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Has SEO ruined the web?

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I can't say I'm an expert on internet history other than having used it extensively over the past 15 years, but it's my opinion that SEO has almost ruined the internet.  Now, it may not just be SEO, but I'm using that word to represent all the things related to artificially promoting things so that they show up in web searches.  There's so much out there that is crap, and finding what you really need to find is next to impossible.  If I sound incoherent, it's because I am not the expert in the details of what has happened.

I was speaking to a friend of mine.  He wrote a couple of websites for the sole purpose to rank high in search engines using SEO.  He wrote about online education.  He knows nothing about online education, but he wrote articles about it, just to have some content.  The articles contain advice.  But they were written strategically using the right words and strategies to rank high in search engines.  The point is, the articles are useless.  This is everywhere in the internet.  Software download sites, review sites, blogs,...90% of them are beyond useless, they are often nonsensical.

It's almost the search engine has lost it's true value: to be able to find information.  Since there is so much crap when you search for something, and because the crap may very well be ranked high, that's all you will see.  The good stuff will be either lost in the mix, and often not there at all.  The only way to find good stuff is by word of mouth: someone like here on DC sending you the link of where to go.  So, the fundamental characteristic of the "search" engine has lost it's value.

I mean, I can't find anything anymore that is good and reliable without asking someone where to find it.  For example, recently I was searching for good weather software and the top country songs in 2009.  Using just the search engines, the results were frustratingly poor.  No good, intelligent, reliable matches.  Just things infested with ads and fake SEO articles that seem to be obviously written for the sole purpose of click revenue.  For the weather software, I had to rely on our forums here to find the answer.  And that's great, but the sad thing is that the search engines were a catastrophic failure.

It seems the only good I get from search engines is to find a match when I've already figured out 90% of what I need to know.  For example, let's say I want weather software, and I've heard Weather Watcher was good.  Well, I type "weather watcher" in the search just to find the exact address.  Well, all the search engine did was tell me the exact address i was looking for, I did most of the figuring out myself.  Now, if I searched from scratch for weather software, I would never in hours of searching come across the site for the program Meteo Fusion, which I ended up liking.  This is true for just about any search.

But, if I really think about it, that's the way the world works.  Eventually, word of mouth is the most reliable source of information, even before internet days.  If you were shopping for something, you could go to a mall and try to see what's good and what's not.  but it's better if someone tells you of a great store, that you would never find on your own because it's in the middle of a street somewhere.  So, that part is normal and not so surprising.  however, the internet has potential to be so much more, yet it is so not.  Thankfully, there are sites like Wikipedia, which have managed to remain very good all this time.  it's almost more useful than the search engines.

So, that's what I've been thinking about.  I feel like the true nature of the search engine is just about gone.  You can't search for anything and trust the results.  And it's not even close.  I'd be ok if you could trust even as little as 30% of the results you get.  But if you do a cold search for something, with no help from anyone else, you won't come close.

it may not just be SEO, but I'm using that word to represent all the things related to artificially promoting things so that they show up in web searches.
-superboyac (December 30, 2009, 01:44 PM)
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It's just normal human behaviour I'm afraid. People trying to take advantage of the situation to increase their personal profit, even if it is to someone else's disadvantage. That it what some advertising is all about too. If it fouls net search up completely, then people will stop using it and everyone will lose. Just using Google as an example, their problem is to deliver Searches that find what people are looking for, while still pulling in the advertising dollars. They know that there is only a certain number of ad related stuff people will find acceptable and try to stay within that limit and do their best to get rid of all the artificial SEO stuff as much as they can (after all, they make no money at all from this distortion). Targetting search results and ads on the basis of search histories is one idea of fine tuning this - giving people ads they might be interested in with the search results they want and still giving advertisers value (ie the ads going to people who might be interested in them) - but it does raise all the privacy issues that irritate a number of very vocal protestors.

Apart from different strategies like that, it will be a continual fight between the black masters of SEO and the Search Engines trying to stop them distorting their results.

