Thursday, September 29, 2011

SEO + Blog = "miserable failure"

Over the past few years, I've become involved in the crazy, fast-paced, heart-pounding, thrill-a-minute world of SEO. For those of you who don't know, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Basically, it's when you fix up a website to make it more friendly to Google and the other search engines, so it'll show up higher in the rankings for certain search terms. Some people do this by designing their sites well and offering fresh, compelling content that others will want to link to and share. Others try to do it by cheating, which inevitably ends badly for them. Want to know why Google changes the way it works roughly 47,845 times a week? So they can stick it to those cheating SEO bastards.

In my last post, I mentioned that I started blogging back in 2004, when it was all still exciting and new. Back then, people blogged because they had shit to say. But sometime around 2006 or so, some smartass SEO guru discovered that you could use a blog to drive traffic to a company's website. The idea was simple. Update it frequently with some content that people would want to share, and include plenty of links to the company's main website. As more and more people linked to the blog, it (and all of the links on it) would become more relevant in the eyes of Google.

One of the ways Google decides who ranks where for certain terms is by the anchor text in links. So if you can get enough people to link to your website with the text "pimp daddy," then eventually your website will start cropping up in Google when people are searching for pimp daddies. When this process is done to intentionally skew search engine rankings, it's known as a "Google bomb." Google has made numerous changes to their algorithm to keep this from happening.

(You may remember back around 2004, when typing the words "miserable failure" into Google brought up George W. Bush's biography page. This was due to the concerted efforts of a bunch of developers who encouraged folks with websites to link to Bush's biography with those words, like this: miserable failure. Once enough people did it, especially those with reputable or popular websites that generated a lot of clicks, Bush's biography shot to the top of the search engine results page. This wasn't the first Google bomb, but it's arguably the most famous.)

In an effort to boost their search engine rankings, businesses began operating blogs. As the number of blogs out there on Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's internet grew exponentially larger, it got harder and harder to grab people's attention. Companies began hiring professional writers and marketing experts to give their blog a competitive edge.

(In fact, one of my writing gigs at the moment is for a search engine marketing company whose name I won't mention, but whom you can find very easily by typing "chris irby seo" into Google. I crank out five articles a week for them that are basically just regurgitations of articles written by other folks, only paraphrased and reworded so they'll count as original content.)

Anyway, in the wake of all the marketing, personal blogs got lost in the wash, and then all but died off once Facebook came on the scene.

This blog wasn't created for the purposes of search engine marketing or to drive traffic to any other website. I started blogging because I enjoy writing, and I liked the idea of sharing my inane and often profanity-laden thoughts with a bunch of anonymous strangers. I continued blogging because I really enjoyed the close-knit group of friends that seemed to come out of it. And I quit blogging because I felt like I had run out of stuff to say. Also, Facebook.

I know quite a few people who do SEO for a living, and they don't understand the appeal of blogging. They can't imagine why anybody would have a blog if they're not going to use it to market something, generate links, or drive traffic. They often take me to task for my lack of optimization, and suggest that I should do things like put my name in the title, give all of the pictures meaningful file names, and try to work some popular search terms into my articles. The idea of writing for writing's sake is lost on them. These are the same people who think Michelangelo missed a golden opportunity because he didn't paint Jesus drinking a can of Pepsi in The Last Supper.

A lot of corporate blogs are no longer updated regularly. Many have been abandoned outright. Once companies realized how much effort is required to successfully market with a blog, especially with all of the competition out there, many decided it was a dismal return on their investment. Facebook and Twitter are actually the hot search engine marketing properties now, as SEO experts knock their heads against the wall trying to figure out just how all those tweets and status updates play into Google rankings.

So blogging is just another internet fad in decline, like usenet newsgroups, dancing hamsters, and I can't imagine it will ever really go away, but I also can't see it becoming as insanely popular as it was a few short years ago. But that's okay. As long as I have my threes of blogging buddies, I'll be happy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Did Facebook Kill My Blog?

