Does SEO Create the Pop Songs of the Internet? (Part 3: History of SEO)

I’m the type of person who listens to pop music while on my way to see avant-garde jazz. Despite desperately wanting to be a music snob, I've actually become more openminded about pop music and its place in our culture as I grow older. 

In fact, the other day Cotton Eye Joe was blaring from my car when I arrived at my husband’s work for a jazz concert (he’s a sound tech). 

Please hear me out. I have an excuse for this untimely display. I was listening to a podcast

I was learning how the popular version of Cotton Eye Joe from 1994 (not the original folk song which predates the American Civil War) was an embarrassing assemblage of a Sweedish take on red neck facets of America.

Those Eurodance Swedes did well at selling a historically inaccurate version of us back to ourselves. (Dreadlocks are not from the south.)

Inaccuracies aside, you can now buy the Rednex brand for $2 million. Point for the Swedes.

Exposure To Mainstream Ideas

Learning about the history of the above song made me wonder:

  • Even with all of my musical explorations, would I have ever learned about the original Cotton Eye Joe (rumored to have started on a plantation in Texas) if it hadn’t become a pop-dance phenomenon of bizarreness around the world? (Probably not.)
  • Moreover, are there times when I should be thankful a “mainstream infusion of interest” watered-down something of depth (because then at least I could find it and be exposed to it)?
  • If the “pop music formula” described in Part 2 didn’t exist, what would music be like today? Would it still be a unifying force?
  • Likewise, if the economics involved in music streaming have an obvious impact on the structure of music, what is SEO’s impact on writing?
  • What about the process of writing itself?
  • And the depth of writers who rise to the top?

Economics Are Changing Writing

Today, I’ll be exploring the history of SEO along with terminology that is important to understand while writing for websites and blogs. 

Learning how to work with a system instead of against it can make projects easier (and potentially make your results useful to others while helping you gain exposure). 

That being said, sometimes it makes sense to break the rules, deviate from the norm, and do something creative for yourself.

At other times, rule-breaking is conducted for economic benefit. (Like Loretta Lynn said, you better be the first, the best, or different. I find different to be the most achievable.)

I like my writing to feel genuine. In order to maintain this, should I work with SEO in mind or ignore it? That's the main question here. 

Also, where did SEO come from anyway? 

History of SEO

As websites started crowding the internet in the early 1990’s, search engines were created to sort out the ensuing chaos.

Therefore, SEO has its baby roots in 1991.

But SEO really burst onto the digital-savvy scene in 1996 when Larry Page and Sergey Brin started designing Google.

(Did you know it was first called BackRub?) 

"Why does your baby sleep through the night?”  

"I spent time BackRubbing it and found out about the powers of blue light!”

What an alternate universe that would have been. 

Known as Google when the domain was registered in 1997, the search engine used SEO willy-nilly until it was revealed spam could game the system and rise to the top.

Since it's annoying to have your questions answered with spam, Google decided to do us all a favor, update the algorithm consistently, feature quality content, and try to read our minds (and bad spelling) to help us find what we are actually looking for. 

SEO tweaking hasn’t stopped since.

The history of SEO shows us that it’s a system with good intentions. It’s out to make the world more efficient. It has nothing against you as a writer. It’s not trying to make you boring or bury your message. It's just trying to help people find things.

SEO Terminology

It may sound obvious, but I didn’t start writing with SEO terminology in mind. I started writing with a journal while sitting on a hay bale. The last I checked, a “slug” was something outside in the woods and a “tag” was something itchy I cut off my pants.

The world seems to have evolved without me though, so here’s to Savvy History’s goal of getting with it.

  • Keywords - The words and phrases a searcher enters into a search engine (such as Google). Keywords can also be known as "search queries.” If you’re going to write about a topic anyway, it may benefit you to know how it is popularly termed.
  • Slug - Part of the URL unique to each individual page of a website. When you create a new post or page, it's wise to spend time to optimize the slug by including keywords you’d like to rank for. This won’t impact your title if you still want your title to sound creative.
  • Stop Words - Common words that search engines skip over. They ignore them in order to save space in databases. It also speeds up the process of indexing data. You don’t need to include stop words in a slug.
  • Title - Titles are meant for people already on your site (so they know what your post or your page is about). SEO titles, however, are meant for people NOT on your website (yet). Title tags are an HTML component indicating the title of a web page.
  • SERPs - Search engine result pages. This is where a title tag shows up as a headline to click on.
  • Meta description - A 160-character description that summarizes the content of a page. A search engine will show the meta description in the search results, especially when the phrase that was searched for is present in the description.
  • Css - Cascading Style Sheets are responsible for the visual appeal of a website. CSS provides control over the fonts, style, layout, etc. of a website.

A Fine Mix: Balancing Knowledge of Pop and SEO

While consciously trying to write pop-style songs for the first time ever (after writing five folk albums), I don’t feel like I’ve lost myself or my mission.

