I did the best I could. Honestly, I…

Wait a second.

YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT THIS MOTHER OF ONE DID!

No, really. I started this blog in 2005 because posting my own stories online was a hell of a lot easier than querying publishers for a book I had yet to write.

Excuse me, just one—

THIS AMERICAN PRESIDENT DID WHAT??? FULL EXCLUSIVE STORY INSIDE!

Yeah. I know. The above sentence has nothing to do with what I’m writing.

And at the same time, it totally does.

Let me explain. For real.

There’s something wrong with Google

Google is my best friend when I need to learn, understand or check something.

I call Google to the rescue when I just don’t know, and it turns out there are a lot of things I don’t know—this makes me human, I suppose.

Google is also a precious work. As a translator, I have to pretend to be an expert in whatever I’m translating—and because most of the time, I’m not actually an expert, I go check annual reports, policies, legislation, products and more to see what the real experts say and the terminology they use.

My search history is extremely random. In the past hour, I looked for the frog life circle, the best way to translate the onomatopoeia “ribbit”—yes, both searches were related!—, a client’s product page, a typography rule, Canada’s Emergencies Act… and I’ve just Googled “how to view search history.”

But over the past few months, the past year, maybe, I’ve noticed that search results are getting less and less relevant.

Let’s say I’m Googling “why go to Ottawa.”

FireShot Capture 006 - why go to ottawa - Google Search - www.google.com

The top result is Tour America, an Irish tour operator I’ve never heard of. I’m sure they are lovely professionals but it’s hardly the most relevant result and it bugs me that the top search result is a commercial website. I had to scroll down to find Ottawa Tourism and Destination Canada, two official tourism organizations.

Okay, how about “expat canada”?

FireShot Capture 007 - expat canada - Google Search - www.google.com

An HSBC guide (stick to banking, guys…), is at the top, then The Expatriate Group, which provides “hourly fee for service mobility transition coaching.” The Government of Canada’s official info for Canadian expats is way down—too bad, it’s actually trustworthy content.

The bottom line is, now I have to sort through tons of questionable promotional content to find a valuable, relatively unbiased website.

Low-value websites creep in higher and higher on the top page—and by low-value websites, I mean content that exists only to summarize other content, which is now super easy with AI.

Before, Google was very intuitive. It could almost guess what I was looking for. Now, it constantly tries to send me where I don’t want to go.

Even useful features are disappearing. For instance, Google removed the feature displaying the number of results found… too bad, it was valuable info to me as a translator and copywriter because I could see how common a word or an expression was.

Does content matter at all?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been a thing for about twenty years. When I started blogging in 2005, a high PageRank was the holy grail.

Back then, it didn’t seem that difficult to achieve a decent position in Google search results. In fact, many SEO best practices were actually best communication practices—correct syntax, acceptable grammar, links to relevant resources, meaningful titles, and unique, easy-to-read content had every chance to gain visibility.

Nobody wants to read a wall of white text on a grey background, so I worked on my editing and designing skills. I learned a thing or two about writing as well—how to be conversational and engaging, how to structure articles, and how to be genuine.

This is now my downfall. These days, it’s less about content and more about how to appeal to an esoteric algorithm.

Technically, to rank higher on Google, I should:

  • Use click baits or at the very least click-worthy titles mixing uncommon, emotional and powerful words in titles
  • Leverage trending keywords and match content with search intent
  • Repeat several versions of a focus key phrase throughout the content
  • Publish content very often, preferably daily
  • Boost engagement by posting on various social media

Yeah, I’m fucked, and so are many people who have cool things to share and great stories to offer.

Can we change things?

Promotional content and commercial websites can be useful. I don’t mind Expedia scoring high when I’m trying to book a hotel and it’s fair enough to see the top Canadian phone providers first when comparing plans.

On the other hand, I hate generic, empty content built around keywords. This is particularly true for travel info. If I’m Googling “what to see in Nantes,” the top results are from TripAdvisor and Viator… a TripAdvisor company. Thanks but no thanks. I want to read real stories and real tips from real people.

Soulless content is background noise to me. But the thing is, soulless content can get to the top search result page because it’s formulaic and designed to beat competitors.

It’s the chicken and the egg story. Is the web getting worse or are we worse than before at posting valuable, genuine content?

There’s still awesome, genuine content written or created by very cool humans but it’s buried somewhere. This is fucked up. Technology was supposed to help us complete tedious tasks and hard work, not replace creative and problem-solving jobs.

I never got rich with this blog but I met amazing people, learned new skills and even got a few work contracts.

I’m not giving up.

We can’t give up.

I’m begging you—write, take pictures, share your skills, ideas and thoughts, and reward good content.

We need a better web.

I’m counting on you.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Martin Penwald June 7, 2024 at 8:24 pm

    Who are you and what have you done of Juliette ?

    Reply
    1. Zhu June 7, 2024 at 9:04 pm

      She has been kidnapped, currently forced to live in Ottawa.

      Reply
  2. Martin Penwald June 7, 2024 at 8:26 pm

    Nan, mais en fait, j’aime bien les nouvelles couleurs, surtout le jaune. Je suis pas fan de bleu en général, mais là ça se marie bien ensemble.

    Reply
    1. Zhu June 7, 2024 at 9:04 pm

      J’en avais ras-le-cul de pas de couleurs. La difficulté, c’est de trouver des palettes de couleurs lisibles pour le web. Je ne peux malheureusement pas faire de rouge et noir, ça fait mal aux yeux :-/

      Reply
  3. Shandara June 9, 2024 at 6:09 pm

    Encore faut-il avoir quelque chose à raconter… c’est pourquoi je viens te lire! 😉

    Reply
    1. Zhu June 10, 2024 at 12:13 am

      Same here, I’m not super inspired… because I’m busy with other stuff that will eventually inspire me! 😉

      Reply

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