This Week in SEO (and the real world)

I promise this has some relevance to the rest of the piece, though I won’t vouch for exactly how much. Way back in 1976, Dustin Hoffman prepared for his iconic “is it safe” scene in Marathon Man with Laurence Olivier by staying up for 72 hours. Apparently, Hoffman looked like hell on the set – unshaven, shaky, dozing off – so much so that Sir Laurence not only noticed, he felt compelled to ask Dustin what was up.

015-marathon-man-theredlistHoffman explained his theory of method acting to one of the greatest actors who ever lived. Who listened politely, nodded, paused for a moment, and said, “My dear boy, why don’t you just try acting?”

Which brings me to my topic.

So, this happened over the last ten days. I got an email from a client asking for some help with ‘new pages’ for her web site. The people running her site suddenly saw a desperate need to ‘optimize’ a separate page for each of her services. They sent along nine pages of SEO ‘gold’ to drive her to the top of the search rankings.

The only problem was that the content was unreadable. Seriously. It completely belied the intelligence, wit, and fun easily found across her social media. She knew it, asked me to edit the pages. I did, it wasn’t fun, it was like trying to breath life into a Cuisinart manual.

But, we got it done, returned it … and the web people tore it back down into some tidy, nonsensical key words with a few adjectives and un-associated verbs tossed here and there to give the appearance of recognizable speech.   Or, so I’m told, I was spared the sight of it – my client fired the web people.

I barely had time to launch into my well practiced, “I get this SEO thing, I really do … but I also know that every lawyer’s web person is using the same SEO strategies  … which really means using the same words, over and over again .. and even if you magically soar to the top of the charts, crappy writing inspires no one and …. (it gets worse)” rant when a client texted.

Actually, he texted about four times while I was finishing a run on the side of a text-free mountain. “Where are you, man?” was the last one. I was reading it when the phone rang. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘my first blogging emergency.’

It was no emergency, but it was urgent. A very well known reporter for the Washington Post had just left a message for him – turns out she had been following him on Facebook since February.  She wanted to talk, he wanted to run a few things by me first.

We talked, I drove home, he called me back a hour later – long story short, she’d like to check in with him on stories, he can call her with things he thinks may be newsworthy.  I told him, we’ll find something. Soon.

The thing is, my client’s Facebook page – with blog postings, of course, and quick videos – is a non-SEO glimpse into the soul of his firm. Really. Everything we post is a mini-story. Articles with captions that mean something. Put them all together over a few months and they tell a bigger story. That’s something that SEO can’t do.

So, to the SEO folks: “My dear boy, why don’t you just try writing?”

Which brings me to part two. The writing. People out there in Internet-land are using ‘readability’ scales to produce web content that will produce … well, whatever it is they think will happen through the magic of Google’s algorithms.

I briefly (very briefly) had a client last year who demanded that I conform to the Yoast (I think it was Yoast, I have tried to sear the experience from my mind) SEO Readability scale.

The readability scale is just what it sounds like – you type, it rates the content and, supposedly, tells you when it’s readable. It looks like this:

jack and jiilll.JPG

This is it evaluating Jack and Jill. As in ‘Jack and Jill go up the hill.’ Mother Goose doesn’t quite make it, she gets a yellow light. Which is somewhat frightening, if you think about it.

No matter what I did, no matter what style I adapted, no matter how much I dumbed down content, no matter how simple I wrote, I could not get a green light. Which the client insisted on.

I thought it was stupid and knew I couldn’t be anyway nearly as creative as I’m supposed to be while worrying about a readability and a SEO green light on a single post.

So, I gracefully resigned. But, the damned readability thing kept bothering me. I’m not only confident that I write well, I’m confident that I write well in a variety of styles. I’ve won a Bob Dylan songwriting contest (“Cut myself shaving last night, there wasn’t any toilet paper in sight, gave me quite a fright…..”); an ‘imitate Hemingway ‘competition (Yes. I know. It’s easy in all the right places); have nailed Raymond Chandler in a legal brief; can do stream of consciousness unconsciously.

