Back in the day, the internet was built to deliver information to people. These days, it seems like I come across more and more pages that were built to deliver information to robots. Because of the new advertising supremacy of the search engine market (who uses phone books anymore, anyway?), it makes sense that there are huge profits to be had in internet marketing. Just look at Google, for example–they barely even existed 10 years ago, and now have billions in revenue from sponsored search clicks.
While I don’t dismay at the growth of the web, I find more and more little things that annoy me about the way things are playing out. One of the biggest is the growing presence of pages that were built for search spiders. While these pages are usually intended for people to find them eventually, it is apparent that the foremost goal on the part of the creator was to attract high search rankings. Once the internet is built for easy-of-navigation for robots, instead of for humans, well, I think we’ve hit a new low. I’ve divided these pages up into 3 classes that annoy me:
Search Portal Pages
We’ve all run into the stupid portal pages that have absolutely no content, instead displaying a bunch of “sponsored listings” related to your original search query. These pages make money by paying for clicks (or “natural” optimization) to get visitors to visit, then making money back when people click on the sponsored links. Really, they are an unnecessary middleman that only makes the web less efficient. They are like a trap, hoping to lure unsuspecting visitors into believing they actually have content. Sometimes they use domain name misspellings that are only one character off of a common website, like “gmai.com”. These pages are optimized for search engine rankings and build elaborate link networks to fool search engines into believing they are popular and useful websites.
Have you ever stumbled across a site that seems cryptically written, repeating the same phrases over and over again? Because of the importance of keyword density, seo-savvy writers go through text to make sure the key search terms they are targeting are used enough in the page content to convince a robot that the page is relevant. Unfortunately, sometimes this makes it extremely difficult for humans to wade through the muck and get useful information from the site. I’ll post some links as I find them, but it always bother me when I start reading the text on a site (sometimes even an e-commerce site where I’m trying to buy something) and realizing that the repetition and phrasing was written for a computer, not for me. Once again, the end result is for humans to find the pages and buy the products (or what have you), but the method of attracting visitors is to make the text so convoluted as to render it useless.
Lastly, the most recent thing that has begun to bother me is websites whose titles, once again, are simply a list of keywords. In Search Engine Optimization, one of the most important ways to make your page search-engine friendly is to use search keywords in the page title (that’s the bar on the top of the browser). Search engines figure like so: if the title of the page is about “red widgets,” then the page probably has something to do with that so we’ll make it come up for that search term. This can obviously be abused…but what really bothers me is when pages put keywords first in their title. I go to bookmark the page, or try to find it on a tab in firefox, and I’m unable to locate which page is which because the title of the page is a search keyword–not the name of the company (or whatever).
I’ll give you 2 examples. I recently bookmarked Scottrade.com’s website. Later, when I tried to use the bookmark, I couldn’t find it…I realized it’s because the title of the website isn’t “scottrade,” as I expected, but it’s (I kid you not) “Online discount brokers, Online stock trading, Stock investing, Mutual Funds, IRA – Scottrade.” Does that sound like a title of a web page that was written for a human, or for a search robot? I thought so.
Here’s my second example. Discovercard.com: “Credit cards, gift cards, loans, banking, insurance: Discover Financial Services.” Just to prove that not all finance websites are this bad, kudos go to Wells Fargo and ING Direct, at least, for making their titles more human-readable.
I’m not against optimizing websites for search engines. I worked for a couple of years as a search engine marking director for a web design company. I understand the importance. I just think that things are starting to get out of hand in the above situations. When writers/designers/developers start making robots the first priority, instead of building a useful, understandable, concise website that happens to be search-engine friendly, then I think things have been turned around.