SEO: Savior or Saboteur of the Internet’s Integrity? 

The impact of search-engine optimization (SEO) on the internet is complex and multifaceted, rather than solely destructive. 

As reported by the New Yorker, TikTok video essayist Eleanor Stern states that ‘part of the problem is that social media is more hierarchical than it used to be’. There is now a ‘divide that wasn’t there before, between audiences and creators’. 

She goes on to illustrate that social media platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, and X no longer prioritize what users have to say. It’s all about watching and listening as opposed to sparking conversations and reciprocity. 

This in turn diminishes the relevance of user-generated content (UGC) and community engagement. Instead, algorithms and platform policies have started favoring content that maximizes viewer retention and ad revenue, sidelining content that encourages active participation and dialogue. 

Did SEO ruin the Internet?

A study conducted by a group of German researchers earlier this year concluded that Google Search is potentially declining in quality. Users are said to experience frustration over the relevance and accuracy of search results. 

Over the years, Google has worked endlessly to combat spam and showcase only reliable results to users, but with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), it poses a few concerns to the nature of search results. 

First, AI models are known to inherit biases that are present in training data, leading to biased search results or recommendations. 

By analyzing vast datasets to generate content that mimics human writing styles and meets SEO requirements, Futurism reports that once notable sites like Buzzfeed, CNET, and Sports Illustrated have started publishing AI-generated articles that seemingly rank well on Google. 

Second, there are privacy concerns over the increased personalization of search results.

As search engines utilize AI to tailor search experiences based on users’ past behavior, preferences, and location data, there is a growing apprehension about the extent to which personal information is collected, stored, and utilized. 

This relates closely to the third concern, transparency. AI algorithms used in search engines are often proprietary, making it challenging for users to understand how decisions are communicated and understood. 

Many companies guard these details as intellectual property to maintain a competitive advantage but the lack of transparency can increase concerns about fairness, bias, and privacy. 

In an 8000-word piece published on The Verge on whether SEO is to blame for your increasingly irrelevant Google search results, a few key points are brought up: 

The power of SEO experts: SEO experts have significant influence over how websites rank in Google’s search results. By closely monitoring and adapting to Google’s algorithm updates, they adjust their strategies to align with these updates to maintain or enhance search rankings. 

Beyond technical aspects, SEO experts play a crucial role in digital marketing strategies by drawing organic traffic to websites. They collaborate with content creators, web developers, and marketers to achieve business objectives through improved search engine visibility. 

Content vs SEO: It is a delicate act balancing between creating high-quality, engaging content that answers a user’s search query whilst also optimizing the content to rank well in search engine results. 

Consider this example: 

Internet user Nick Slater had one simple question he wanted to ask the internet: ‘Can Cats Eat Blueberries?’

In an article published by a notable site, these were the answers he was provided: 

summary of answers provided for a search query titled 'can cats each blueberries?'

Despite the article title being a perfect match for his search, nowhere in the whole article was the answer to his query mentioned, yet it was ranked as one of the top results. 

It even went to the extent to answer other related queries related to alternative snacks for cats and whether they could eat fruits but nothing that responded to the user’s initial query. 

Here, it is evident that SEO practices have started prioritizing content that conforms to search engine algorithms, favoring commercially driven or mainstream perspectives over diverse or independent voices (hence why Reddit searches are still so popular). 

What’s more, SEO’s emphasis on keywords and ranking metrics is leading to a homogenization of online content. This can limit the visibility of niche or unconventional pieces that do not fit traditional SEO optimization strategies. 

This can result in shallow, clickbait-style articles or content that lacks depth or substance, detracting from providing a valuable user experience. 

Economic implications: Compared to traditional advertising methods, SEO is often viewed as a cost-effective strategy for long-term growth. Once established, organic search traffic can provide a steady stream of visitors without ongoing ad spend. 

With SEO techniques enhancing content discoverability both on search engines and social media platforms, creators have started integrating SEO tactics to improve engagement rates. 

However, this has led to the rise of quality over quantity. There is an influx of clickbait-style posts aimed at maximizing visibility, failing to authentically resonate with users. 

An example of clickbait post

At first glance, SEO on search engines and social media platforms facilitate commercialization and monetization opportunities for businesses and influencers. But, user’s are becoming smarter and more discerning in their online interactions. 

They are able to increasingly recognize when content is overly optimized for SEO or when social media posts are strategically crafted for commercial purposes. 

This heightened awareness has prompted users to seek more genuine content experiences. 

Can SEO Specialists adapt?

Marketers should be well aware that there is now a growing demand for transparency and authenticity from brands and influencers.

Content that provides real values, addresses specific interests and engages users on a deeper level beyond mere promotional messages is highly sought after. 

This shift in user behavior challenges businesses and content creators to adopt a more nuanced approach to digital marketing. 

All SEO experts know how to hack the present system but what matters now is their ability to blend SEO optimization with genuine storytelling, community engagement, and ethical practices. 

It is not hard to discern AI-generated content from original works. The inability of AI to showcase diversity in style and offer contextual and cultural nuances is a loophole SEO strategists can capitalize on.