But, I couldn’t pull down the coveted Yoast Readibilty Green Light.

Which got me thinking, ‘Who could?’

Who indeed? I went back to the damnable rating system and began to check out some of my favorite authors … of all time. Here’s how they did:

things have changed

Our newest Nobel Laureate flunks. Bob Dylan has all kinds of problems.


Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises … not so great. Apparently.


Somehow Alice in Wonderland getting a red light fits, at least down the rabbit hole.


Charles Dickens, with one of the worst ratings. (Tale of Two Cities).


It breaks my heart that Huck Finn gets a yellow.


Is it me or does Stephen King’s red light seem redder than the others?


William Butler Yeats gets very close to scoring the terrible beauty of green.


Yoast treats Moby Dick the same way readers in the 1850’s did.


Whoa, a green light! Who scored it? Thomas Pynchon, the famously dense, complex novelist who frequently invents words. I used a couple of paragraphs from Gravity’s Rainbow. That is well-known as the book with the greatest opening line (A screaming comes across the sky) that no one has finished.

My spiel about optimizing content and programs rating the readability of pieces ends with the revelation that the writer Yoast thinks is the easiest to read is in fact the densest living writer in print.

I can only hope that the technology for self-driving cars is a whole lot better than this crap. ‘Cause that could get really messy.


Just In . . .

The Trump campaign announced that hot on the heels of Jerry Falwell’s endorsement in today’s Washington Post (favorably comparing Donald J. Trump with Winston Churchill) comes another major endorsement: Carmine Lupertazzi, Jr.

little-carmine-lupertazzi-1024The DVD movie mogul released a statement this morning reading, in part: “This country is on the precipice of an enormous crossroads . . . we are, as a nation, in a stagmire. We need Donald J. Trump. . . He’s an old-fashioned kind of guy – very allegorical, with a grasp of the sacred and the propane . . . Donald J. Trump will guide our military to previously unheard of heights because he knows, better than most, that a pint of blood is worth more than a gallon of milk. But, if the time comes when military action is needed, Donald will not hesitate because he understands that historically historical changes come about because of war . . .

. . . Trump will be a more effective leader than Clinton, even more so until he is elected but until he is it will be hard to verify that he will be as effective as I am sure he will be.”

Faulkner and Running …

IMG_2389Went for a run this morning in Faulkner country – Oxford, Mississippi, home of Ole Miss. My daughter directed me to a rail trail behind campus … I hit it at 7:45 am, already 83 out with humidity at 70%, no breeze, not a cloud in the sky. Some observations:

  • Mississippi is hot.
  • No matter which way you go on a rail trail run it always looks like it’s uphill. This was no different, I was cursing my daughter all the way out (2.25 miles) while looking forward to the downhill back … only to be struggling going back? A look at MapMyRun a few minutes ago showed a kind of short, sickening, shallow roller coaster pattern that I somehow interpreted as always up … except for:
  • Almost dead center of the trail there’s a quick, nasty, 60 foot drop, then a quick, nasty, 60 foot hill, all over just overIMG_2386 a hundred feet on a straight line – it’s a ravine, there used to be a trestle across the gap but …
  • Dead bottom of the ravine is a historical marker – the Buckner Ravine was spanned by Buckner’s Trestle. Two major train tragedies occurred there – one in 1929 that injured 50 or so Ole Miss Students and professors, and one in 1870 that made national news – 20 dead, 60 injured.
  • This was interesting on the way up, on the way back I realized that I was the third train wreck at that particular spot,
  • I’m used to chipmunks running underfoot every two feet. There were no chipmunks. None. Where are the chipmunks? There ought to be chipmunks. Well, maybe next year.
  • IMG_1010All of this naturally made me think of Oxford’s most famous non-football resident, William Faulkner. It’s a Sunday morning in JUNE and it’s 83 before 8 am – it was 89 when I finished. Not the hint of a breeze, not a hint of a cloud. Back in the day, the rail line ran pretty close to Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home. Faulkner didn’t believe in air conditioning, he refused to install it. When he died in 1962 his widow put in air conditioning before she put him in the ground. This was a man who embraced misery. Like his characters.
  • For me, this says it all about Faulkner. Forget sitting through Comparative Lit 301; go to Oxford in the summer, walk, run, crawl around town for a few hours, try to sleep with the windows open and ceiling fans twirling, and for God’s sake avoid air conditioning for a day or so, and I guarantee you will learn more about the man and his literature than you will ever learn sitting around talking about him.




