Optimizing for the machine

Posted on Apr 1, 2021 in trends

If you’ve been involved making the interwebs, then you’ve dealt with SEO. In yee olden days it was mostly about linking strategies and just making sure your keywords were present. As the search engines Google got more sophisticated, so too did the strategies to elevate search position.

And I’m just going to say it. It’s gotten stupid. You can tell when people are writing for SEO, and it sucks.

For a long time I naively thought they must all just be bad writers, but no (I mean, maybe, who knows?) it’s because they aren’t writing for you or me, they’re writing for a machine, and what the machine wants and will reward—or at least what we think it will reward—is circular, repetitive, passive, writing. Flabby dross, in other words. There might even be smart thinking under all that, but the prose isn’t well-crafted. 

The first time it really hit me in the face what was happening, was in an article on, of all things, writing. I was looking for advice on how to tackle a story development question, and this post was one of the top results. As I was reading, I noticed the author—allegedly an expert on the craft of writing—kept saying the same thing a few different ways without really adding anything new or even shading the nuance of his argument. And that’s when I realized this person was creating content specifically to capture search position, not to add value for his or her readers. And once I saw it, I realized it’s everywhere. And it’s bad. 

When we create for the convenience of an algorithm, instead of to express ideas, persuade, or even create value for a human reader, we cheapen the craft and devalue the work. 

So, what’s the solution? No idea. Ideally we’d all just write like people again and the algorithm would adjust. But as soon as someone starts gaming it, well, it’s right back to the race to the bottom.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you came to my site for reasons other than search, because I’m only willing to give a little to feed the machine and my SEO scores are not awesome. And that’s okay. I’d rather write for you than it. 

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