Purple Prose and Link Building

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Purple prose is a lovely name given to the style of writing that tends to be so extravagantly worded that you really have very little idea of what’s actually being said. I, myself, am very, very guilty of writing in this manner. I have The Smiths, Wuthering Heights, and a tendency towards pretentiousness to blame for it, too.

I bring up this idea in relation to link building because it’s actually quite relevant in three major ways.

1. Emails for link requests

Now, I occasionally need to reread an email of mine for various reasons, and when I do, I’m sometimes shocked (and usually a bit mortified) by how wordy I can be when I try to explain something. The problem that I have is that that’s just the way I see things. Nothing is simple or black and white for me…it’s all tinged and colored, just like my sentences. I think that connotations are every bit as important as denotations in describing something, and there are many times in which I think I’ve been perfectly clear, and not a single person gets my true meaning. That’s a serious failure on my part.

With regards to emailing a potential link host, it’s obviously critical that you don’t spend ages crafting some flowery email that needs to be read and read again just to get the point. Webmasters don’t have time to read loads of nonsense. They want to know why you’re bothering them, so if you want to get a link, say so. I know that there are loads of people out there who will tell you not to do this right upfront, but I’ve found that most successful emailed link requests do get to the point pretty quickly. You may luck up, write to a very bored blogger, be able to exchange dozens of overwritten emails, then, weeks later, nicely ask for a link, and be lucky enough to get it. However, these occasions are very rare, so don’t bother people with loads of crap about how great their website about roach control devices is. Tell them you would love a link, tell them why they should link, and make the deal in your fashion. I’m not suggesting that an email of “hey can I get a link? I’ll send you a 10 spot. Let me know when it’s up” is the way to go about this, but certainly there’s a happy medium to be found.

2. Writing content to generate links

This one is tricky for me because I actually really enjoy reading purple prose. All the suffering, the cliches, the overwrought expressions! That stuff was made for people like me. One main problem of writing in this style is that in the attempt to convey meaning through turns of phrase, you can very easily not actually use the damned keywords that you want to promote through your content. Metaphors and similes might not give you top 10 rankings. Obviously people can link to you with nice, proper keywords, but it DOES help if those keywords are in the actual content itself.

Another issue is that some people might not understand your intent and meaning. As much as I don’t want to insult the general public, today’s chaotic culture isn’t exactly conducive to long attention spans where people have time to soak up your words. They aren’t relaxing in the bath with a well-thumbed copy of your content. They want to read it (or skim it) and get something out of it. If 95% of your content is extraneous bullshit, it’s not skimmable. If it can’t be understood easily in a few minutes, it’s not going to get passed around, and it’s not going to generate very many links.

3. Retweets on Twitter

Since retweets are the main way in which links are shared on Twitter, and Twitter is, well, fairly popular right now, it’s crucial that you don’t get all adverby on everyone. With 140 characters in which you grab someone’s attention, you want action words. You want something succinct or you may never get the chance to have all that brilliant content read. In the spirit of Twitter, I’m keeping this explanation short and to the point.

So I’m trying to embark upon a quest to be more succinct, using the following guidelines:

1. Keep it short. Since it’s more difficult to read on the computer screen than it is to read something on paper (you damned Kindle readers!), keep it short. I know that this has gotten much, much better over the past few years, but still, it’s more difficult to read online and thus you shouldn’t go on at length for 3 pages about something.

2. Illuminate action words. These are your keywords, and they should be easily seen with a quick scan of the content. I don’t mean that you need to actually embolden them…just put them in the right places so that a reader can skim the content very quickly and ascertain its meaning.

3. Share the pain. By that, I mean let someone else read what you’ve written, and see if he or she gets the same points that you intended to make. I know what I’m trying to say, but not everyone else can figure it out due to the convoluted way in which I speak and write. If you let someone read your email or content and the meaning isn’t clear, redo it until it is. Don’t expect that everyone knows what you mean.

