Cleaners, Cleaning Ladies, and the Biases of SEO

When I first started this blog in 2010, WordPress provided me with a perfect platform. I didn’t have the skills to create a website, and WordPress made it easy for me. I was able to upload text or to create text directly on the site and soon thereafter to incorporate photos, all without technical ability beyond basic computer training.

This resource has provided bloggers like me with a relatively inexpensive way to access complex technology easily. We are able to write for pleasure and publish our thoughts to audiences with similar interests. We have been given the opportunity to expand our reach and to get feedback from all around the world. I am very grateful that it has enabled me to polish my writing skills and to establish new online relationships.

Writer from Mohamed Hassan via PxHere

WordPress still does this for me, but over the years it has shifted its focus away from blogging to providing a platform for businesses. This makes perfect sense since small businesses can also benefit from this opportunity, and WordPress is ideally suited to meet their needs. Lately, though, it seems that every communication I get from WordPress is pressuring me to behave more like a business, and I have absolutely no interest in that.

I did, briefly, a year or so ago flirt with the idea of using my site as an opportunity to gain advertising income, but I don’t have nearly enough readers. In any case, I didn’t like the idea of cluttering up the pages with ads, and so that little experiment lasted only a couple of months.

SEO chart

SEO Services from Stev Miller via Flickr

Maybe that temporary foray into marketing is the reason I’ve been getting lots of emails encouraging me to “upgrade” to a more commercial package at WordPress. I also repeatedly get tips on how to engage in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and I have read a few instructions on how to make that happen. The idea is that if you incorporate key words and phrases in key places often enough, more reader traffic will flow to your site. I’m sure that makes perfect sense to some statisticians and coders, but it is really annoying to readers and writers.

Jamie recently told me that they read an article about cleaning the house before the cleaners arrive. In it, there is a disclaimer apologizing for using the words “cleaning lady” repeatedly. The disclaimer recognizes the potential offense that might be given by excluding male cleaners but justifies it in terms of Search Engine Optimization. It seems that people search the Internet using the expression “cleaning lady” more often than “cleaners,” so the writer uses that term in the article’s title and nine times throughout. Even knowing they might offend, the writer chose SEO over the sensibilities of some readers.

When I was reading the instructions about effective SEO on WordPress I felt slightly insulted that I was expected to change the way in which I write in order to please the SEO gods. The SEO guidelines seemed to me to have the expectations reversed. Search engine optimizers should be doing more to accommodate variations in writing, not the other way around.

I understand their logic. Clearly, if I want to draw readers to my site I need to use the words and phrases they use in their searches. I get that. But, honestly, I would rather have fewer readers than use, repeatedly, key words and phrases. It makes the writing clunky.

Even more problematic is the recognition that if, as in the case of the article about cleaners, Internet searchers use sexist words and phrases, then the articles they search for must be similarly sexist in order for them to find each other. The same will also be true of other characteristics such as racism, class bias, and so on.

The instructions for SEO also suggest writing in “click bait” style using provocative phrasing (Guess who came to dinner?) or numbered lists (See the ten best click baits of all time). But, when I see those headlines and article structures, I groan. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

So, my Internet friend, I don’t want to make you sigh or groan. At least, not because I’m using search engine optimization. This blog may not have a huge number of readers, but it doesn’t matter because it isn’t written to develop a business. It is written because I enjoy writing and getting your feedback. Maybe one day those SEO developers will figure out a way to bring more people to the site without depending on a limited perception of key words. Until then, this is just between us, and I like it that way.

12 replies »

  1. Google search is only so important. For some blogs and websites it barely matters. Hardly anyone finds my site through Google and I can’t imagine how I could change that.

  2. I think you should start a business for cleaning ladies!

    Reminds me of an old joke about two cleaning ladies that were assaulted by an inmate at a mental health institute before he broke out and ran or it.
    The headline in the morning paper read:

    Nut Screws Washers and Bolts.

  3. And thank you for that!
    I feel the same. I’m not in the blogging game to attract anyone but authentic beings who I connect with. If that means I get less readers, then so be it. At least I’m being sincere.. Your post explains a lot of the strange writings I’ve come across.
    What a world we live in!

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