Ok, here is my prediction for the future of the internet. I just want to put this out there so I can say I called it. This is based on my own knowledge of how search engines work and why this is ruining the experience for the actual human audience.
So search engines (basically Google) reward websites that publish content. The AI can tell if your articles are about a subject, but they can’t really tell if the article is a) enjoyable to read and b) providing actual useful content to the user.
So if your website sells pretzels, in order to be seen on search engines, you have to relentlessly publish articles about pretzels. The Top Ten Toppings to Try on your Pretzels. Why Pretzels are the Big Hit for Summer. Choosing the Right Pretzel: The Ultimate Guide!
The Google Bot cares not one whit if this article provides useful info or is an engaging read, just that it is about pretzels and is at least somewhat sensibly written. (Google kind of passively judges the quality of an article based on how long the user stays on the page once they get there or if they come back to Google to search again after looking at the article, but I don’t think this really solves the issue.)
Google mainly rewards the QUANTITY of articles published, leading the more aggressive websites to literally use AI to churn out article after article with no meaningful content, just to get the numbers of published articles up.
How do I know all this? It’s literally my job. I am, right now, engaged in the business of creating articles for website that I think literally no one will care about or read in full, just because it will help their Google ranking. I don’t feel bad about this, I’m just playing the game that Google is forcing us to play. I have no problem getting in there and playing the game well for my clients.
But the end result is an internet stuffed with fluff articles written with no intent to inform, delight or entertain the humans that might read them. This came a head for me just this morning (prompting me to think about where this is all going and then publish this article) when I tried to search up fashion tips on what kind of footwear is best to wear with shorts. (I’m trying to be more fashionable, sue me)
I could not get an answer to my question or even just a fun article to read. My internet-marketer eyes could SEE the artificiality of the articles that were written to get clicks instead of to inform.
So what is the solution?
Well maybe it’s not so much of a solution as the inevitable consequence, but it’s this: reliable curation. A.k.a he return of Gate Keeping.
The internet has rather famously busted up the citadels of gate keeping in a process with the fancy name of “Disintermediation.” In other words, cutting out the middleman. You could now bring your new album straight to the people without needing to get the nod from a record company executive. You could publish your article without having to submit it to an editor or get it accepted by a magazine. This was a democratizing process and I don’t have a problem with the fact that it happened. I think it was a good thing overall.
But I think that we’re realizing that these gate-keeping institutions were not entirely burdensome. They weren’t just a bunch of jerks who refused to recognize how brilliant your album was and thus give you a contract. These people had the ability to weed through the crap to find the gold and bring that forward to the public. T
Sure there are famous stories out there about the record company that passed on The Beatles or the investor who tuned his nose up at Apple. But these are the noteworthy exceptions. Most of the time these people in the position to accept or reject bands, investments, movie ideas, whatever, got to their position for a good reason and were mostly right in their choices. There are an awful lot of bands out there that don’t deserve a record contract.
So what does this mean for the internet? I think that the future lies in on-line entities developing a reputation for good curation, in having their name mean “source of good content on this subject.” And then people will go to them to look for quality information.
These won’t necessarily be new entities that rise up (though they could be). It could just be existing brands and institutions recognizing the value in playing the role of curator.
Let’s take Vanity Fair for example. Vanity Fair decides that they are going to become The Source for Fashion Tips (to use my shorts/footwear issue from earlier). They massively reduce the number of articles they write to maybe one per year per subject (The Hot Colours for Fall). And they take the time to ensure that those articles are written by knowledgeable people and that they are written well, giving the reader all the information they would need to pick their fall wardrobe.
So what happens then is that instead of Googling for the fashion tip, you’ll go to Vanity Fair’s website and search THERE for the answer.
Do you see the picture? Google will still be there but websites will develop a reputation for being a good source and people will go directly to that website to get content that was written, edited and curated by the top professionals in the field.
Who are the Hot New Bands This Year?
What Are the Political Positions of Candidate X?
What are the Latest Developments in the Field of Education?
Will Obi-Wan Kenobi Make a Reappearance in the latest Star Wars Movie?
Each of these questions will have 2 or 3 websites with a known reputation for giving good answers and the people searching for them will go to those websites looking for the data.
I always say that in marketing it is wise to zig when the other companies are zagging and I think this might just be the opening in the internet marketing space in the near future. Limiting your content to only good quality, carefully curated stuff and developing a reputation for doing so.
I don’t think this will apply to your average small business, they can’t really get off the treadmill of publishing articles to get the attention of Google (job security for me, yay!) but where it applies in small business, is that gate-keepers will arise who become the arbiters of which businesses are good and which are bad. We’ve already seen this with Angie’s List and some others.
But I think the most interesting part of all this is that you can’t fake it. You can’t skirt or trick your way into developing a good reputation, at least not for very long. You have to really know what you are talking about and your really have to do the work. If you want to be a website that recommends contractors or cleaning services, you’d have to take the time to investigate the companies you are recommending. Look at their reviews, maybe even call them up and see what they know about their subject. You can’t risk giving an inaccurate review because you will lose that valuable thing called “Reputation,” which I think will become a very valuable commodity in the internet space in the future.
And if I’m right about this prediction then I think it will make for a much better internet for all of us.
A Real Human who Hopes This Article Was Enjoyable and Informative