I’ve recently become obsessed with deliberately awful online writing.
By this I specifically mean copy that’s not really meant to be read by humans, only by Google’s search-engine algorithms. (The term in the trade is “SEO,” for “search engine optimization.”)
Texts are stuffed with “keywords” and boldfaced (or “strong”) phrases. The pages may have their own domain names, chosen to be close to whatever a search user is really looking for. Header tags and other “metadata,” unseen by the reader but seen by the search engine, are endlessly tweaked for optimum pickup.
These pages can be some of the least useful, least informative, and least readable stuff in the whole WWW.
This is particularly annoying when the pages deal with self-help and how-to topics (which is most of the time).
Partly that’s because a lot of it comes out of low-paying “content mill” operations, who outsource a lot of their work to Third World contractors of questionable English-language skills.
And partly it’s because the mills generally don’t give a darn about communicating any knowledge, only about gaming the system for a few bucks.
The business model is that you get your page ranked high in searches. Then you convert those page views into income, by pasting in either Google’s own “AdWords” slots or “affiliate ads” for Amazon and others that pay the site a sliver of any sales (or both).
The propagators and champions of SEO can be as annoyingly hype-laden as any other “web gurus.” They’re not only unapologetic for the formulaic blandness of their product, they’re proud of it. One guy known as “Webwordslinger” (real name: Paul Lalley) even boasts that…
Bill Shakespeare–you know, The Bard–would have made a terrible web writer. He never gave a thought to keyword density and didn’t even know what strong text was or how to use it in web writing.
If this kind of bad Web writing exists solely to make money, then it’s even more stunning to see examples that don’t even have the monetization part figured out.
A kind reader recently referred me to an extremely unofficial site promoting the Seattle Great Wheel, the Seattle waterfront’s new star attraction.
Only the site, “Pier57ferriswheel.com,” seems to have no affiliate links and definitely has no AdWords links.
What it does have is warmed-over text rewritten from other sites about the Great Wheel, and a little link at the bottom for the Wheel’s official page (or rather, for its official Facebook page).
Some critics would look at all the bad commercial copy online and claim proof that Americans (or at least Americans younger than themselves) have become a nation of illiterate boobs.
I have a different take.
I say that, instead, the written word has become more important than ever.
The written word is the lifeblood of commerce in the Internet Age. Far more than it was in the days when magazines and TV ruled marketing.
But too few of the bureaucrats and hotshot entrepreneurs in charge realize this.
They think they can throw up the cheapest trash they can get and just manipulate it into profits, by using ever-trickier shticks (including “article spinning” software!).
But it doesn’t work that way. Not in the long term.
Google-ranking is a fad. Heck, Google itself might turn out to be a fad.
To establish a “brand,” to sell stuff, or to simply stand out from the crowd, you’ve gotta take your text seriously.
It’s an art (or at least a craft), not a formula.
And it takes a professional to do it up right.
Someone, say, like me.