Stop Publishing Garbage on the Internet

I'm offended by crappy writing.

a wastepaper basket overflowing with crumpled pieces of paper, watercolor
Image created via Midjourney

I didn't plan to write today.

I woke up and joked (in my brain, to myself) that I don't want to contribute to "garbage on the internet." Even though this is my normal day to publish, I didn't have anything that I thought was worth sharing. And writing for the sake of writing isn't worth it to me.

Then I found some blog posts published by a company I was once fond of.

And now I'm mad.

Because it was such utter crap that it was insulting as a writer. And insulting to readers. And insulting to words in general.

At some point in the History of The Internet, companies started publishing in blogs. I remember the early days when having a blog seemed to indicate a level of legitimacy as a company: the writing may not be great, but at least the company is taking the time to put something out into the world. And in those early days, maybe the blog was no more than an employee who had some extra time and decent writing skills.

Then content marketing emerged. Blogs became a traffic driver through search engine optimization (SEO). Companies raced to publish content that would appear near the top of Google search results for certain keywords.

And here's where the fork in the road began to occur. Because some companies played a game, publishing a volume of content with the best SEO "hacks." The content would rank on Google, but was worthless to the reader.

Meanwhile other companies played the same game, but focused on quality. They knew that if a reader wasn't rewarded by the article, they would quickly leave the site, defeating the purpose of SEO.

And a third era has emerged. Where SEO is so competitive that new companies can't hope to compete against established players in the market, even with high quality writing. So their blog efforts rely on other methods of distribution, such as posting on social channels, employee personal brands, and newsletters.

This is the world I entered two years ago.

I moved quickly moved through the rungs of content marketing. First, at a content mill churning articles for clients en masse — clients that didn't care about quality at all and wanted cheap content. Then I secured a job at an agency that focused on SEO, but promised quality. Clients paid thousands of dollars for content that would satisfy the reader and rank highly in Google. They were still playing the SEO game, but with high stakes since the content cost so much.

And now, as a freelance writer, I can say: I only care about quality.

I can't control distribution. I could write the best SEO-optimized piece and it never sees the light of day in the Google search results because there are a hundred other factors. Clients work with me because I have niche expertise and they want to put quality work in front of their readers.

Do I still write for an online audience? Sure. Outside of my ramblings in this blog, I structure my articles with the reader in mind. I include links to relevant research or other posts on the company's website. I'll make sure that my sentences aren't too dense and that I match a client's overall writing style.  

And because I care so much about quality, I'm infuriated when I see garbage on the internet.

I'm not talking about bland writing or articles that lack basic structure for an online reading experience. I'm talking about actual, nonsensical jibberish. Content that has clearly been written by someone without any subject-matter expertise.

I tripped across these blog posts, and my mouth fell open. They were either written entirely by AI, or written by a content mill that exploits writers in developing countries for pennies per word. Either way, it was gross.

Out of sheer curiosity, I ran one of the articles through an "AI detection" tool. It came back as "100% human!" but I'm not convinced. Such tools are still in their infancy. Or someone knew how to edit the text just enough to avoid detection.

I ran it through another tool that assigns a reading level to the article. It came back as Grade 16. Except no college-level person would be able to make heads or tails of the sentences. They were long, but devoid of meaning. No reader would give the article more than a second's glance.

And as a writer, I'm offended.

Companies that don't care about the reader at all just... stop putting words into the world. You're contributing to garbage on the internet. At this point, there's enough good (or at least, not terrible) content in the world that it makes you look bad. You'll be known as "the company that uses AI without having a human edit the output" or "the company that exploits writers."

It's in the same category as having a poorly designed website or a fillable form that doesn't work — it shows how little you care about your image. And if you don't care about your image to the potential customers arriving on your website, then what else don't you care about?

Take down the shitty blog. Please. Better not to have a blog at all.