I started this blog back in 2004, back when having a blog was one of those cool things that dazzled and impressed your less-technically-savvy friends and family members. "You have a blog? Wow, that's so awesome! Do you know Bill Gates and Cher?"

Since then, this little slice of Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's internets has gone through several name changes (Chris Irby's Generic Blog, Rush Limbaugh's All Star Puppy-Eating Cavalcade, WTFWJD?, and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, YOU GODDAMN LIAR!) and I've undergone numerous personal crises that have strengthened me and turned me into the paragon of restraint and insight you see today.

Alas, poor WTFWJD? We hardly knew ye...

I've also gone through some considerable ebbs and flows when it comes to posting. In November of 2005, I came back after a two-month hiatus, apologized for neglecting the blogosphere, and trickled out some posts for the next few months. In July of 2006, I came back after a one-month hiatus, apologized for neglecting the blogosphere, and trickled out some posts for the next few months. In February of 2007, I came back after a four-month hiatus, apologized for neglecting the blogosphere, and trickled out some posts for the next few months. In October of 2007... well, I'm pretty sure you can see where this is going.

Anyway, if you check the Blog Archive to the left, you may notice that my posting pretty much died in April 2009 (much like beloved actress Bea Arthur). I made one last ditch effort in April 2010, and then... BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP...

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest...

So, what happened? Well, in a word, Facebook.

As I mentioned in one of my penultimate posts, I got totally sucked into Mark Zuckerberg's social media cult. I became obsessed with befriending folks I hadn't seen in years and never really liked all that much, and with keeping my massive network of virtual pals apprised of my current status ("Eating wasabi peanuts and downloading images of Ann Coulter's feet").

The thing is, Facebook offers immediate gratification. The moment you post anything, 29,751,498 online buddies will respond to lend their support or show you the error of your ways. Total strangers will request to be your friend because they read something funny you posted on someone else's page. Longtime acquaintances will unfriend you because they read something provocative or offensive that you posted on your own page. FBI agents will send you messages, pretending to be 15-year-old cheerleaders. But that's something else, entirely.

When all else fails, try bringing up Hitler...

But it's been a couple of years, and the bloom is off the Facebook rose. I still check in and post pretty regularly, but gone are the days where I would spend hours poring through hundreds of updates and carrying on dozens of simultaneous conversations. I no longer have any interest in arguing on other folks' pages, and have little patience for the people who feel the need to crap their opinion into their hand and fling it all over my page. And I honestly couldn't possibly give any less of a fuck about what folks are growing in Farmville or whom they're killing in Gang Wars.

I think part of the problem is that whole short-attention span thing. The immediate gratification, coupled with the fact that Facebook limits posts to something in the neighborhood of 4 characters, has basically created an online community of folks who can't be bothered to read. Facebook will let you post longer notes, but reading those requires a couple of extra clicks of the mouse, and who the hell has time for that when there are virtual rutabagas to harvest, baby?

Lately, I've found myself waxing nostalgic about this blog, and the tight-knit community of folks that I pretty much abandoned for the glitzy Babylon that *is* Facebook. And I've been wondering if I should even try picking up where I left off, or just put this thing out of its misery and start fresh.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I did start another blog back in June 2009 that's devoted to the oeuvre of Jack Chick. My updates on that blog have been pretty sporadic as well, but it still gets a decent number of daily hits because folks keep posting my stuff on Reddit and StumbleUpon. I've thought about doing that myself, but what kind of desperate cry for attention would that be?)

So anyway, yeah. Facebook pretty much killed this blog. But like Jesus, Spock, Bobby Ewing, and Batman, it has once again clawed its way out of the grave. Hopefully, this won't be my only post for 2011. I swear, my intentions are good. I'm going to try this blogging thing again.

Also Superman, Gandalf, Jean Grey, Elvis, Osiris, Buffy,
Dr. Who, Lazarus, Pac Man, Kenny, and Wile E. Coyote

But I make no promises...