Search engine optimization (SEO)

2010-06-28

in Economics, Geek stuff, Internet matters, Writing

If you are trying to make money from a website, search engine optimization (SEO) is a matter of vital concern. An enormous amount of web traffic arises from somebody, somewhere in the world throwing a search query into Google or Bing or Yahoo (but really Google) and then picking from among the results that appear.

This is perhaps an unprecedented situation in human history, because now website developers have an overwhelming incentive to produce pages that appear high in the rankings of popular search engines, when people put popular queries into them. As a result, these website creators are no longer just producing content designed to appeal to human beings – it also needs to stand out as special to the mathematical algorithms that drive the world’s search engines.

For the most part, I would say this is a bad thing. Algorithms can deal with fantastically more data than a person ever could. Google crawls through an impossible number of blog posts every day. At the same time, people are much more clever when it comes to telling a good site from a bad site. They rely on cues that it is very hard to teach algorithms to respond to.

Certainly, the world is much better off as the result of the existence of powerful search engines. That said, I hope that SEO proves to be a dying industry in the long term, as search engines begin to more closely approximate the behaviours and reactions of real human beings. When that happens, web designers and content producers may start optimizing their work for its human consumers, rather than for the robots that are often the intermediary between humans with a desire for certain kinds of information and the humans who can actually provide it.

(Full disclosure: This site does earn money from advertising, but so far that has very much been a matter of paying the cost of web hosting. In terms of income per hour of work, I would be enormously better off working any minimum wage job.)

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. June 28, 2010 at 10:28 am

This is perhaps an unprecedented situation in human history

There are some partial historical precedents in traditional media.

For instance, authors don’t usually choose the titles or covers of their books. This is because publishers know they aren’t experts at crafting something that will sell.

SEO people play a similar role for content creators on the web today.

R.K. June 28, 2010 at 10:29 am

Pages with good SEO may also provide some benefits for users. They might have a clearer structure and better navigation, for instance. They might also be more accessible to users who employ assistive software, like reading machines for the blind.

Will S. February 1, 2013 at 12:13 am

“That said, I hope that SEO proves to be a dying industry in the long term, as search engines begin to more closely approximate the behaviours and reactions of real human beings.”

Real human beings are mostly bewildered by computers and at lost on the web

Search engines are mucvh smarter

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