The SEO Shakedown: Or, how to agitate for personal profit and bring an annoying end to creativity


Google has created its own world-wide hurricane-force storm of ephemeral information, the scattering of all letters and characters tossed into a Pacific Garbage Patch-sized mire of wordsludge and it built itself as the only lighthouse in the content shitstorm.

SEO is the guide to becoming one of the beams of light glowing from a tower of boring math to steer a lost raft of storm survivors “home” to the shores of your website.

And so, people are starting to ask me when I’m going to “fix my blog and do SEO?” to which I usually respond, “When are you going to fix your face?”

SEO is a scam, a sham and the death knell of creativity without caveats; in fact, no greater war has ever been waged in the 30,000-year history of original word, thought and idea than search engine optimization.

But the myth of SEO is it is a necessary tool for the presentation of word, thought and idea. So as the battle for original voice to clang through the rabble of how it’s presented rages on, the enemy has actually been brought on …as a SEO consultant.

That SEO is necessary is true to the extent that Words with Friends is a game about creating words and combinations of words.

It’s not.

Words with Friends is a game won by button mashers and number crunchers who can figure out the likely combination of letters with assigned word values that will maximize their point total while minimizing their opponents.

This is also, essentially, Google’s business plan. When information, letters specifically, was changed into a numeric algorithm by Serg and Larry on Sept. 4, 1998, everything changed; the industry of information, whose basis points had always been determined by the inveterate yet immeasurable value of the written word, was now driven and defined by a very tangible equation.

In less than a decade, Google became the biggest company in the world by doing what nothing had for the previous two dozen or so millennia of the written word’s history — it assigned value to them.

Now think what putting a price on a letter’s head did. It means you now volunteer to have your emails read. It means we’ve got no foreign correspondents covering a decade-plus old war which still lingers. It means content is free, worth nothing, but the vessel in which it’s delivered, an empty vacuum of binary code with a non-offensive logo (rainbow letters, a lowercase f, a bird) has turned awkward coders into awkward billionaire coders in less time it took them to decide to drop out of undergrad.

Google is a shakedown trading on the backs of its millions of volunteer curators’ collection and organization of letters. It’s a parlor trick with a slight of hand that has built a really nice infrastructure for its tech grifters which includes all-you-can-drink coconut water, comfy commuter buses with wi-fi and a pair of glasses that cause lazy eye and brain fry.

Google is simply Yellow Pages that ditched the alphabet and replaced the order with page rankings based on how much an advertiser spends.

Google, the biggest content gateway in world history, does not care about content. It does not care about you and what you need. What it does care is that you click. Clicks are essential. Billions of clicks a day result in billions of pennies coming their way which resulted in $14.9 billion in Q3 2013 revenue.

About four years ago, I traded more than a decade of newsroom experience to start a career in online marketing. The rationale was I could leverage a little understanding of the written word, merge with with an even lesser understanding of math, and come out with this kind of career compromise.

It didn’t work.

I knew the first day it wouldn’t work. Why? Because SEO is the biggest scam of this century — yet nobody ever talks about it in those terms.

The end goal of SEO is the end goal of Google, clicks. Only, there’s a catch. You’re still paying Google for these clicks. In other words, if you do your job very very well in the coal mine, you’re still unearthing diamonds for one giant company. In the interim, you may be benefiting financially, but marginally — nobody’s ever gotten rich providing good SEO with the exception of the SEO consultants.

Let me repeat, because SEO is, above all things, about (bold letters and) repetition: Nobody’s gotten rich providing good SEO with the exception of SEO consultants.

But my problem with SEO wasn’t simply working for the man. I’d done that all my life for dying newspaper companies. Before coffee disappeared completely from the work kitchen, I watched as paper towels were subbed for coffee filters. I watched conference rooms empty out and cubicles fall like dominos. Nobody in newspapers could figure out we were playing a numbers game with letters, and by the time they did, it was a fifteen years too late.

The bad news isn’t the collapse of the fifth estate or my old news editor working part time at a car wash and part time as a night janitor, collecting scraps of notes and detritus discarded from high schoolers and anonymously posting them as if trying to decode some kind of student Sanskrit. No, the bad news isn’t what’s already been taken away.

It’s what’s being taken away right now.

