What Writing for (Search Engine) Robots Looks Like

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Computers, no matter how hard they try, don't understand syntax like humans. How words fit together to make meaning is largely irrelevant to Google or Bing. To a search engine, it's as if any webpage was a big tag cloud.

And so, when you get some person who wants to make a cheap buck off of search advertising, they create text like this, which is obvious jibberish to a human but not to a machine:

Your Privacy
Your remoteness is critical to us. To improved strengthen your remoteness we yield this notice explaining a online report practices as good as a choices we can have about a approach your report is picked up as good as used. To have this notice easy to find, we have it accessible upon a homepage as good as during each indicate where privately identifiable report might be requested.

"Your remoteness is critical to us"? What the hell could that mean? (Though I have to admit that I love its alienness, language no human would generate.)

It appears that the website steals content, runs it through a few machine translations to denature the theft, and then transmogrifies it back into English. The same site, http://www.guy-ology.com (which I won't link to because it would help their search engine rankings), then posts the resulting gibberish, which contains many keywords but no meaning. Now, for certain odd sets of keywords like "grapefruit juice diet plan," it comes up in the top 25 results.

A quick whois search, which is like a reverse telephone lookup for the websites, reveals that the site is registered to someone named Maureen Jo, and that she (if she is a she) owns 276 other domains. I visited a few like Mjuh.com and PeterandSusan.org, and the same sort of gibberish exists on each of them.

I know that there are plenty of people who practice just as nasty SEO tactics. I know that all writers are at least cognizant that half their audience is robots. But really, Maureen, you're ruining the Internet! And just because you're creating an alien poetry along the way doesn't absolve you of that sin.

Hat tip: JL

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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