Sunday, March 30, 2014

World Wide Wubbish heap.

I've been a regular user of Google for many years  - I think from around 2000. When I first started using it, the search engine was relatively unknown (in South Africa at that time), most people would use Anansi.  Whenever I suggested Google, I was treated with a certain amount of awe. Remember, I was working in a media monitoring environment at that stage, having just come out of freelance journalism. Most of the information that I needed to get in a hurry, I would first try and get from Reuters and if it wasn't available there, then I'd get onto Google.

Website design and development was in its infancy during the early days of this century, many sites were very unsophisticated and extremely basic.  If a site was using Flash, for instance, it was presumed to be rather, er, cutting edge.  These days many corporate websites are architect designed mini-universes, crammed with tons of data, images, tags and of course, glitches.  This has created something of a monster.   The World Wide Web is now like a massive data-landfill, bursting at the seams with trash.   There are pockets of data floating about that should have been nuked, compressed, turned into compost many years ago but that data is still there, still running around clogging up the interweb.  There are millions of duplicate sites, spider sites, mirror sites et al.  Every person who 'designs' a website now (even bloggers, using this interface for example), are conscious of that magic, mythical term "Search Engine Optimisation".

In the 'old days' an internet search on Google brought up many hundreds of thousands of results but in general, the top ten would provide information that the user was looking for. Back then, SEO was a rude term that most people just ignored and couldn't be bothered with.  Now everybody is an SEO expert and that's NOT a good thing.   Anybody who does a quick online course in SEO, now thinks they know exactly where to put tags, what key words to use for each image, strings, links etc. to direct the most amount of traffic to their site.  There is Big Money in SEO - multi-million dollar corporations pay huge amounts of money to consultancies whose only function, is to optimise the web presence of these giant companies on the Interwebness.

A great many inexperienced web designers have lost sight of the fact that it's quality of visit you want, not quantity.  If people are constantly landing on a site and not getting the information they want, they will eventually completely ignore that site whenever they see it coming up on search results - even if it's one of the 'advertised/sponsored' sites on the right hand side (note, not left hand side) of the Google search results page.  People subconsciously block themselves from ever bothering to go onto a site again if they have been there two or three times in the past and it's been an unsatisfactory experience.   For example, I very rarely use any of the links to sites that are displayed on the right hand column of the Google home page, I treat all of them with suspicion and in most cases, rightly so.

Tracking visits to a website is no help at all, it doesn't in any way explain what the person was doing when they landed on your page.  You have no way of knowing (even if you have the referring URL) what their motive was, whether they were there by accident for example; or if they used specific search terms unique to them and their way of thinking (yes, you can see what search terms were used by a visitor to your site, that's not the point).  Statistics alone do not show a real picture of the traffic that comes to your site.  Some people are under the impression that seeing a hit on their stats from someone who is located in 'Mountainview California' means they have American friends!*

More and more I'm finding that the sites I visit from search criteria that I've carefully selected, do not have any content on their site that in any way relates to the initial search term.  This is an increasingly frustrating phenomenon and isn't going to get better, it's going to get much worse.  I have always considered myself to be rather good at gleaning information quickly and concisely from Google but as unscrupulous, uneducated or malevolent web designers continue to add more and more keywords to the lines of code on their websites, it will eventually implode upon itself and become totally impossible to decipher the garbage that comes up on your screen.  I predict that one day, you will put in a search term/phrase like "Hotels in Birmingham" and you will get a string of websites popping up in the search results that have absolutely nothing whatever to do with this topic at all.

At the moment, nobody is talking about an alternative to the Internet with any degree of meaningful narrative or thrust.  Google sure ain't going to rock the boat in leading the discussions because that would be like shooting themselves in the foot. But it's going to come and much sooner than it took us to get to where we are now. 

* In most cases, that's a Google spider crawling your data.

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