“People Like Stories …”

15-oj-people.w529.h352It was finally said. I had been waiting and waiting and finally, eight and a half hours into The People v. OJ Simpson, someone said it. The thing I had been saying for the previous eight weeks, the – to me – one, clear, overriding, theme of the trial.

Something I had gleefully relayed to my clients, over and over again – um, this might be a good time to apologize, so, ah, sorry – was finally said aloud by Chris Darden (a great Sterling K. Brown): “People like stories. It helps them make sense of things.”

It was obvious to me from pretty early on that this trial – one I saw live, day in and day out while I was studying for the Bar exam, but didn’t see this then – was about story telling.

The prosecution had overwhelming evidence – and proceeded accordingly. The defense told stories. The prosecution talked blood trails, and gloves, and science, and more science, and matter-of-factually laid out a building block, evidentiary case. The defense presented a protagonist, several antagonists, colorful side characters, humor, pathos, theories, and fleshed it out with scenes complete with dialogue.

Marcia and Chris presented the jury with a law school casebook, a scientific journal, and a criminal procedure manual. Johnny, Barry, Bob, and the rest of the defense showed them LA Law.

It was never a contest, as Darden finally realized – at a time when the People’s best bet was a mistrial and a ‘do over.’

The storytellers won out – in the criminal trial. The civil trial, which began less than a year later, was handled by a torts attorney, a man used to telling stories. He told a better one that time around.

It really is all about the stories.

The Falcon, and History, and Reviews, and Stuff

Thank you so much for allowing me to read “The Falcon.” I have been reading Civil War fiction for over 50 years, and I can scarcely if ever remember reading a book that did the subject more justice than did Mr. Hicks’ work. “The Falcon” is remarkably good history; indeed, the book is accurate down to the smallest details regarding American life in 1861. It is also an intriguing “whodunit,” weaving an intricate pattern of deception and revelation. Finally, it brings to life characters that are engaging and totally believable. “The Falcon” reminds us that with the nation in peril at the start of the Civil War, thousands of men from across the North came together in common cause to try to save the nation . . . I am confident that anyone who reads his work will come away with a greater understanding and appreciation of the Civil War generation. Please give my compliments to Mr. Hicks, and tell him to keep up the good work! ~ Dr. Donald Elder III

We received that review last night from an American history professor from Eastern New Mexico University. His background is the kind that gave me nightmares – when it comes to reviews – i.e. Civil War expert, edited/published/annotated several collections of Civil War letters through the University of Iowa Press, it goes on.

This, of course, is no reflection on him, it’s a reflection on me. Most assuredly. See, the Hanlin novels (although, come to think of it, especially in light of recent developments, it really is one novel serialized in seven installments), are really about people, and relationships (or lack thereof), stress, horror, sex (or lack thereof), bigotry, religion (or lack thereof), crime and punishment, they just happen to be wrapped around the Civil War. Continue reading

Dogs in Coats

Running by the Farmington River this afternoon, among dogs in coats and people in sparkling new running shoes and clothes, a few things popped in now that 2014 is out of its misery.

  • Any year that takes Tony Gwynn, Robin Williams, Jann Hooks,$Elizabeth Pena, Harold Ramis, & Philip Seymour Hoffman way too early wasn’t really intent on playing fair from the get go.

