Maybe I'm just having a bad day, but at the moment I'd like to smack a few geeky Google blokes around the head, break their designer glasses, stick their beardy heads down the loo and pull the chain a couple of times.

I'd shout 'Try being a little more HUMAN' at them in the process.

Search engine optimisation - making your website appeal to search engines* - is an ever-growing discipline that makes many people a lot of money. I'm surrounded by people who are slightly obsessed with it. And you can see why. Rank higher and you get more visitors to your website and by default that almost always leads to more bookings, more business.

But someone ought to remember it's people at the end of this process. Websites are for people not machines!

My heart sinks every time I see a super-optimised webpage stuffed with terms these days. Yes, if you ever wondered why that page on a hotel website keeps using the phrase 'golf hotel' or 'spa hotel' or whatever it's SEO. It's so that Google gets the message loud and clear that if someone is looking for a golf hotel, or spa hotel this is the place to come.

Because Google isn't really that great... its search engine algorithm is far from perfect. For Google to
work out what a page is about and rank it nice and high, keyword
repetition (and repetition of variations like say, 'spa hotels';
'hotels with spas' etc) has to be adopted. And that makes for dull, monotonous, android content that feels like it was written by a machine rather than a person... it's lifeless, moronic, soulless.

Search engines are killing the beauty of creative content... it is so SAD.

(*For search engine read: Google. Over 80% of searches are conducted using it)

PIC by Flickr user: cayusa

6 thoughts on “Search sucks the soul out of websites – and life

  1. As opposed to the adjective-strewn advertorial copy most print-based travel magazines have? I find both offensive. Its not that hard to write decent SEO - if they are talking about a "golf hotel" every paragraph they are doing it wrong - it only needs to be in the title, the start of the piece and the end.
    What annoys me is that you search for hotel and all you get is blank result pages from the big review sites - suggesting you add a review!

  2. Agree with Lis - it's just another thing writers have to juggle, and it's our job to find a decent balance*. SEO 'experts' who tell you to spam keywords are snake oil salesmen - I've worked with very good SEO guys who do understand the importance writing decent copy. It's quality copy that wins you inbound links, and those are easily as important as keywords to Big G.

    * Though it's a hard one to strike, so I do sympathise with you blowing off steam on it ;)

  3. Hi Jeremy,

    I write Web-based travel guides and features for findingDulcinea.com. We employ a team of writers and Internet researchers to seek out the best Web sites, which are often found far beyond the first or second page of Google search results. Although we also must be aware of SEO when writing our content, we understand your frustration with Google's algorithm, and that feeling of being ruled by machines. We just launched our own search engine called http://www.sweetsearch.com, which is powered by Google, but only searches from Web sites that we've approved for quality and credibility - Sweet Search is still a work in progress, but we're committed to providing human-powered results for our users. Hope you'll have a look.

  4. To paraphrase what Liz Sowerbutts and Nathan said, what's the big deal? Just use a descriptive page title and headline (say, "Doughnut Shops of Dallas") and save your clever phrases for throwaway subheads ("Luscious Lassos of Lard-Laden Dough for Longhorns"). That's no different from having to write a headline that fits a newspaper layout or a blurb for a magazine cover. Also, structure your content logically, just as you would if you were writing a book. If you're writing a six-page article about Widgetville, break it down into "Widgetville (introduction," "Widgetville sightseeing," "Widgetville hotels," "Widgetville restaurants," and "Widgetville transportation," and "Widgetville tourist information." That isn't sucking up to search engines; it's serving the needs of readers.

  5. Despite being somewhat old school when it comes to headlines (I'm a sucker for a great pun), I see nothing intrinsically wrong with good explanatory headlines and sub-headings.

    But, sooner or later, there will be a backlash against SEO-heavy web articles, and it can't come soon enough. There's nothing wrong with good, useful copy - what I hate is when I put in "horse riding" and "Queensland" and get two pages worth of booking engines. Sooner or later, people will start to cherish good, edited, discerning, independent copy. Or at least I hope so.

  6. Interesting debate!
    @ Lis: I know what you mean about some travel magazine content. But print still kicks online off the field when it comes to great writing. Wanderlust for example is a great travel magazine. There are great features in many UK newspapers at the weekends.
    - re SEO terms. I don't agree completely that it's an easy balance to strike as Durant and Lis suggest. It depends how competitive the terms are. My advice from an SEO specialist at iCrossing was that I needed to mention main term 3 times, secondary term twice, third level term once in 400 words of copy for a major brand hotel chain recently for really competive terms. It's doable, but you are so focussed on getting the terms in there, the reader gets pushed into second place behind the needs of the search engine.
    @ David - agree totally. I hope there will be a backlash - but I can't see how. One of the frustrations is that because google is so dominant we are pretty much stuck with it as the best solution... even when for some things it's not that good. So I don't see how a backlash can happen!?
    I think google is getting better now with universal search. So I tried searching for 'seville hotels'. A while back I'd have got a page of booking engines. Now I get a map of Seville with specific hotels and their proprietory websites pinpointed on it as my first entry. Nice. So I guess I need to avoid flushing the google bods too hard - they are clearly working on the problem. Having said that I tried the 'Barcelona hotels' and got a page load of booking engines. Wonder why it works with some destinations but not others?

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