Advent Calendar 18 – “Back to the kitchen”

“Back to the kitchen”

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Hallo Leute,

German Advent Calendar, Day 18, the fourth of Advent, and today we’ll actually pick up a loose thread of the Calendar and complete our look at the slightly sad truth about

How (many) posts online are made

If you missed the first part or you want to read that again you can find that here:

Advent Calendar 15 – Peeking into the kitchen

We left after step 3 when we had a list of promising topics for our blog.

But now we need to create the actual articles. Ewww, that sounds like a lot of work.

Especially because we’re not really interested in writing and in the topics. Because remember… we’re just doing this to market our product. And the topics we collected are based on search metrics, not on what we know or care about.

Step 4 – Hire a (cheap) freelance writer

So we go back online to Fiverr or Upwork or another of these freelance platforms and we find ourselves a cheap copywriter. There are plenty of English native speakers on these platforms who freelance as content writers, either as a side hustle or as their normal income while they do travelling around in low income countries. So they’re not charging high rates, and they write about anything you want.
So we hire one of those and hand them the list of topics we want articles for for “our” blog.

Those are usually paid either with a fixed amount or per word written, not per time invested. So what they’ll do is a very cursory research. If for instance they have to write an article about the meaning of doch, they’ll do a quick google search, skim read one or two of the articles, maybe watch a Youtube video to cross reference, and they’ll paraphrase what they found.
They’re writing for hire, so they’ll not have a very unique style. And they’ll probably use Grammarly, a grammar and style checking program, which gives a lot of suggestions how to say and not to say something, so that’ll do it’s share to remove character from the text.

And if we don’t want to hire a freelancer… well, no problem. We just let an AI like ChatGPT write it for us. They’re pretty good at generating generic texts about a topic. You can even tell them to sound “academic” or “casual” or “like buzzfeed”.
What you get is like a plastic plant, basically. Looks like a plant, but it’s not alive.

But that’s still not all.

Step 5 – SEO-optimize the text

Remember … the only reason such an article exists is to lure people from Google and other search engines to our website because we want to sell to them. That’s its main purpose. So of course we optimize it for that.
And there are loads of guidelines how to write something so the search engine ranks it higher. Keywords have to be mentioned in the title, important phrases should be mentioned in the first sentence, the main keyword needs to have a certain density in the text, there need to be subheaders containing the keyword, the sentences have to be short, and so on and so on.

Either the freelance writer does this themselves, or we go over the text afterwards and modify it to fit these “requirements” and that’ll alter the text even more. This can get really bad and some texts are clearly written for the search engine, not for you.

Like… you’ve probably seen these kinds of articles. You search something like “How to clean my nose with salt water” and you might land on an article that starts with “Why you should clean you nose with salt water?” and also has a section “Who should clean their nose with salt water”
This was not written for you! This was written for the search engine.

Step 6 – Success

And that’s how many articles are created nowadays.
They exist to get you to go to a website that sells you something. They do not exist because the author cares or has knowledge in the field. They exist to sell.
And the same goes for all these lists.
Like…

Top 10 Best Apps for Learning German (in 2022)

I’m sure many of you have done searches about this.
Well… guess what you get. You get a bunch of search engine optimized lists that ONLY exist because someone is running affiliate marketing and wants to get commissions for sending customers. They do not pick the apps based on what they like or don’t like. They pick them based on what affiliate deals they get.
They might include some apps in such a list for which they’re not an affiliate but that’s JUST to fool Google into thinking the list is authentic.
But it’s not.
They actually also have programs that change the title based on year or even month automatically. Like… my example above will automatically be changed from 2022 to 2023 in January making people think it’s a new article.

And I can guarantee you… people (companies) writing these lists have not really tried these apps and might well not even be learning a language. It’s only for sales. There is no attempt to give you an honest review. Are there “legit” lists out there? Of course. Many language learners have blogs. But they’re usually not among the top ten results because those will be taken by lists that were carefully optimized for search engines.

Their are countless websites with a blog attached where the blog was created exactly how I described it.

Wrap up

The bottom line is that a lot of content is not written to teach or tell you something, but just to show up high on Google to lure potential customers to the site.
It is typically not written by people who know much about the topic and they also don’t really care.
So if you ever wondered why content online feels like reading plastic… that’s why.
And let’s not even start on the articles that are written by a computer. Yes, they exist and they just need a few edits here and there to make them “good enough”. Luckily Google is taking steps against AI content, but that’s gonna be an arms race.

So yeah… that’s the reality of at least part of the internet today, and that includes German learning blogs and websites. The articles there were not made because someone had the feeling their explanation has value. They were made to lure you into the sales funnel.

I’m not telling you this to complain… well, a little maybe :). But I’m convinced that “real” content from people who actually have a passion for their field will always have its place.

But I find it pretty interesting how these things work. I mean… some SEO expert might buy an existing online shop for mattresses and then start boosting this in the rankings by creating a blog using the system I described. And us, searching for an article about where our back pain comes from, we might land there and think it’s a website run by an expert who has a passion for mattresses. But in reality, it’s just recycled basic knowledge paraphrased by some person chilling in a beach bar in Bali.
This is not a fictional example by the way. It’s real and it’s not rare.

And I think it’s important that people are more aware of these things that go on behind the scenes. We can’t forbid it, we shouldn’t forbid it. It’s a “natural development” in a way. But that doesn’t mean that it’s good, and being more aware of it will help us be more critical and make better decisions.

And that’s my rant for the day :). Seriously, I’m sorry for rambling a little toward the end, but I do hope this was interesting and insightful for you.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments and also let me know if you have any questions about any of this. I’m happy to clear up as much as I can.

Have a great day, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

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