Imagine if the greatest columnists of their time, the greatest orators of their age, the greatest songwriters of their generation — were all forced to create in an SEO-friendly way. It’d be akin to telling Pollack in order to get people to view his paintings, they’d have to be landscapes; forcing Lennon and McCartney to sing jingles and making sure Steinbeck trained up on PowerPoint to best illustrate the plight of the migrant farm worker and fish packer.

By its own definition, SEO is very structured and if you follow the rules, you’ll get good traffic. The traffic will result in clicks, which will result in views for someone and value for someone and exposure for you.

…Which works out great, but only if we’re making (and OK by living with) a single assumption: That all the great works have already happened and every middling little piece of effluvia that comes from the lips and fingertips of today’s creatives is simply flushable.

Think about the juxtaposition of making something SEO-friendly to the whim of yesterday’s artist using whatever surrounded him: the rush of wind through the heather in a field, the crippling blow of intoxicants through the veins in post-battle lament, the boom and clang of mighty skyscrapers being built above them — and simply …creating.

Of course, now that something has rules. The following are seven universally accepted rules of SEO that are, in real life, simply clever-content killers:

7) Make sure you’ve got lots and lots and lots and lots of good links to your page. Don’t let anyone read more than four words without having one be a link to a completely different (but somehow related in your post) subject; at which moment they will click upon it and either a) at the very least, completely lose their place or b) get caught on an entirely different tangent and completely forget why they were viewing what you put out there in the first place.
6) People are dumb and they can’t take general demonstrative queues from the language you’re using so be sure to put the words you want them to notice in bold, italics, numbers or bullet points.
5) Use subheads. A lot. Because nothing prepares for maybe coming back to something after two weeks chasing links around the internet then a good subhead.
4) Make content short and precise. But use the words you want people to relate to your text. If you’re writing about sailing, be sure that you use words like ‘sail’ ‘sailing’ ‘sailed’ and even words that SOUND alike, like ‘sale’ and ‘sold’ because oftentimes people spell what they’re searching for wrong so you want to capture that traffic too. If you want to write about a man sailing, be sure to include a snippet about how his sail was for sale.
3) Infographics are key. They break up text and show in like zero words what you’re trying to say with like a lot of words. Also speak in conversational tone.
2) Inbound links are valuable so develop a reliable network of bots through social media that re-link what you’re sending. Links. Links. Links.
1) If you’re not an authority on a subject, act like one. The best way to do this is to spew thousands of tiny factoids that may or may not be true and people may or may not know or believe. This may not build credibility but it builds reputation. And nothing is more important in the world of SEO than reputation.

The following is an excerpt from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. I feel it’s one of his best and most personal works:

A girl came in the café and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair was black as a crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek. I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself so she could watch the street and the entry and I knew she was waiting for someone. So I went on writing.

Were Hemingway alive today as a starving server/blogger, below the same entry spruced up and made SEO-friendly to maximize exposure and linkbacks and spiders:

This girl came in the café and sat by herself at a Parker Midcentury Expandable Dining table available at West Elm near the window.

She was pretty

She was very pretty but not in a Katy Perry-made-up-in-tranny-makeup-for-a-queen-of-the-jungle-video kind of way, more like a Reece Witherspoon-walking-around-West-LA-with-kids-and-shades-and-yoga-pants kind of way (get the look here!)

Other things about her that made her pretty:
She wore clothes, but they weren’t the kind of clothes you wanted to take off right away. They were the kind of clothes you wanted to take to drinks and have the drinks turn to dinner. Dinner somewhere like here! They were the kind of clothes you want to feed and eventually have end up on your bamboo floor but you’d be willing to take time with these clothes.
• She had a fresh face. A face fresh as a newly minted coin was back in the day when coins mattered. Fresh tasting like a mint, like the kind you eat, not the kind where they made coins when they made coins (do they still make coins besides bitcoins? I can’t recall having any coins that don’t look like they were plucked from the tile of a gas station restroom.)
• Her hair was dark but not dyed dark. It was black like a new black Maybach and cut sharply like she was Charlize Theron looking to look severe and hot.

I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. Here, an Infographic on how excited she made me:


My wish

I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself with her lap top so she could read The Street and The Daily Beast and I knew she was waiting for someone.

So I kept blogging.