ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

When Words Aren't Words: Language as the Warp of the World Wide Web

Updated on November 27, 2012

Warp and Weft

Source

"Non Semantic" Language

In a previous life, I was a classics major. Latin, Greek, grammar, syntax: I loved learning how language works. As the infant web grew and evolved, I became equally fascinated with how the web works.

We tend to forget why it's called a web, with all the bells and whistles that have been added in the past 20 years. Peel away the videos and popups and social media and funny cat pictures (the latter of which have been on the web since year one), and we still have:

  • Pages: The weft of the web, the designs and colors and content.
  • Links: The warp of the web, the connections between pages.

Finding things on the web -- navigation -- requires links. Search engines follow links to index and discover content, and people click on links in one form or another to visit different content.

However, as the web evolved, something amazing happened. Search engines initially discovered new pages via links, but once there, they learned about the words on each page.

This meant search engines were no longer restricted to finding only the things people had bothered to link up directly. By analyzing what words appear where, search engines could deduce new connections that nobody had imagined.

For example, you might link to a page with the words "click here" (although you shouldn't; it's better to have a link with meaningful words like "Coke and Mentos Fountain"). But search engines would follow the link and discover, aha, that's an "Eepybird" page, and "Diet Coke and Mentos" page. If those words often appear together on the same pages, or on links pointing to those pages, Google will realize those words are connected in some way.

Using Words as a Traffic Magnet

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World
Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

Of course, thinking long-term is all very well, but you need visitors, readers and/or customers now. Here is an excellent book on how to leverage words to grt traffic to your webpages.

 

Words As a Navigation System for the Web

To put it differently, links get search engines to a page for the first time, but what search engines really care about is the words on the page. Yet search engines aren't intelligent: they don't actually know what "meme" means, nor do they know that "Eepybird" isn't a real word. All search engines know is that when people are looking at the "eepybird" site, they're looking at things called "viral videos," because that's a phrase a lot of people use when linking to Eeepybird.

Meanings of words are not necessarily important to search engines. When you search for "cheezburger" (or even "cheeseburger"), chances are high you are not trying to find a home delivery service to send you a cheeseburger, but rather, you want to look at pictures of funny cats.

Think about that for a moment. "Cheeseburger" = "cats pictures with stupid captions." That's not what "cheeseburger" means!

What's going on here?

On the web, words are not simply serving as a way to communicate with human readers (although that's their primary purpose). They are a filing system. They behave like street names, which are quite arbitrary, but absolutely essential to help you find your way. They're like the signs over grocery store aisles, only we're all speaking in a secret code where "splunge biscuit" could mean "soft drinks."

At the same time as you are using words to express meaning to your readers, you also have to use the words and phrases people tend to search for when looking up and talking about your topic. And that is a fascinating challenge: it's a detective game that's half a study of language usage, half psychology.

A lot of people use SEO as a tool. I do and must, because I'm trying to earn a living online. However, I initially was drawn into SEO because I was fascinated by how the web has changed the fundamental nature of language itself. Words are no longer simply what they mean. They're what they point to.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Greekgeek profile imageAUTHOR

      Ellen 

      6 years ago from California

      Cloverleaf: heh. It is that, too: a maze! For my master's thesis in 1994, I created a website on my topic, trying to explore the infant web's way of linking back and forth between different pages instead of going from page 1 to 2 to 3. My advisors were so intrigued by my experiment in "non-linear academic writing" that they failed to notice my research wasn't all that rigorous. How I organized my content was actually more groundbreaking than the content itself. (It wouldn't be now; this was when most webpages were linear or long lists of links). The web is still a very young publishing medium, and we're still trying to figure out how to write and how to find our way around when we don't have to write or read from beginning to middle to end.

    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 

      6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Hi greekgeek, I love how you described this! To me, the internet feels like a big maze and most of the time I can't figure any of it out LOL. Great hub!

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 

      6 years ago from Summerland

      Voted up and awesome. Very well-written.

    • quotations profile image

      Robert P 

      6 years ago from Canada

      I find your perspective really interesting. Great hub.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      6 years ago from the short journey

      Yeah. :) Thanks...glimmers of light are flashing in my brain.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)