meetingsdemotivatorWhen Google was founded in September of 1998 it’s mission was simple enough: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. They did this by creating what we now know as the PageRank algorithm, but was first called “BackRub“, in an attempt to create a better search engine than what AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, or Yahoo could provide.

The logic behind this idea was this: if the Community of Internet users decide that something is useful, then it must be the best answer and hence, the true answer.

The results of this logic have been a disaster.

Let me explain a bit further.

None of us is as dumb as all of us

It’s the classic de-motivational poster from Despair.com, and it’s perfect for this topic.

Don’t believe me? Check out the headlines over at Upworthy or Buzzfeed. Here’s Scott Hanselman detailing why such linkbait is garbage. Scott sums it up quite nicely with this quote:

“Apparently mining for Page Views is more profitable than mining for Bitcoin.”

Indeed. In the race to be on Page1 of Google we have learned we only need to generate traffic to our websites. The more links, the more traffic, the more weight we get in the page rank algorithm. Oh, sure, we could pay to be on Page1, and we can focus on SEO as a means to get eyeballs on our content. There are lots of ways to get to Page1 these days that didn’t exist in 1998.

And the result of those methods is this: the Internet doesn’t give a damn about making the world’s information universally accessible and useful. It only cares about page views and if it will blend.

When it comes to popular content on the Internet, none of us is as dumb as all of us. Each time we click on linkbait, each time we share a video of a cat, we help to make the world a little bit dumber.

Yes, I’m just as guilty as anyone else. But at least I know it’s happening. And now, so do you.

Wrong incentives

As a result of this, people are being incentivized on a global scale to attract page views. Marketing teams everywhere are told to focus on page views as a defining metric for their job. I once asked the question to a marketing director “would you rather have 1,800 page views, or 1 page view that resulted in $1,800 in sales?”

He chose the views. Everyone chooses the views. It’s the 21st century equivalent to cold calling.

And it’s a disaster.

Personally, I’d rather not resort to gimmicks. I don’t spend hours on SEO for this blog (and it shows!) I used to think about the best linkbait titles, but I don’t bother much anymore. I would much rather produce something of quality (and Someday™ I hope I do), and let that draw people in instead of tricks and gimmicks. In other words, I want the right eyeballs here, not just any eyeballs.

Besides, my incentives aren’t about page views (which are different than page hits). No, I get measured by something much more difficult to attain. It’s called “happiness”, and it’s what I ask my boss about during our reviews. It makes for a much better review than anything else I’ve had.

Stop measuring your worth in page views or hits. Start measuring it in happiness. If you do, you won’t believe what happens next.

What you can do?

So Google is making us dumber. What can we do to re-learn how to think for ourselves?

  1. Understand how Google works. The results on Page1 *may* not be all that useful, or even true. Relying on the Community of Internet users to decide for you what is best for a search result is about as useful as Wikipedia in that 80% of the time there is a 50/50 chance of being correct.
  2. Learn from your own experience. Don’t just listen to someone tell you that they lost 55lbs eating nothing but bacon-wrapped chicken thighs. Go try the diet for yourself to make sure it really works. (SPOILER ALERT: It won’t.)
  3. Spot the differences between someone trying to sell you something (like a product or a service) versus someone that wants to share their story (like a good blog post should). I find that most of Page1 links go to business blogs, as opposed to actual reference material or independent blogs.
  4. Use a different search engine every now and then, maybe one with pretty pictures. The results will amaze you!

And if that doesn’t work we can just create a Wikipedia article that declares Google to not be evil, and that the world’s average IQ is rising at a faster rate that the ocean sea level. Because once it’s on the Internet and a bunch of people link to it, it rises to the top of the search rankings, and therefore it must be true.