' more easily if it were contextualised, e.g. Cor lummee, guv, my bad leg ain't arf givin me gip and no mistake.
Anonymous said…
What about 'chez moi?' It covers both the guest and the site. If Goggle is going to get aggressive we just have to be smarter than an algorithm

Apropos search words: The argument was kinda clinched this week when I asked a reader who 'was engrossed' in my book why, and apologised by explaining that I had 'no idea who my readers might be' (cardinal sin No1)_ and she replied 'They will have no idea either until they find this book' In short no search would be instigated to which my book would be the answer!

Please Miss , can I forget all about SEO now?
Jan - Don't say it if it will make you sound like Prince Charles at a disco. I don't think I could get away with it verbally. I'm terrible at using slang face to face.
Bill - lawks-a-mussy, I was thinking more of Buffy :) (modern symbol indicating a smile)
Philippa - I have the same problem as you! Who will like my fiction? How will I narrow that down to target it meaningfully? Glad you're getting good feedback. Write another.
This comment has been removed by the author.
SEO is fascinating, but I reckon price comes into discoverability...
Just did an analysis of the top 20 books on the paid Kindle list, and most are on offer at 20p. Hardly any cost more than £1.
Mark said…

What's your understanding of SEO?

I ask because I looked at your Metadata and it could be tweaked a lot.

Don't think I'm being harsh but most people don't know what to include much less what to exclude -- in case you're wondering, yes you can spam a search engine.

That said it's been some time since I caught up on the latest SEO practices - think I'll look into that this week.
Katherine - unpalatable though that is, it's undoubtedly true.
Mark - do expand, and thank you for pointing it out. Do you mean the metadata on this post or on the blogs I linked to? Or in some other magical file I didn't know about?
And BTW, who are you? I clicked on your name and found only the scantiest info... Are you keeping metadatally incognito...? :)
glitter noir said…
Philippareees has already said, and said well, what I might have added: about the need for strategies smarter than the algorithms. Anything that avoids the lovely word made toxic, guest, should do the trick. This week's drive-by musicologist? Music lovin' writer of the week? :)
Unknown said…
Just to add my two cents worth (two pee to you Brits), how about 'couch crasher' for guest blogger? Great term if you don't want them outstaying their welcome. Although 'busker' might be better for Undercover Soundtrack.

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