You know how the song by the Beach Boys goes: Let's go surfin' now, Everybody's learning how, Come on and safari with me... Surfin's fun! Surfin' was what we used to do when the Web was young and when content marketing and media buying was but a twinkle in investors' eyes. The trouble is, today, people are in danger of losing sight of just how cool surfin' really is.
In the tender, formative years of the Web users traversed the Web by surfing it - following hyperlinks from one website to another. These early forays out onto the Web were genuine voyages of discovery. Apple picked up this spirit of adventure and named their own web browser 'Safari'.
Back then, using a modem to dial-up and log-on to the Internet helped to foster this pioneer spirit as it truly felt like you were connecting to be part of something bigger and were about to venture out beyond your own four walls.
Today we have no walls. Today the process of logging-on and connecting is inaudible, seamless and a process we have freely assimilated into our waking hours. Google showed-up on the beach with it's self-assigned mission (
to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful Google Inc.) and we began to lose the surfing habit because, instead of going on a surfin' safari, everytime we wanted to find something we searched instead. At worst our timelines and our inboxes become so full that we don't bother hauling our arses out onto the Web to surf and look for new cool stuff because it's just easier to have this stuff delivered to us and we evolve to become sofa surfers.
A few weeks ago social networks were alive with news that Radiohead left the Internet. Today, on the first day back after a week's holiday on the south coast, I felt the need for some new music and so Googled the title of Radiohead's new album. Google's first result on the SERPs lead me to The Daily Telegraph's review of A Moon Shaped Pool - to the right of the review page was a big display advert for an SEO conference that I duly clicked because, in that moment, an SEO conference was more important to me than Radiohead. In other words, I surfed. I saw a link to intriguing content, I caught this wave of interest and followed wherever it took me.
Radiohead may have left the Internet but today they were selling SEO.
Once on the SEO conference website I clicked around and gorged on the content, agenda, past speakers, exhibition prices and organisers details. I also uncovered a page deep within the website that asked for potential speakers to submit a topic for a paper that I duly submitted.
What brought me to this SEO conference website was intrigue and curiosity. I was surfing in the original meaning and spirit of the web and I'd caught a wave of interest that carried me to a place I really wanted to be. Now, let's be honest, I hadn't clicked from website to website to website - I'd searched Google, hit a newspaper's website to read an album review and then clicked an ad. Although my surf was a short one it was, nevertheless, a surf. Yet we're currently in danger of losing this ability to surf.
The interconnected web is a complex thing of beauty. An essential dynamic of the web is the ability to place a clickable hyperlink and allow a user to hyperlink halfway around the globe - whether that link is an ad, a sponsored link or an organic (natural) hyperlink. Yet the efforts of content marketers and media buyers to get us linking through pay-per-click ads from social networks straight through to commercial websites from which no links emanate is destroying the web we've come to know. Pair this with the rise in ad-blocking services and it's easy to see how surfing will decrease.
As much as I started work with Radiohead on my mind, neither the band nor SEO were foremost in my mind - one of the first things I did this morning was to read a blog post by Gerry McGovern. Gerry's posts are pretty much guaranteed to get me thinking and this morning's was no exception and tied-in beautifully with my evolving sense that we are losing the ability to surf. Gerry wrote: "There are indications that the Web is a web of the like-minded. A Web where we search for what we're interested in and ignore the rest."
The Web that we know right now is in danger of having its rich interconnectedness wiped-out. The surfing we once enjoyed is losing-out to quick and dirty clicks to conversion pages directly from social media. The click is the currency of the Web and the ability to present content and freely link to pages on other websites is what makes the Web rich and, more importantly, free at the point of usage. Right now, Facebook, Google, Twitter et al are all free but it's the placement of clickable ads that keeps them free for you to enjoy. The moment you stop clicking is the moment the paywalls go up and the social media that you enjoy for free right now could only be accessed via a subscription. It's at this point you'll then begin to realise that the social network owns all your friends, all your conversations and all your photos - it's at this time that people (maybe even you?) will start to shout blackmail.
If you install ad-blockers and prevent the clicking of ads, if your website ignores the currency of the Web and fails to place links to other websites in an open, meaningful and helpful way then you're breaking the Web, you're making it less surfable, less fun and more commercial.