Whenever you enter into a conversation about which skill is more important—writing for SEO or adhering to AP style—the debate always finds a way to take a volatile turn. Rather than discussing the merits and benefits of each skill, the conversation quickly dissolves into overly simplified and poorly constructed arguments. It becomes new school vs. old school. Writing like robots vs. writing like decrepit copy editors.
But why do so many people consider the two techniques mutually exclusive?
AP style was created to provide a comprehensible standard for writing in the print news medium which gave a diverse audience of readers a consistent experience.
SEO is ultimately about writing stories or copy that includes words that both machines and people will find easy to scan and understand.
If both AP style and SEO are designed to make content easier for the reader to access and comprehend, why is there so much fuss about which technique is more credible?
Much of the hostility is aimed at SEO and stems from a misunderstanding of how it should be appropriately used. To be fair, there are entire schools of thought devoted to exploiting SEO in order to capture the attention of Google’s algorithms so that your content reigns supreme. When used (or misused) in this way, SEO has a habit of creating awkward, difficult to read writing.
SEO, however, should never be used to determine the direction of your writing. Rather, it should be something that writers reference—like they do their AP Stylebook—in order to get the most out of their content.
The general fallback argument for naysayers is that good content shouldn’t need to rely on SEO. True. Well-written content can attract readers and thereby rise to the top of Google searches. But with the massive volume of content that is generated and indexed every day on search engines, your content better be pretty darn amazing if it’s going to cut through the clutter without any SEO help. If a tree writes a blog post in a forest, and no search engine is around to index it, does it get read?
In the end, AP style and SEO should not conflict with one another. Each was devised to make content easier for the reader to digest. When used correctly, the average reader shouldn’t even be able to tell if either was used.