I’m sorry to inform you, dear reader, that you, like me, are being suffocated by “content”. Content Creators have brought us listicle after listicle to answer the truly important questions, like, what Disney Princess I am and what the Top 10 Kitchen Scales are for 2021. I am a person who does not believe that we need all of this content, nor do I believe that any of us want to write it. The SEO gold rush to the top of Google’s rankings is doing nothing but stifling the creativity of writers who feel they need to optimize the amount of SEO-approved keywords, resulting in nothing but an ocean of simulacra — producing a copy of a copy of a copy.
Having More Choices Make us Unhappy.
An article written by Barry Schwartz talks about the phenomenon where when we as people are faced with too many choices, it has a profound effect on our psychology. Schwartz writes:
“Lyle Brenner of the University of Florida and his collaborators demonstrated the effects of opportunity costs when they had subjects put a dollar value on subscriptions to magazines or flights from San Francisco. Some attached prices to a single magazine subscription or a single destination. Others attached prices to the same magazine or destination when it was part of a group containing three others. Prices were consistently lower when a given alternative was evaluated as part of a group than when it was evaluated in isolation.”
The phenomenon discussed above is that the more choices there are to choose from, the lower the choices’ total value becomes. Since we can select only one, we are forced into a binary evaluation where there is a winning choice, and the rest are considered losers. But there isn’t much hope for even the winner in this situation, as Schwartz writes:
“Why might this be so? When you assign a value to, say, Newsweek, as part of a group that also contains People and Us, your tendency will be to compare the magazines. Each comparison that Newsweek wins will be a gain, but each comparison that it loses will be a loss, an opportunity cost. But we know from the research of Nobelist psychologist Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University and his late colleague Amos Tversky of Stanford that losses (in this case, opportunity costs) have a much greater psychological impact than gains. Losses make us hurt more than gains make us feel good.”
The benefit of winning is only marginal to the risk of losing in this situation.
As time goes on, our satisfaction with our initial choice turns sour, and our “regret about what [we] did not choose and disappointment with what [we] did, even if [our] decision was not bad.” This sociological phenomenon contributes to the 24-hour news cycle and why you can’t stop yourself from scrolling social media for hours on end.
Search engines create positive feedback loops.
What is a feedback loop? An information system as vast as the internet still relies on two essential variables input (content creators) and output (clicks). This system is a time-dependent system because its inputs and outputs are dependent on one another. For example, “the amount of money I have today will (through interest) affect the amount I have tomorrow.” The output of the system is fed back into the input, thus causing a feedback loop.
When someone creates something unique that people enjoy, it can become wildly popular and generate a lot of clicks. This will get the attention of others that wished they had something popular that generated clicks, so they decide to copy the initial thing causing a positive feedback loop (a process that occurs in a feedback loop that exacerbates the effects of a small disturbance.) Reliable systems always work to return to equilibrium. The disturbance mentioned above would be when an inordinate amount of people want to view one thing (when something becomes viral). This social phenomenon has already been noted in other contexts. It’s called the Matthew effect “Social influence often induces a rich-get-richer phenomenon where popular products tend to become even more popular.” This positive feedback loop generates endless articles, all parodying the top ranking result, causing an unending and banal self-referentiality loop.
Churning out SEO optimized content to reach the top of search pages results in a bland and vapid internet.
Peter Hershberg responding to the question “Has SEO/PPc ruined google” on Quora perfectly answers the question. SEO itself is not wrong it is how SEO is used, and there is one potential problem with it, that is, with its treatment of language. Such treatment is perfectly summarized in Peter’s words when he talks about the use of SEO optimized keywords;
“Keyword-rich Text — Making sure that the language used in the site’s copy is consistent with the way that company’s potential customers are looking for its product, services, and content.”
When searching for tractors or trying to buy a refrigerator, keywords are perfectly fine. But there are those who would like to create things for the sole purpose that they are read and enjoyed. If my search results bring up 10 pages, every result using the same words, the same information, formatted similarly. We would have no room for the discovery of anything new or different. We have seen this with the famous listicle. Listicles presented an accessible format to read, and the format took up lots of page space forcing the readers to scroll down, creating more ad space. The internet is filled with them, and none of us are the better for their existence.
The search engine algorithm is a wonderful tool to find the information you’re looking for, but no to find what you’re not looking for but would love. Google returning results according to relevance is great, but google should not be used as an editor for what you want to say and how you will say it.
Here is what to take away from this.
Just because you are producing more content, it doesn’t mean that your readers are thanking you for it. Striving to create the top page on Google using elite SEO knowledge will undoubtedly grant you the result you initially desired. Still, it won’t likely expand anyone’s expectations, nor their vocabulary for that matter. Producing an overabundance of content will destroy the content’s quality, burying the good with the overwhelming bad and suffocating writers that want to separate themselves from the herd.