April 20, 2024

Google Search May Be the Most Powerful Arbiter of Internet Content

There’s a good chance that if you want to find information about something, you’ll probably search on Google. The Alphabet-owned search engine is by far the most used of its kind; one report suggests it had over 90% market share by 2023. And for anyone who wants to publish content on the internet, writing and formatting your content so that it ranks high in Google search results is a must.

That practice, known as search engine optimization or SEO, has become standard practice for websites. According to Mia Sato of The Verge, the face of the Internet has changed. Does a blog post have a bunch of questions as titles? That’s SEO in action. How about a bio with a photo on the side of the post? Also SEO.

“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Sato about his reporting on Google Search, as well as what the future of Google Search could be with artificial intelligence moderating results. The following is an edited transcript of his conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: SEO is not new, but it is still somewhat mysterious, which we are going to talk a little about. Give us the layman’s definition of “what SEO is,” will you?

Mia Sato: Sure. When we search for something, there are millions, billions of results. And Google, if we’re talking about Google, has to sort them in some way. To do that, you read all kinds of different things on the web page, the words on the web page, the photos on there, to try to figure out what’s on that page and if it’s relevant to what we’re looking for. So SEO is the practice of trying to optimize your content for search engines. Usually the goal is to be one of those first results.

Rysdal: Here we should say that we are talking about Google, right? I mean, they control like 90% of the search market.

Sato: Yes Yes.

Rysdal: Alright. So the gist of this article is that SEO and the way it’s now monopolized, and I use that word wisely, the way we design for the web is changing the Internet itself, right?

Sato: Yes. And it is something that has been happening for a long time. The web is on the verge of change. Google has said that AI will be part of the search experience, and now we’re looking back at what the last 25 years of Google dominance have brought us, when everyone is creating things to try to game Google results .

Rysdal: And the point really is that a lot of what’s out there looks alike, because now we’ve fallen into this “templating” that Google forces people to do.

Sato: Yes, you may not realize that this is something of a Google and SEO thing, but you’ll know what we’re talking about. An example is if you’ve ever Googled “How to change a tire,” you click on an article and there are five different sections. Each one has a little caption at the top that says, “What is a tire?” “Why do I need to change the tire?” You know, all of these things, they’re questions that you might be searching on Google in the first place, to try to get Google to notice the page.

Rysdal: Alright, look, this is a little existential, I guess, but you’re the expert in this conversation. What does it all mean, that we’re doing all this for Google and we’re adjusting our behavior in this huge part of our lives?

Sato: One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot while working on the story is what happens to human creativity when there’s a company that pretty much dictates how we find things on the Internet? In the article, I talk to humans trying to create work for the Internet. They’re writing travel guides, they’re writing, you know, recipe blogs, and there’s this tension between what we all want to do on the Internet and what makes sense, because if Google can’t see our work, there’s really no point in doing it. So what really interesting things are being done that we will never see because they can’t be found in SEO the way Google wants them to?

Rysdal: Yes, no, totally. This is a bit of false romanticism, but it takes away a little of this serendipity and charm from things, right?

Sato: When you flip through a million websites that all look the same, the paragraph length is the same. This is a really strange thing as a writer, some SEO experts said:

Rysdal: Alright? Paragraph length. That’s crazy.

Sato: Yes, some SEO experts recommend that paragraphs be no more than, I don’t know, six sentences, or that sentences be no more than a certain number of words.

Rysdal: It’s like you were in AP Literature in high school and you had to write the formulaic essay. Wow.

Sato: Yes. I did a test for this article where I put a previous story I had written through one of these SEO writing raters, and my rater bot didn’t like my prose. It failed me.

Rysdal: So the SEO writer has failed the SEO. That’s what I heard you say, right?

Sato: Yes, exactly. Exactly. I don’t think I have a future there.

Rysdal: Fair. So let me ask you to look at this and as you mentioned a minute ago, Google is now moving towards AI, and AI is becoming a bigger part of our lives and experiences, especially online – what does the SEO in an AI? world?

Sato: Oh my gosh, well, that’s the million dollar question. Right now, if you’ve played with Google’s generative search experience, what’s interesting to me is that the AI ​​bot comes before any other links. If that stays there, why would anyone scroll down? Some SEO people have tried to think, “Okay, well, how can we re-optimize our content now for this new thing?” If this is how we move forward, we will see the same problems in a few years. This goal of outwitting the robot is silly, I think.

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