4. Don’t overuse metaphors and similes. I am horrible about this, as I find nothing more entertaining than mixed metaphors, but really, most people are better off not having to read them and eye-roll like they’re auditioning for a silent film. And yes, I see the irony there, thanks.

5. Be forthright. No one likes it when you’re coy, trust me. If you want something, say it, don’t dance around the point. We’re all too busy.

In conclusion, when you see posts about how to write good headlines, for example, take the time to read them and learn from them. The same applies for anything designed to help you make your point and make it quickly. Life’s too short for people to spend much time on something when we’re in information overload on the web.

Julie Joyce owns the link development agency Link Fish Media, is one of SEO Chicks, and contributes to Search Engine Land and Search Marketing Gurus.

Julie Joyce
Julie Joyce owns the link development agency Link Fish Media, is one of SEO Chicks, and contributes to Search Engine Land and Search Marketing Gurus.
Julie Joyce

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  • http://adventureseason.com/ Adventure Season

    Woow never thought of this name 🙂 it is simply beautiful to call this kind of writing “Purple prose” 😀 Very funny. Not sure that I actually write “purpel prose”, but mostly just write, because the words are in my head 😀

  • http://www.ebooksetcetera.com Michael L. Brown

    Hi Julie,

    Great post! You are absolutely correct! All too often we get carried away with literary visions of grandeur. That’s fine in its own right, but yeah, we need to nip it, nip it in the bud and get to the point! Thanks again for a maybe not too gentle reminder and keep ’em coming!

  • http://www.chameleon-copywriter.com Chameleon Copywriter

    Completely agree with you. People should stop sending email that never gets the point. Everything would be easier if we all were a little bit more direct and not afraid of ask, even talking about a backlink. Nice post.

  • http://www.linkfishmedia.com Julie Joyce

    Thanks to both of you for making it to the end…

  • Winooski

    Hear, hear. (How’s THAT for short and supportive?)

  • http://www.linkfishmedia.com Julie Joyce

    Thank you, Winooski. Now, if you could just shorten that name a bit…

  • Phil

    I think I just fell in love with a stranger on the Internet…

    I’ll be direct, want to swap links 😉


    p.s. As a Smiths fan, how perfect is SEOmoz?

    p.p.s. (avatar in mind) “I’ve seen you smile but never really heard you laugh…”

    • http://www.linkfishmedia.com Julie Joyce


      OK yes, SEOMoz is pretty perfect for a Smiths fan. Also, send me your email and I’ll record myself cackling like a loon for you. It can be like when Carl Kasell records the message on people’s answering machine.

  • http://thewritingplace.wordpress.com/ Carol Benedict

    Thanks for the helpful tips. I discovered your site while researching a post on purple prose for my writing-related blog, and have added a link to this post on my “Helpful Links” page. Hope you don’t mind. 🙂

    That picture is actually what enticed me to read your article. Is there any way to use pictures to optimize search engine results? (I obviously don’t know much about search engines, so if that’s a dumb question, feel free to ignore it. I love photography and just wonder if there is some way to use it effectively on my blog.)

  • http://www.thedanceshack.co.uk Dance Shack

    Hi Julie,
    Nice aritcle and thanks for the tips. I really need to get into Twitter more though and practise those points you listed.

    @Carol, Yeah there are ways to optimise pictures, especially so they end up in Google Image search and that could lead to more pointers and traffic to your site. The main ones are using the alt and title tags which give good description of the image being as search engines can’t ‘see’ pictures. One article that really helped me was http://www.pearsonified.com/2007/01/get_53_percent_more_searches_with_one_tweak.php
    its old but it still makes lots of sense. Hope this was wat you were asking for.


  • http://www.seolinkin.com SEO Link In

    Great article! These are great strategies to use in any link building campaign. Having quality content is key when you’re using the content in or your link building strategies. If the content is not quality it will give a bad rep to the site being represented and deter potential customers. Thanks for sharing!