Serving The Wrong Master

One of the things you learn about if you’re in the digital marketing space is Search Engine Optimization and its cousin Social Media Optimization. I work with clients on both from time to time and frankly, it’s a time-consuming and frustrating process. I say that not because it isn’t worthwhile – it is. In my mind, the biggest challenge in digital marketing is being visible. Call it discoverability, call it what you will, but unless you are presented as an option to consumers you aren’t going to make a sale. If you don’t get a turn at bat you’re unlikely to hit anything, right?

Photo by Alex Knight

That said, the frustrating part comes from two places. The first is that it’s always much harder to hit a moving target and the algorithms that drive how search engines and social media platforms behave are constantly changing. Google’s search algorithm changed half a dozen times this year and 10+ last year, although researchers on those numbers have to guess because Google doesn’t announce most of the changes (or how the whole damn thing works for that matter!). Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and others have all done similar things, so getting your content to be visible is like herding cats if you’re chasing a changing formula.

The second part of my frustration comes from a philosophical place. I don’t think any of us should be serving the algorithm rather than serving our customers. The algorithm is the wrong master. Before you object, think about any content you’ve written lately or that your organization has put out. I’m willing to bet the creator thought about keywords and making the title “click-worthy.” There is nothing wrong with that up to a point. I do it and I advise clients to do so as well. However, when what we’re creating loses relevance and meaning to humans while becoming more attractive to computers, we’ve gone too far. You see it in the repetition of words in an article making them less interesting. Content that uses sarcasm or clever writing might delight a reader but confuse an algorithm.

Given where artificial intelligence and machine learning are headed, I’m not sure how long we humans will be writing a lot of what we consume now. A significant percentage of sports and financial reporting, for example, are made by machine today and most of us can’t tell the difference. There is software on the market that will help you create content that’s perfectly optimized for whatever algorithm you’re chasing. But ask yourself this: when was the last time you met an algorithm at a cash register? Serve your customers – they’re in charge, not an ever-changing bit of code. You with me?


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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

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