While writing articles and becoming curious about SEO, I don’t think I’ve lost my voice either.

As you can see, there are several weird twists and turns on my mission to write history-tinged songs that are impactful and stick.

For one, I’m currently finding a way to appreciate pop music I couldn’t stand before. I’m using “the absurd” to find meaning on a deeper level, to find commonalities, and to open my mind. 

A good song is a good song. I don’t care if a boy band danced it while an obscure songwriter wrote it. 

However, I do draw the line at cultural misappropriation. Please, if you have an extra $2 million, buy the brand that spawned Cotton Eye Joe and put it out of its misery (especially before it spreads to another generation of kids trying to learn about the 90s).

SEO Conclusion: No One Wants My Jingles

When I google the best vacation spots in Iowa, I’m glad the magic of SEO helps me out behind the scenes so I can actually find some. (They’re awesome and they’re out there!) 

In the future, when people google history songs, creative business story, or crazy frugal vintage people, I secretly hope they can find Savvy History.

Still, all of this reflection has left me wondering; when is expression done for the sake of expression and when is it done to meet the needs of the masses? 

If we go too far with the act of trying to appeal to others (or an algorithm), our message may morph from an artistic work into something more like a commercial. And jingles are a different beast altogether.

I don’t mind a world full of pop songs. But a world full of Oscar Meyer Wieners? That would be embarrassing.

What do you think? Are you concerned about what music streaming and SEO are doing to creative expression?


7 Replies to “Does SEO Create the Pop Songs of the Internet? (Part 3: History of SEO)”

  1. These have been great posts. I’m a music junkie and a blogger so I think about this often. What pisses me off most about SEO is that it kind of forces you to comply to the rules to get views. Sure you can break them and still get exposed through the socials or other ways if your content is really really good, but it’s way harder.

    But take a band like the Beatles. They broke every rule in the book of what a pop song was (starting in ’65 and ’66), and rose to the top. Starting a song with a chorus (Can’t buy me love), or putting out a 7 minute single when anything over 3 minutes was considered unplayable on the radio (Hey Jude). In other words, they broke the rules but the environment was ready for geniuses to do so, because there were no algorithms dominating the rules of music.

    But SEO online is different, the rules are governed by math and algorithms from one company. So it’s much much harder for great art and creation to rise above while breaking those rules. Or that’s my opinion at least 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog, Dave, to drop these awesome insights on the Beatles. You make a great point. How is there room for fantastic rule breakers within the system now? What about the role of record labels – let alone SEO?! If an A&R person scouts five bands, they need to make money in a year or his job is toast. By default, physical human gatekeepers aren’t looking for too many risky deals either. Numbers are driving so many decisions.

      Like you, I was thinking about the role of social the other day. I remember when Pete from DYEB had a Tweet about how Twitter won’t drive traffic to your blog. Then someone came on to say Four Pillars Freedom uses Twitter to drive traffic to their blog all the time. Then I was sitting there thinking… I think Twitter is the only way I get traffic (other than occasional links or breakthroughs in someone else’s newsletter)! Maybe that’s when all this SEO thinking started? Hmmm…

  2. “Numbers are driving so many decisions.”

    Yup, well said. And the best art, be it writing, paintings, or music cannot be quantified, as much as the Spotifys of the world want to think it can be.

    As for Twitter, it’s my 3rd biggest source of traffic overall. I don’t interact much on Twitter like others, I just share good content and most importantly always thank those who share mine. Thanks goes a long way and gets followers.

    Merry Christmas!

  3. i was looking at one of mrs. smidlap’s paintings the other day at her mother’s house. it’s a large painting of ballerinas. i could put up a picture of that work but it wouldn’t be nearly the same as the expression of seeing the texture of the brush strokes in person. we also have some t-shirt designs but haven’t marketed those or used SEO for the print on demand services. that’s something we have to figure out but then again those shirt designs are not “fine art” even though they come from original art. sometimes the choices are hard.

    just like your music, we would love to sell a ton of original art or i wouldn’t mind 100,000 readers for a blog post. i guess there is a fine line to walk. thanks for the tutorial on SEO. i’ll have to remember those tips as i truly didn’t bother to learn any of that!

    1. Glad you could get something out of it that applies to you and your wife’s situation. Print-on-demand services are something I know very little about, but it’s great you two are exploring it (and I have no doubt SEO applies).

      FYI – I certainly don’t consider this series a tutorial – more a reflection for myself and where I should go next with the back end work on the blog. I like to write more than I like to optimize! It’s an old story for me and I guess that’s still where I’m at.

  4. Without being hyperbolic, this is, honestly, the best blog series I’ve read this year. I appreciate the concept and the research, Michelle. It’s made me think quite a bit about my own creativity on both the music and writing fronts. Looking forward to more great insights in 2020!

  5. Thank you Mr. Fate! Like all bloggers, sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here. (Throwing words at a fan!) Thanks for the encouraging words. I love to write.

    Wishing you a great 2020 as well.

Comments are closed.