Search Optimization: A Metaphor

As mentioned yesterday, this is the second odd idea that came to me the other day, and it is just a sort of weird way to think about this SEO stuff.

A Search Optimization Metaphor

Once there was a world that was just full of stuff. They had interesting stuff, boring stuff, odd stuff, funny stuff, stupid stuff, smutty stuff, pretty stuff, gory stuff, ugly stuff, cutsey stuff, mean stuff, girly stuff, macho stuff, and lots more. Every kind of stuff you can imagine, they had.

Problem was, the stuff was scattered all over the world. Some places had lots of interesting stuff, but no pretty stuff. Other places might have had some macho stuff and some stupid stuff, but very little funny stuff and no cute stuff at all.

So the very smartest of them came up with an idea. Let’s put all the stuff in one place, so everybody can share equally. Sounded great on paper. So they took all of the stuff in the world and spread it more-or-less evenly over a one great flat island. To make it fair, they made travel to the island accessible to pretty much everyone pretty much everywhere (okay, in truth some people never got the word and some people couldn’t really travel and some people just couldn’t make the connecting flights, but that’s a different parable altogether).

So then, there was a great huge island, covered with all the stuff in the world, available to almost everyone. What a marvelous idea! Except that it soon became apparent that even though all the stuff was technically available to anyone, it was really kind of hard to find anything useful. Someone would go the island looking for a recipe for a certain kind of potato soup their granny use to make, and find themselves knee deep in cute cats, population statistics, and unspeakable acts involving tennis balls. And even if a recipe did turn up here and there, it was almost always for something other than potato soup.

All the stuff was labeled—more or less—usually with little signs that sometimes clearly indicated what the stuff was, and sometimes didn’t make any sense at all. But if you were standing right in front of some stuff with a decent label, you could tell what it was, but the labels were not used universally, nor were they a standard size, or font, or language, or color, or placed in a standard location. Labels or no, the stuff you were looking for was almost impossible to find.

Until some people started making notes. When they went to the island in search of something, they’d right down everything they saw and note where they found it. And after a while, the people with notes started talking among themselves and sharing the things they’d found. Soon, these catalogs of stuff and where to find it started getting big enough to be quite helpful to people who were looking for certain kinds of stuff.

And then, somebody smart put a bunch of the catalogs together, and made a map. The map person started giving them away and made a lot of friends. So others started making maps. If your map became popular, you could even sell ad space on them and make a bit of money. Making maps of stuff became a sort of industry.

This was better than before. Every map maker had gathered their own sources of information, though, so every map was a little different. But still, even if you had an okay map with the locations of lots of stuff, there might be 10,000 bits of, say, cute cat stuff scattered all over the island.  It was still really really hard to find just the right cute cat stuff. So map makers started highlighting the stuff they thought was the best stuff in every category of stuff.

Which was also better than before. Except now it started to become obvious that if some bit of stuff happened to be a commercial bit of stuff, they could get a lot more visitors if they could get the map makers to highlight them. Some map makers started taking money for the highlights. But many did not, which left commercial stuff operators with only one strategy: they needed to make their stuff look like it was the best stuff.

Meanwhile, the stuff itself had begun to self-organize along thematic lines. Anywhere there was a big pile of a particular sort of stuff, other stuff of a similar nature would gather. Piles of stuff got bigger and began to spread out.

Commercial stuff operators noticed, and one of the first things they did to get map makers’ attention was to accumulate more and more stuff to try and make their piles bigger than the other nearby piles. That worked. The bigger piles were often seen as better piles by the map makers.

Then, the biggest piles started trying to out-compete each other. They made bigger signs and put them on higher poles. They tried writing things on the signs that they hoped would get people and map makers to take notice. Some of them started to write the location of their stuff on little sticky notes that they would then leave on other stuff piles, so that someone looking in a pile about baseball might find a note about another pile where sports equipment was sold.

And this is where the whole thing came together, and then fell apart.

A couple of really smart map makers figured out a new way to tell the good piles from the less-good piles. They would count the notes. Stuff piles with the most sticky notes planted elsewhere would be considered better than the others. Well, okay, they would still take into consideration the stuff pile signs, and maybe even take a quick look at the stuff in the pile, but by and large, the stuff piles with the most sticky notes got the brightest highlights.

And this worked best of all. People using the new maps could find the best stuff easier than ever! Soon the smart map makers had cornered the map market. They found they could sell lots of ads on their maps. They got rich and since everybody wanted their maps, all the stuff operators started clamoring for their attention. And getting a highlight on the smart peoples’ map got to be worth a bundle.

So the commercial stuff piles started to think of new ways to compete. Some of them stuffed their piles with fake stuff, just to look bigger. Some wrote misleading information on their signs. Some sprinkled shiny stuff on their piles. Some sneaked about planting sticky notes all over. Some used camouflage nets designed to look appealing to map makers even though the pile below was mostly crap.

This went on until the smart map makers maps were no longer as reliable as they had been. Most of the other map makers had given up, though, and of the remaining few, the smart makers’ maps were still the best. And it just kept getting worse.  The smart map makers tried to put things right. They declared that if they caught a stuff pile operator using tricks their map highlights might get dulled or erased—or in the worst cases—even deleted from the map entirely.

This threat did make some operators behave better, but not all. More and more, they would even hire Stuff Pile Highlight experts—people trained to understand what the smart map makers were looking for and adjust stuff accordingly.

And that’s me. I’m a Stuff Pile Highlight expert. For a fee, I will look at your stuff pile, and come up with ways to make it stand out more, make it look better, get other piles to add your sticky notes. To get the smart map makers to like you better than they like the other stuff piles.

But here’s the thing. I don’t really want the maps to only highlight the stuff piles who hired the best experts. What I want is for all the stuff piles to get better. I want them to be full of useful stuff. I want their signs to be accurate and legible. I want their sticky notes to be in other piles that are related to them. I want everybody who is looking for some particular stuff to find it.  Find the right stuff. Quickly and painlessly.

That is all.

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