That’s a common perception in SEO. Any quick search of ‘SEO tactics’ on Google will bring up countless blogs telling you that your target audience has the mind of a 5th grader.
You’re told to use short sentences, avoid word play, stick to conventional thinking, and generally everything you can to dumb down your own writing so you’re in effect talking down your reader while you’re trying to talk up to them.
People don’t like to be called stupid and it shouldn’t come as any surprise that people don’t want to be called stupid and don’t want to be thought of stupid. The thought that someone could be calling you stupid behind your back often drives many people to do stupid things. But call the other guy stupid? Hey, that’s a no-brainer!
So now we’re walking a fine line between calling our reader stupid while trying to make them think we’re talking about the other guy. It’s really a dicey situation to find yourself in.
The Global Village of Idiots
This could be anything from your Aunt Lily’s classic cheesecake recipe to Edward Snowden’s collection of NSA secrets. The bright light of knowledge is continually under assault from the darkness of ignorance, and vice versa.
For remember, just as so many of us love the freedom, power, and knowledge that the internet represents, so too do many hate it for exactly those same reasons.
But like street protesters kicking in Nike windows with their Nike shoes, so too will these anti-intellectual forces use the very tool that they despise so much.
And what it all means is a continual dumbing-down of society at all levels. I mean, just think back to that standard content rule – write for a 5th grader.
If that’s what we expect our typical audience to be then what does it say about our societies, what does it say about us?
Reading is Fundamentally Bad
Anyone who’s gotten in on podcasts and video blogs has probably seen some sharp increases in traffic, and more hits for those posts overall. People like those hot mediums, the ones that don’t require them to think.
Those cold mediums of yesterday are, well, so…yesterday. While a rallying cry of the print industry has been for years and years now that “people will read again!” it’s hard to think so as you visit popular sites these days.
More and more you’re seeing video, at least once a week. Ads are video now, just in case reading about something you were thinking of buying might seem too passé. And the old adage that ‘a picture say’s a thousand words’ has never been more true, especially when those words could be costing you a pretty penny apiece.
But perhaps what is most alarming, or at least should be to those sites that are more entrenched and finally getting some good traffic and money as a result, is that along with this decrease in intelligence caused by the anti-intellectual cycle being thrown off course is the lack of rationalism that goes with it.
An Exuberance of Irrationalism
I mean, if you can talk to someone you can usually do business with them. But when someone is so irrational that even a conversation is difficult at best and downright dangerous at worst then there’s no way you can deal with that person.
You see this more and more on the internet today.
Whether it’s flaming people in blog posts or on forums, posting tons of negative reviews on a company or person’s product to do them in, or possibly engaging in something worse that even transcends the bounds of the internet entirely, people are not acting as they would normally.
The internet inflames them, and more and more to drive their message across they bombard the other person’s message not with facts and findings but with venom and vitriol. And when it becomes common in one of the most-used platforms and areas of our lives then it transfers to other areas as well.
An Unthinking Audience is Best
By seeking to model our users into our ideal vision of them – mindless consumers bent on nothing more than devouring our product and defending it with their lives – we create that society as well.
SEO seeks to delve into the unconscious impulses of our users, getting to that deep lizard brain that still lies dormant there and which all good salesmen know is the true decider of things.
Bright colors and flashing lights will draw the eye faster than a catchy slogan or well-written diatribe any day of the week. And we know this and we use it to devastating effect, and one that’s becoming increasingly dangerous and unsustainable.
Like a serpent devouring its own tail we’ve begun to create the very thing we sought to do away with in the first place.
So what can be done? All books written on the subject over the past decade or longer, just toss ‘em out?
I don’t know.
I don’t have all the answers and I don’t even think I have the questions to the answers we need. This is what I see coming down the road, and while I’m sure there are some others feeling the same way, I have a feeling most will disagree with me.
That’s fine – it’s what the internet and SEO content is all about – the free flow of information and ideas. For it’s those two things that allow us to come up with new ways of looking at the world, and perhaps just a kernel of copy will give us that insight we need to come up with that next big idea.