  • hqdefaultThe NYPD ends the year with a slow-down and the overall crime rate plummets. At a time when the police union is renegotiating its contract. Brilliant strategy, could end up reminding people of the Great Elevator Operator Strike of 1972.

  • This year finally impressed upon me the truism that anyone who responds to a question with, “Look, it’s been working this way for twenty years . . . ” is not worth listening to.

  • The U.S. discovered the Islamic Statekh-five . . . an entity that has arisen countless times since the Koran was written. ISIS is hardly something new, despite what Congress, the State Department, President and political pundits . . . nothing’s a secret if Charleton Heston has already made a movie about it – a war Churchill fought in – right?

  • MLB Photos ArchiveBaseball appointed a special committee to look at Hall of Fame candidates from the 60s and 70s who didn’t get in. In doing so, Major League baseball was basically admitting that,hey, the HOF voting process was (is) not only antiquated but the enfranchised included drunks, wife beaters, outright conmen, and, worse of the worse, ink-stained keeper of the keys wonks who could agree on only one thing – Babe Ruth was not a first ballot hall of famer. So what happened? The new guys didn’t vote anyone in. Tony Oliva not a HOFer? Louis Tiant? Minnie Minoso? Richie Allen? Get voters with a clue, please.

  • Softbank is releasing a robot that can read450086876 human emotions next month. They look cute, seem smart, responsive, would probably be really cool to have if they had fur and were warm blooded. Developed and marketed by people who have never seen a science fiction movie . . . ever. I’m not interested and I recognize that my reluctance will not be noted after the apocalypse when a handful of human survivors serve their robotic masters.

  • 018-marlon-brando-theredlistThe NY Times has been all over the mess that is Rikers Island. Mess probably not being the right term for something international civil and prisoner rights organizations would be looking into if it wasn’t in the United States. They’ve focused on the head of the Corrections Officers Union as the chief problem – a guy whose friends call him a bully. He has a propensity for showing up at the homes of his political opponents carrying sidearms (the plural is not a misprint). He claims he’s not trying to intimidate, he’s just being a peace officer. “I’m the union head… and a peace officer,” I can hear him explaining to Kurtz. To which the Kurtz in my head answers, “You’re neither . . . you’re a glorified babysitter with the morals of an underfed weasel . . . ” It gets worse.

  •  My theory that the root of the world’s problems gunnyisn’t race, economics, or a host of other likely candidates but bullies bullying the bullies that bully the regular folk gets stronger every day.  Unfortunately, I think I’ll be able to prove it this year.

Just to Be Fair

The video below is going viral, you’ve probably already seen it several times – a guy in New York took up the Ellen Dance Challenge and decided that, as a black man, it’d be great to do it behind a bunch of really, really white cops.

The results were predictable. As you can see. Invective raining down upon the NYPD was also predictable … and continues. 

Look, this blog is not all that kind to the authority figures of the criminal justice system. And, it’s only going to get worse as I move forward with a narrative non-fiction account of prison and the system.

But, this is not the place for me to pile on. For the simple reason this is not what it seems, though, unsurprisingly, it has not been reported by the media.

itsshowtime-bobfosseWhat really went down is this: these particular cops – as the NYPD Union was quick to point out – are avid followers of the theatrical jazz dance school as epitomized by Bob Fosse. They felt, to a man, that this guy’s dancing was simplistic and had no recognizable thematic point.

Sgt. Franz Siegel of the NYPD’s Street Dance Special Branch pointed out that the ‘dancer in question’ was not, in fact, thrown to the ground out of indefensible anger at not being able to arrest him but as a ‘perfectly natural reaction to bad art – “Hey, man,” Siegel said with a shrug, “you gonna’ dance in New York, you gotta make it count, no hard feelings, but ….”Pippin004

One of the officers involved, Charles V. Ogletree, also added, ” You goin’ to do that dancin’ shit behind us, fine, but you better throw in some Pippin, you know? It’s jazz hands or taste pavement, motherfucker, you knowwhattimean?”