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 Classmates.com. 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.