Is Search Engine Optimization Useful Anymore?

Can the internet go back to a time where we write for people instead of machines?

June 30, 2021

If you were to go back 100 years and tell people back then that in the future people would be writing things for machines to read, how do you think they would react? Surely they'd think you were crazy, they'd wonder how that would even work, or what you even meant, would people have to insert paper into various machines to get them to work? You'd probably be met with similar confusion if you were to talk to someone from 50 years ago, they might think you were talking about computer code, but that wouldn't be what you meant at all. If you went back 25 years and told them that they'd probably have a better time comprehending people writing plain English like you are reading now also being written for computers but they'd probably still think it would be quite strange, but by then it had probably already started.

Once search engines actually became effective search engine optimization (SEO) became the best way for people to have their websites discovered, to this day search engine optimization has great potential, but it also has downsides. Have you ever noticed that every news article from just about every news source sounds the same? Sure some of them might have a slightly different political spin, but they are all mostly bland and uninspired. I'd be willing to bet that if you read articles from three different news sources reporting on the same mild and uncontroversial story you'd probably have a hard time spotting the difference between the three. Of course this should be the case if everyone has the same facts to report and I'm sure that things like the Murray Gell-Mann amnesia effect have a role in that as well, but the biggest reason that all these articles sound the same is because we are not their target audience, we haven't been for some time, Google is.

Search engine optimization consists of adding a series of key-words into various tags throughout your HTML document, but also throughout your actual content. Let's say I wanted to write about something like the Dilbert Principle, if I were trying to get to the top of the search results for anyone who would be looking for that sort of an article I'd probably need to use the term "Dilbert Principle" multiple times per paragraph, but not only that I'd probably also want it to show up when people search for things similar to the Dilbert Principle. I'd probably want to use the term "Perter Principle" several times and I'd probably have to name drop Scott Adams more times than may actually be necessary to get the point across, and it may also even be a good idea to throw around the term "newspaper comic strip" a few times to try to catch people just searching for Dilbert and this is where things start to get out of hand because the Dilbert Principle has nothing to do with comics other than its name. When you focus on search engine optimization you find yourself caring more about what a computer thinks about your work than about how enjoyable it will be for humans to read. I'm positive that my article on the Dilbert Principle would have been worse had I done this.

It also makes things much more boring to write, the main reason that I have this site is because I enjoy writing and I happen to be naturally good at it. A number of years before starting this site I thought it would be a good idea to harness those things on a sort of freelancing site. It wasn't one like Fiver where I would have been hired directly by clients who I could get requirements from, rather it was a site where people order an article or a description on something and the site puts up the available jobs up for whatever poor soul would take them. I'd often see jobs requesting 250 word pieces where you'd have to use one term ten times and another three terms five times each, these of course would be relatively easy jobs but you also had to factor in the fact that you don't get paid if the client doesn't think the writing is good, but of course every one should know that no piece of writing will be any good if 10% of it is spent on the same four words and the other 90% is spent trying to fit them in. I never took a job on one of these sites because it is simply not worth $2 for me to write garbage like that.

But even if you managed to write something that is somewhat enjoyable to read and search engine optimized, you'd also have to consider the chance of your optimizations even paying off. Lets say you write about some sort of news like the Ford F150 Lightning or Windows 11, when things like these come around there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of other people writing about these same things. Let's be conservative and say that there are 1000 articles on the internet with the same subject as the article you want to promote. Google reports that only about 1% of users venture to the second page of the search results so in order for you to be found you'll have to be put on the first page. How many links get put on the first page, like ten? So if all 1000 of you had equally as good SEO work done there would only be a 1% chance of your optimizations actually paying off. This of course is ignoring all other factors, we all know that Google prefers certain sites over others, unless I am literally the only person ever to talk about something there is no way they will put something from my random .xyz domain that virtually no one has heard of on the first page, for a site like mine search engine optimization is a waste of time.

Now of course if I'm not concerned about search engine optimization how am I supposed to grow my audience? Social media is of course one way to do that, but you know my opinion on that, and even if I had a more favorable view of social media I wouldn't want to be a self shill there because I wouldn't want everyone to cringe when seeing my posts. When it comes to growing my audience I'm not really doing anything because I didn't start this site to make money, I had probably put 80 posts up here before I ever set up a donation link and it was only a couple weeks ago that I started accepting monero. I started this site instead as a creative outlet and to anyone looking into starting a site similar to this that is what your main intention should be as well, this site definitely isn't paying any bills. Of course when I do start a site whose purpose is to make money I will approach it with a much different strategy.

Frankly I get a bit surprised when people do manage to find me, I do do a bit to put myself out there benefited me a bit, and a good portion of my site is indexed on then I occasionally throw a link out on a comment somewhere on the internet. I guess I was also invited to join a webring but I'm not quite ready for that yet.

Anyways I'm starting to veer too far off topic. There are several pieces of science fiction that depict a future where humans are ruled my machines, we are living in that future. The videos we watch are suggested to us by a machine, the posts we see on social media are served to us by a machine, the articles we read are selected my a machine. A good friend of mine has managed to become mildly famous on TickTock to the point were he is getting money from it, his fame was gained through a bit of hard work but it was ultimately given to him by a machine that could have chosen to ignore him.

This is not the future that I signed up for. I really think that people should shift away from the practice of search engine optimization and seek to become more of a hidden gem rather than just another pebble at the top of the pile. We should work to entertain and provide value to people and then convince machines how to recognize what we see as quality rather than working to please a machine and trying to convince people that our work is worthwhile, because if we work to please machines it won't be long before our job is taken by one, but if we know how to make things that other people truly find valuable then there will be no way to replace us.