Be sure to check out how my thoughts changed in the nine years after writing this post!

Recently, it seems there’s been a sort of obsession spreading through the expat blogging communities. It’s about search engine optimization, i.e., trying to get one’s site to come up as high as possible in search engine results. The idea is to bring in traffic by figuring out how the search engines rank sites and then exploiting that system, or at least making sure of not being ranked artificially low. It’s not really a topic I’m interested in, but I’ve been dragged into this debate. Now that I have, I’ll let let my feelings be known.

Rather than spending my time trying to game the search engines, I’d rather spend my time making my writing more interesting or more useful to other people. I don’t want to change a post title just to grasp for a few more readers from a search engine. I don’t want to write based on what “keywords” search engines might notice. I want to write both as a way to organize my thoughts, and as a way to express myself. I’ve been writing a journal for a long time, even when it was offline and nobody read it but me.

Is the idea of personal expression really that alien to most bloggers? Am I the only blogger out there who isn’t obsessed with trying to get as many readers as possible? I’d rather focus on improving the actual quality of my writing rather than a search engine’s perception of its quality.Of course, it’s nice to get attention. I enjoy being listened to online or off. But just as making attention-seeking a primary goal in face to face meetings has its drawbacks, so too does writing primarily for the purpose of gaining a large readership. Has anybody ever considered that Stephen King’s writing isn’t necessarily better than that of any of the Bronte sisters, even though his books sell so many more copies? He himself, would admit that readership and quality writing don’t have a 100% correlation.

Unfortunately for readers, though, self-promotion is a lot more exciting than self-improvement:

Naturally, optimize your page title, your headings and keyword density in pages (5-8%), same as Google. post#254

I detest this sort of talk. I’ll chose my own page titles and headings, thank you very much. I’m not interested at all in gunning for various “keywords”, either. The quotation above is an excerpt from Lonnie B. Hodge’s, in which he wrote at length about one of Fili’s many articles on SEO on I’m not sure where he found out about me, but he linked to me and said he was interested in getting into a “running discussion” with myself, Fili and a couple of other bloggers about SEO, particularly as it relates to Baidu. Why, oh, why would somebody who reads Fili’s blog, where I’ve already stated my opinion on SEO obsession, want to be in this “running discussion” with me?

In all fairness, I’m pretty interested in Baidu, and I’ve written before about the poem Baidu’s name came and their financials. On the other hand, I’m not really interested in changing my site to make it rank higher on Baidu searches, or discussing the topic with a bunch of bloggers dreaming of ways to get more readers and more profits from the ads on their sites. I politely explained this to Lonnie, and he fired back with an assessment of how my site is “doomed”:

Umm, just checked Mark and your server is blocked by our server here…Not sure why…
I searched your site in other way: Google only has one page indexed for you and submit express shows your title tag is too long and you have no description tag, no author tag, and no keywords tag. You have no incoming links from Google or MSN and your Google page rank is a 0/10. You had better be the next Hemmingway if you want the writing alone to bring in more readers….


It’s hard for me to figure out how to even respond to this. Everything he said was flat out wrong. Toshuo certainly isn’t any sort of mega-site, but it does have thousands of incoming links, and Google indexes it well. Back when I was using Hostgator, and they accidentally deleted all my hosted content, I was able to restore a full and current backup from Google’s cache. My site is the first google hit on various topics I’ve written about, such as my former school Modawei, terms such as “Taiwan geek”, “pinyin tone tool”, “buxiban curriculum“, and“Chinese textbook reviews”, as well as a number of others. achieved a pagerank of 5 within seven months of me starting it, whereas, has a pagerank of 3 [1]. In other words, I’m not going to spend the next 6 hours reading his advice on SEO.

The sad thing is that I’m not really interested in writing just for the purpose of building up traffic. I guess it’s likely my traffic won’t grow that much more since I’m not making it a goal. I also suspect that if guys like Lonnie work hard at getting traffic, they’ll get it… but so what? Is being heard by more people so important to you that the whole matter of having something worthwhile to say is irrelevant? I’d much rather be “the next Hemmingway”, as he put it, and be unread by anybody than become so obsessed with self-promotion.

The title of this post was completely unfair, but it caught your attention. And that’s what promotion is all about.

Update: Lonnie has edited some of the comments in his post, particularly comment #666. Some things referred to here no longer appear on his blog.

[1]: I later discovered that while only has a page rank of 3, the wordpress directory of the site has a page rank of 5.