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.

man reading
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

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.


  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.

      1. ||ॐ||
        May be Google does not matter. But I guess even for you search engines matter. Or do you 100% depend on referral traffic? I am here since this post ranked No.1 on wordpress search for the word “SEO”. Did all others reach the same because of similar reasons?

        1. That’s very interesting. The fact that I used “SEO” in both the headline and the body of the text probably caused the search engine to notice the post. I do not do anything to encourage SEO and expect nearly all of my visitors to be here by referral or accident.

  2. True fact. I have never sighed or groaned when reading your blog. I’d call that complete success!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. Good article, I think the best way of implementing SEO is finding the balance between satisfying your readers and same time making it easier for search engines to rank your site.

      1. SEO is, or should be, focused around topics.

        Keywords are important still, but they’re not used in the same way as they used to be. Or in the way the article you’ve linked to indicates.

        Google is also shifting more and more towards topics. A good writer with a knowledge of SEO will know how to write a decent article without having to stuff it with keywords like the Cleaning example.

        Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out their who don’t truly understand SEO either that or they’re trying to game the algorithm. Which is why you end up with the bad articles.

        Google is a very smart machine, but it is only a machine.

        As for the sexism.

        I think their opening paragraph about using the word “cleaning lady” is actually miss leading.

        The reason they’re targeting the keyword “cleaning lady” is not because it’s the most popular search term. It’s because because out of all the keywords related to cleaner that is the easiest to rank for.

        In the US:
        Cleaning lady gets 4,200 searches per month
        House cleaning gets 29,000 searches per month

        Both searches have a similar user intent (user intent is an important part of SEO)

        But on a difficulty scale of 1 to 100
        Cleaning lady is a 7
        House cleaning is a 31

        That’s just one example, I could go on with examples of other words they could have targeted.

        My final comment – a great SEO writer will focus on writing for humans first and think about the search engines second. After all Google’s goal is to improve our experience online, so the writers should be aiming for that too.

        Hope that helps a little.

        All the best,

        1. Thank you for this, Nate. I have learned a lot here. I doubt understand the concept of “ranking for” a word or the difficulty scale. However, I am glad to learn that Google is shifting more towards topics and that the use of keywords is changing. We are in total agreement that a good writer will focus on the humans reading their work first.

          Best regards,

  6. Thanks for sharing this article. I think this will be so useful to new bloggers and I have to agree that internal linking is such a great and easy way to boost your website.

    1. I had not thought of internal linking as a way to boost the website, but I suppose it must be. I provide links to both articles within the blog and outside the blog, where I think the reader might be interested in seeing my references. I don’t do it to increase the number of articles that are read.

      Although I am intrigued by the statistics, I am much more interested in people’s comments. Thank you for yours.

    1. It is important for anyone who wants to increase traffic to their site and WordPress provides some useful instruction on the topic.

      WordPress tutorials might be a good place to find more information on SEOs.

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