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The Ludicrousness of the Internet and the Simple Answer

Should I feed my dog mandarins? Yes or no. It’s a simple question to answer. Yet, before I can get an answer to this question on the Internet, I have to understand what a mandarin is, what a dog is, the different breeds of dogs that might eat mandarins (all of them), the nutritional value of mandarins and their rinds, how a dog’s digestive system works, why people might think it’s a good idea to give dogs a mandarin, why dogs should have mandarins, why they shouldn’t have mandarins, why they shouldn’t have the rinds, and then finally, the writer of the article deigns to give the answer: Probably not, but barring allergy, the dog won’t die from it. (In other words, I should not feed my dog mandarins.) That simple sentence could have been written at the top of the page, and it would have saved 15 minutes of scrolling and loading and given me the answer I was looking for.

The same is true for recipes on the Internet. Search for “apple pie recipes” and you’ll get plenty of recipes, but most of them will tell the story about how the person thought about making an apple pie on one harvest Sunday when the smell of cinnamon wafted through the air from the local bakery reminding him or her of a long deceased grandma who had the best apple pie recipe in the world, the one that you will soon be baking after the person gives you a complete biography of said grandma and the hardships she went through to get to the U.S. during the Great Depression. There will be a not-so-lively discussion of various apple types, how Johnny Appleseed was responsible for a majority of the apple trees in the U.S., and whether or not apple pie is actually as American as baseball and Chevrolet. Sure, the recipe, which calls for cardamom and squid, could’ve been placed at the top of the page and all of the other stuff below it, but you might’ve clicked to another web site if you found that the recipe required an ingredient you didn’t have, like 24k gold dust from a Nevadan river.

For either of these two posts, you’ll be scrolling past photos, videos and ads, all eating up bandwidth and time. Why all the scrolling, or worse, the multiple “next” page clicks? The easy answer is money. The slightly less easy answer is search engine algorithms. The least likely answer is credibility.

The more copy someone writes, the more place there is for ads. If a web page can keep you scrolling through ad after ad, it will make more money, even if you never click on any ads. Some web writers don’t have control over the placements of the ads, so using several pages rather than one long post makes it easier to make more money while you click through page after page of long-winded explanation for a simple question. Regardless of how much everyone wants content on the Internet to be free, the person or people producing the content need to make money to live. While multiple pages and multiple ads are annoying, they are necessary for many creators in the Internet (me included).

However, if no one is looking at the pages, there is no revenue to generate. Getting people to the page takes good search engine optimization practices. This includes writing enough that search engine web crawlers don’t exclude the page because it has a lack of content. “Should I feed my dogs mandarins? No” just isn’t enough words for a search engine algorithm to recognize the page as serious. Anything fewer than 100 words is suspect, even 100 words is questionable. Write enough, and the web page not only becomes more reputable according to web crawlers, but it will also hit on more keywords for search engines to latch onto.

For some pages, this is a matter of establishing credibility. (If I wanted to do that, I would tell you I’ve been working in the SEO industry for almost a decade and have studied trends in the Internet and its search engines. I would also give you a complete history of the Internet and my involvement with it, stopping just short of claiming to have invented it – I did not invent the Internet; please don’t start any rumors.) Because most Internet information is published by those who wish to remain anonymous or those you don’t personally know, it is important for the person to come up with a way to get you to trust him or her. After all, not everyone can be associated with a credible Internet source and those who aren’t need your page views even more than the biggest web sites. Of course, credibility doesn’t really matter to someone who is looking for a recipe. It should matter more to someone looking for dog care tips, but for the most part people on the Internet aren’t looking for the truth. They are looking for someone to confirm the information or biases they already have.

Aside from that, writing a lot doesn’t actually establish credibility. Anyone can write anything, and you will have little to no way of verifying the information. I used to be an astronaut and flew the first manned spaceship to Jupiter in a secret government program. That’s not true, but there’s no way you can verify it. Maybe it is true, and I’m trying to cover myself by saying it isn’t. Even if you have access to secret government records, chances are you don’t have secret access to every government’s records. However, if I wrote a whole lot about space and Jupiter and published some planetary stock photos, you might think I’m a credible authority on space travel. The same is true for someone who writes a whole lot of information they found on the Internet in their blog about feeding dogs mandarins.

Until the Internet changes the way information is sorted and paid for, there is little anyone can do to stop the overflow of useless information that doesn’t answer the question asked. Sending reports to search engines about clickbait, especially on sponsored posts, may help. Subscribing to your favorite web sites may also help. However, for the foreseeable future plan on learning the obscure history of someone’s great uncle pirate who is responsible for the introduction of gravy to the Indonesian diet while you’re looking for the answer to whether or not raccoons are native to North America. (They are.)

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