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Taking Your Brand Online as a New Author

The Daunting Expanse of the Digital Realm and Where to Begin

I am an SEO novice; like most millennials, I pick up new technological systems and interfaces pretty quickly -- we grew up in the age of the SIMS and Oregon Trail, when your AOL handle was as important (more) than your actual name. So digital landscapes are nothing to be wary of...for the most part. In my case, there seems to be a dissonance between the world of hard clicks and the invisible data swirl behind the search bar.

I imagine it’s the same bewilderment that sparks when someone first hears about “the cloud.” How could it not strike you as ominous, with no background knowledge of how it works, when everyone uses its name to simultaneously describe its function? “It’s know, the cloud.” A definition as wispy as the clouds above our heads.

This is the same feeling of apprehension that fills me when people use terms like SEO or Data Rankings. Fear of the unfamiliar, sparked completely from an inability to picture how they work. I’m never going to be able to hold a keyword in my hand and get a feel for how it functions. So in the absence of someone 3D printing me an interpretive how-to manual for the digital age, the time has come to get with it and join the rest of my generation in The Future.

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Google, the Begrudgingly Admitted Ruler of All Readers

Don’t let my totally graceful bow to the march of progress fool you; this exploration into the unfamiliar is motivated by completely self-serving intentions: basically, I write. But the point of writing (apparently) is for people to read your work. So how best do we get the content from my computer to your eyes? We start at the natural beginning: Google.

With a general search of “search engine optimization tips 2020,” we stumble on list after list of essential tips everyone should know, much of which make only the most theoretical sense to me. You want people to view your content -- please do try to make the content trigger the accepted algorithms to best direct searches to your site. But what stands out most to me is a quote from Growth Consultant and Advisor Eli Schwartz: “In 2020, the really smart SEOs will get up from their desks to talk to customers so they can find out what their audience really wants from them.” This gives me vital information:

  • SEO content is most effective when directed by someone who engages in it professionally and just generally knows exactly what they are doing.

  • And second, that person does not have to be me. And honestly, probably shouldn’t be me. Despite my protestations of ignorance above, and I do have natural limitations like everyone else, I also know that I have the intellectual capability to grasp, utilize, and master SEO marketing.

  • But this begs the question: do I have the time to adequately deliver on these tasks? It is after all my life on the line.

Consider Claudio E. Cabrera, deputy off-platform director for SEO at the New York Times, who says his days often start at 6:00am and end at 6:00pm, while still logging in at “weird hours” to monitor content performance.

I’m not claiming that my content is anywhere near comparable in quality and volume to that which is featured by the New York Times (no matter what I may say during Happy Hour), but the time commitment is still a major consideration for my small corner of short stories on the internet. The time spent successfully promoting the work is opportunity cost enough, but that’s really only the beginning of the exercise. Especially when these tools can, as Cabrera says, “inform us about what people care about most on a specific beat, both in the short term and the long term.”

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Choosing your Direction, Asking the Hard Questions, and Surrendering Control

Can I successfully post a blog article utilizing SEO tactics? Almost definitely. Can I then monitor my article’s traffic and interpret the data in a way that makes actionable sense to me? Make sure I’m posting at the right time, the right day of the week, in the right tone? ...Probably? But that’s already somebody’s full-time job. But sometimes you have to let the better driver take the wheel.

Having lived in the South and in multiple neighborhoods in and around Los Angeles, I’ve witnessed firsthand how culture, vernacular, and recreational interests can change not only from town to town, but sometimes from one end of a street to the next. While I want everyone to read my work (especially you, whoever you are), I particularly want to target the readers likely to enjoy it and continue to return.

Much of what I write being regionally-influenced fiction, an SEO group of Southeast Tennessee is my natural preference. Someone like the local Chattanooga marketing company Nosferdatum, whose vibe not only matches my Southern gothic literary overtones, but will also likely be staffed by people who know that when my neighbors type “coke” into a search engine, they generally mean “any carbonated beverage.”

And although the legend of the Chevy Nova failing to sell in Spanish-speaking countries because “no va” means “no go” is actually false, its lesson remains valuable: if you’re going to farm out your passion, your livelihood, or your hard-hitting internet jokes, you’d better be sure you’re giving it over to someone who knows your market.

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Putting Plans into Action while Juggling Real Life

Currently, I have a day job. I analyze data and provide financial interpretations. I enjoy the minutiae of the work, I like the company I work for, and have truly great coworkers.
But it’s not my passion.

My passion often starts with a narrative hook I come up with on a run or when driving in the rain; a quote or a phrase that floats across my consciousness and won’t leave me alone until I write it down. That’s the start, and it’s the closest thing to magic that I know.

From there comes plot (95% of the time, at least). I’m a freeform writer, not big on drafts or outlines, and while that sort of discipline is invaluable in my day job, and essential in research writing, something I also enjoy, it is the opposite of what I consider to be my primary artform.

Ipso facto, what I need is someone to handle the nuts and bolts of the operation, to keep my delicate, artistic processes from being offended. I truly wish that were a joke. In years past, longform fiction was often published first in segments in literary magazines and newspapers, a fragmentary method of consumption that in no way degraded the strength of the works.

Truman Capote famously published In Cold Blood in four parts in the The New Yorker while Alexandre Dumas’ revenge classic The Count of Monte Cristo was published serially before its compilation into a book.
So why not do the same? Digitally publish literary-quality work in serial installments on a no archive platform, with the eventual goal of compilation to a full-length, traditionally published novel. All you’d need is content worth reading and the modern age’s version of word-of-mouth.

That’s the dream, the passion, the someday day-job. I have no problem supplying the content in all its unrestrained color, and handing off the rest to a trusted local marketing team. Together, hopefully we can take me from hourly worker to full-time author and business owner. It’s 2020, the world is full of isolated corona quarantines, and no one knows what tomorrow may bring. I can’t think of a better time to make passion my day job. And somehow, mysteriously, it all starts with a keyword.

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