The privacy issues are the least of my concern for now (that is, for the sake of this topic).  That's a whole other animal.  But I would argue that even google will not give you any important results for any given search that is started from scratch.  i guess my question is, is this result inevitable?  I think the answer is yes.  Like you say, it's just normal human behavior.  Can it be fixed or controlled?  Probably not, without ruining the freedom of the web that we love and are used to.

It's just shocking to me to sit back and realize that I will hardly ever find a reliable result whenever I go to search for something on the web.  It's shocking because that was the basic strength of google when it became popular.  Now that I think about it, even before google, it was the same.  The reason why google became so big is because their search results were so much more effective than the other ones.  The same was true back then, if you searched for something, you would end up with a ton of nonsense, porn, etc.

i don't think the ads offer anything good as far as finding results.  I understand that it must be done, and I have no problem with the business of it.  But I doubt that ads ever offer the thing that you are looking for.  At least from my experiences.

To continue with my example previously, of my friend writing online education articles.  The whole time I was reading it and thinking, "Geez, man.  You don't know squat about online education!  What the hell is this crap?"  but there it was:  several articles about online education.  The whole thing kind of made me sick a little, because I suddenly remembered all the searches I've done that led me to these nonsense sites that send you in circles with the information and lack any fundamental knowledge or information.

I noticed today when searching for the top country music songs of 2009, there were many, many sites that had a top 10 or 20 list...and they were all the same list and same commentaries, but totally different presentations and different websites.  because people make these websites, that suck the information out of one mediocre source and it gets spread to all these different SEO geared sites.  So this article is now "popular" even though it contains no real information.

By the way, and this is off topic slightly, but in another thread, mouser and tranglos talk about simple cms systems that will allow content to be created on a website without a blog configuration OR the unnecessarily complicated systems like Joomla or Drupal.  I'm really hoping that happens.  Just for my sake, so I can easily push my own good content to a website without having to force wordpress to do what I want.  I like Wordpress a lot, but only because it's the best option for what is out there currently.  Not because it is anywhere near the best way to do what I want.

I certainly share your concerns, though I have ironically been on the other side of things, wanting to try to promote a legitimate business and having to do clearly rather stupid things (from a baseline content standpoint) to try to improve rankings. We never wrote fraudulent articles, thank god, but we've added content or changed wording in ways we wouldn't necessarily have done otherwise. The thing is *some* of these things make sense, using synonyms which reference your product, service, or fundamental purpose to catch as many relevant searches as possible for example. But ideally even that would not necessarily be required. In a perfect world a search engine would find the most relevant content for a particular person's search all the time.

So the question is, how do we get there? Well I see two ultimate solutions, long-term. Either 1: Computers and algorithms get smarter and more human-like, so they can at least make better guesses as to what someone really wants (and even find likely spam and rate it down), or 2: Someone manages to leverage the collective power of actual people rating and reviewing actual content and search results, and turns it into meaningful advice for search accuracy. I think the latter is where things are leaning right now, and given the success of the aforementioned Wikipedia and virtually all things "crowd sourced", I think that makes sense. After all, nobody knows better than somebody what they specifically wanted when they searched, and if they find it they should say so, and if they don't they should say that too. It's harnessing that to meaningfully inform search, not just on a person-by-person basis, but globally, that is the trick. How do you take one person's opinion and extract the deeper intention and meaning behind it, then combine it usefully with other people's opinions? You can't just average it...

Anyway I feel like that's where Google is starting to go with its whole personal search system, and it just might work if they can figure out how to aggregate and analyze it effectively. If anyone can do it I reckon they can.

- Oshyan

Ironically, I think this was the attraction to my little "Great Software List" that lasted almost a decade. No ads, no agenda, I was just championing good software based on a few principles. But you'd be amazed -- AMAZED -- at the things some companies would do to convince me to add their software to the list. As for SEO pollution, the basic problem as you stated is that it drowns out "actual" results; that is, intended results. Just like news, if you can't find it, then maybe you'll give up and just pay for it.


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