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A Fight For Popularity: How Search Engine Optimization Changed the Internet

Whether you’re involved in an online business or you’re just someone who browses the web, you may not be aware of how layered the internet is. Though you may think that simply Googling “summer dresses” or “camping spots in California” is without consequence, that information is analyzed and stored for marketing purposes.

Going on Facebook isn’t just about you talking to friends or reading articles, there’s an entire marketing strategy behind every click you make. Through complex algorithms, this information is sold to third parties where companies can use the data to get into the minds of people for a better understanding of their demographic and what they think they need. With the collected information, companies all over the world invest in online marketing to attract viewers to their business. Globally, user data has now become gold as this is direct access to your client without having to speak to them. But how is this done exactly? Well, there are various methods of internet marketing, however, one of the most common is search engine optimization.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essentially the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or web page in a search engine such as Google Chrome or FireFox. More specifically, it affects the web search engine’s unpaid results which are most commonly referred to as “organic” or “natural”. To have high rankings on search engines, your website has to be frequently visited, and at the very least be more visible than the other websites which appear on that search engine result. Basically, at the end of the day, this means the more popular you are in search engines, the better visibility you have to users.

However, it’s important to really grasp what this means for businesses. For example, if you’re a new online magazine which reports on current events, you’ll want your magazine to show up on the first page of Google. Why? Because that’s how people find out information – they Google it.

Everyone who is looking for something online usually starts with a search engine and almost 75% of searches start on Google. On top of that, the first five results on Google receive over 70% of all clicks which is evidence enough of how important it is for businesses to rank high on search engines, as most people don’t even both scrolling down the first page. For example, if you Google “news” what will appear in the first three results is Google News, Telegraph, and Fox News. Thus, Search Engine Optimization has become one of the core factors in internet marketing as it’s used to drive users to websites.

Though, this need to rank on search engines has a huge price on the content that’s begin produced. Rich Skrenta, chief executive of Blekko states that SEO is “absolutely essential” and that publishers “had this really good content in the beginning, but they realize the more S.E.O. they do, the more money they make, and the pressure really pushed down the quality on their sites.” Sooner than later, the internet becomes a cesspool of cheap content and click bait which doesn’t provide the audience of anything with value, however, does create an endless cash flow for websites.

But, in order to profit as a business online, you have to make it onto the first page of search engines which can be quite a challenge in itself. As a majority of web searches are completed on search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo! SEO is no longer an option but rather a necessity. However, there are only a certain number of spaces on the first page of a search engine, meaning the competition is fierce. What happens in this case? Well, in desperate times, people call for desperate measures.

What usually happens is that companies will resort to “Black Hat” optimization which is the sleazy way of climbing up the ladder in search engine rankings. What happens is that websites focus on the strategies for search engine rankings rather than focusing on the people using these search engines. Again, they deter from producing content and rather focus on quick ways to gain traffic. SEO techniques such as keyword stuffing, doorway pages and unrelated keywords being added to pages are used to lure traffic to their site. This is something that’s continuously occurring with both small and big businesses. Even companies which are well-known are using these techniques as a way to gain attention.  J.C. Penny has been caught using these techniques in order to stay on the top of search engines, even appearing in searches to products which have nothing to do with their business.

However, this is not without consequences. Search engines such as Google do not take this lightly and penalize websites which violate their guidelines, such as using black hat SEO. Though businesses are trying every trick in the book to gain viewers, in the end, companies who resort to black hat SEO techniques end up suffering as search engines are constantly changing their ranking techniques. In the end, the websites that rank highly are the ones which produce compelling and informative content. Because at the end of the day, search engines are being used by people who aren’t concerned with who’s the most popular website but rather who can produce the best content.

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