Google’s search ‘bots have been lecturing me of late.
They’re telling me all the big money’s in mending people’s aches and pains, vs. doing things that cause them, like, say, walking over jagged terrain all day.
Bottom line: I should have a heel blog rather than a hiking blog.
I know this because I keep getting all these Google ads on my pages for podiatrists and heel-pain remedies. I want ads from gear suppliers and guide book publishers. I get a few, but I also get all these “heel” ads. They annoy me.
Of course it stands to reason that people who walk the most have the most foot troubles, especially those who go long distances without much rest. Hikers do have heel issues, but that’s not why Google’s ‘bots sends me these ads. They’re not that bright.
All the ‘bots know is that the second word on every page at my site is “heel,” so they assume it’s all about heels. Last week I had a post about plantar fasciitis, and I guess that’s all they needed. Now I’m Heel Central (though I must admit it’s better than when I was getting from ads from shoe stores hawking stiletto heels).
All this because I thought it’d be clever to use a play on “four wheel drive” to name my blog. How all this came to be is mildly interesting to other bloggers, less so to hikers, but hang with me if you’ve got some time to kill.
A few weeks back I did some noodling around and tried to figure out how to make my pages show up in more Google searches. Turns out there’s a bunch of search-engine-optimization plug-ins for WordPress, which I duly installed and watched the googlers pour in at an astounding rate of 14 per hour, up from the previous flow of 11 per hour (hey, it all adds up). At last count 56 percent of all my visitors were from search engines, and most were searching for places to hike in the Bay Area. All good, right?
Sure, but something else happened: I put the Google ads back on my pages and noticed, as advertised, hiking-related ads started showing up. I get paid every time somebody clicks (not much but it still means getting paid to blog and hike). Google never tells you which ads people click on, because they don’t want you goosing your content to rake in more money. They never tell you who wants to advertise on your site, either, so you’re pretty much stuck with whichever ads Google’s top-secret algorithms decide your page ought to have.
Some of the time this works out fine: Backcountry.com and REI.com ads show up on some pages. There are ads for people who make state park maps and such, and people who have romantic backcountry getaways for rent (I guess, because I’m not allowed to click on my own ads to see for sure). I got yurt ads last week when there were stories about Santa Clara County Parks buying them.
Google ads work something like this: Advertiser X says he’ll pay Google dollar amount Y every time somebody clicks on a specific keyword or phrase in the “sponsored links” section of Google’s search results. Keywords are auctioned off to the highest bidder — and Google keeps it all if somebody clicks on one of those sponsored links. If a publisher like yours truly puts a Google ad on his page, Google gives the publisher a slice of this click-based bounty.
Some keywords are worth more than others. Keywords about real estate, insurance, getting out of debt, getting over your erectile dysfunction — in other words, stuff people want to know as much as possible about because it has to do with love or money or staying alive — are worth the most.
The demand for information about hiking in the Bay Area is considerably smaller, so my keywords sell for quite a bit less, understandably so. But here’s the strange twist: Google has thoughtfully calibrated its system to automatically place the highest-dollar keywords on people’s pages. Its robots see words but don’t always understand what they mean, just yet.
When Google’s bots scan my pages, the second word they see in the title of every page on my site is, of course, “Heel.” And because humans walk upright and tend to muck up their heels, they’re looking for ways to make their heel pain go away. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies, who have the most ad bucks to spare, pay more for keywords than mere online retailers.
So, Google’s ‘bots look at my page, notice that the second word on every page is “heel” and calculate that the most profitable reader of my San Francisco Bay Area hiking blog is somebody whose feet are unfit for my site’s intended activity.
Well, maybe they’ll start hiking once their feet get healthy.