Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2021/ SEO is Blaming the Victim

SEO is Blaming the Victim

The other day I did a web search for full-service ("wash and fold") laundromats in Kitchener, so I typed "wash and fold laundromat in kitchener" into my preferred search engine. This query was pretty straightforward, but instead of getting a list of wash and fold laundromats in Kitchener, I got articles like "How to Start a Coin-Operated Laundry" and "How to Do Laundry at a Laundromat: 14 Steps (with Pictures)". There was one Kitchener laundromat returned in the first page of results.

When confronted with such bad results, our impulse is to blame the victim. In this case there are two victims: me and the set of laundry services in Kitchener.

These bad results are supposedly my fault, because I did not put a plus sign in front of kitchener, or I did not group words together, or something. I am not sure I agree with this analysis, but let's let that go.

The bad results are also supposedly the fault of laundromats in Kitchener, because they are not optimizing their "Search Engine Optimization", or SEO. If you want a site on the Internet these days you are supposed to jump through all kinds of hoops so that it shows up in search results:

and on and on and on. If you do not do these things then potential customers will type "wash and fold laundromat in kitchener" into their search engines, and your website will commit the mortal sin of appearing on page two of the search results, and you will never get any business ever and you will go bankrupt and have to live under a bridge.

Those of us who work in the web (as web searchers or website operators) know that this is how the game is played, and so we all play along. But it is ridiculous. The purpose of a search engine is to produce the search results I want, and in this age of machine learning and voice recognition and total surveillance we are supposed to believe that typing "wash and fold laundromat in kitchener" should not result in wash and fold laundromats in Kitchener? Maybe when YOU type in "wash and fold laundromat in kitchener" you will get better results than I will, which is its own kind of stupid.

The SEO victim blaming is even more stupid. The purpose of a search engine is to search the web and produce web sites that are relevant to the search. If a public website exists for a laundromat then it should appear high up on the list, before any Wikihow articles or advice on how to run a coin-operated laundromat. All the hoops website operators jump through maybe should make a difference to the relative rankings of the search results, but if any results are NOT for wash and fold laundromats in Kitchener, then it is not the fault of the website owner. It is the fault of the search engine. All of the nonsense search engines (in particular Google) make you jump through just so that it shows up in the search results are their failing, not yours. Why do we put up with this?

(Yes, I understand that Google wants to make the web a safer place by enforcing SSL, and a mobile-friendly place by promoting mobile-friendly websites. But its primary job should be to get the information people are looking for, and when its social-engineering nanny-state tactics come into conflict with producing the info we are looking for, good search results should win out.)