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Is the web due a waffle tax?

Will concise copy be the next target?



12:09 pm on May 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Not so many years ago the web used to be all about infinite monkeys with typewriters. Auto-generated mega-sites were making use of every long tail phrase you could think of, and the web was exploding in size. Then the concept of a crawl budget was introduced, and more recently Panda has stamped down on those sites using multiple articles on similar topics.

That has curbed some of the internet's excess pages, but it doesn't seem to be doing much about waffle at the level of each individual page. In fact the situation seems to be getting worse: if you take Twitter, people are rewarded with more followers in proportion to their volume of tweets, almost without regard to what they're saying. Twitter's discovery isn't the web, but I think it's representative of where we're at: there's still an element of the more words you use, the more likely you are to be found in any search engine. There's no obvious penalty for not being concise.

I think if the web experience is to improve we need to find ways of tightening it up. Keyword stuffing has already been a target, but what about all the other fluff that makes articles harder to read? I'm thinking of overused filler words, passive sentence construction, and repeating the same idea using synonyms. There's at least one very good piece of software that will highlight this in your text, and search engines have improved their synonym recognition capabilities.

Maybe we can get away with waffling now, but I don't think it will be long before the algos will be able to detect overweight copy.


3:46 pm on May 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Maybe we can get away with waffling now, but I don't think it will be long before the algos will be able to detect overweight copy.

This is so true.

The fact is, writing less whilst still providing the same information provides much better readability for the average user. This is what I aim to do as it provides a much better user experience.


5:33 pm on May 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I think you also have to consider the topic. Sometimes you have to be more verbose when explaining details and differences that are important. If you don't, some will fail to see that you are talking about different things.

I agree that when done with the intention of just attracting more eyes to a page, it's a problem. However, on my site if I don't make of point of repeating some things using different words or phrases to show contrast, the contrast is lost to some. It makes perfect sense to those who are familiar with the subject, and for those readers, they appreciate the explicit details that clarify the subject matter. It is also helpful to those who are thinking about making a purchase, as often the details are necessary to help them decide what to buy.

This makes me wonder how a search engine, that's not necessarily familiar with the topic, its variances, and its specifics, can make the determination that the additional words used to provide details aren't really necessary.

I also find that I tend to repeat things, using different words, to make sure I'm not confusing the reader, but that's just my style. The search engines are going to have to find a way to identify pages that are wordy in order to be precise because the subject requires it, versus adding copy in an attempt to just get more eyes on the page. If they don't, many of the best pages on some topics will be lost if penalties are applied just because the copy is deemed to be overweight.


6:10 pm on May 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

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AndyA, repetition isn't always clarification. More often it's a style fault when you say something, and then repeat it using different words. I'm not talking about summarising an article at the end to drive home a point, or including too many details. What I mean by waffle is all the words that are objectively redundant.

I've been looking into editing software for novelists, and there are various offerings that analyse your text beyond the usual grammar and spelling checks. They can be surprisingly sophisticated. For instance, one common feature is picking up how often you use commonly overused words like "just", "actually", or "that". These have a place, obviously, but half the time you can cross them out and what's left is stronger and clearer.

Also, don't underestimate how often people write the same thing twice without meaning to.


6:43 pm on May 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

@Rosalind: I'm sure I'm guilty of being redundant at times, among other things. I don't claim to be a professional, and I'm sure there are style faults on my site. I've often reviewed pages I wrote years earlier, and thought, "what the heck was I trying to say?" Sometimes my second effort at restating my point turns out worse than my first, but often it is better. Sometimes, I can make the page more compact when I rework it, yet at other times it becomes even longer.

I understand what you're saying, and I do agree with you. I just don't know if it's possible for search engines to comprehend a person's personality when they put copy on a page, as some can say the same thing using less words than others. But does that mean the shorter page is the better of the two? I look at sites unrelated to mine, and sometimes feel they've stopped in the middle, which makes me feel I've wasted my time. Others go on too long, and the focus is lost. Somewhere, there is a middle ground.

I know I need to improve in this area. I'd love to know more about the software you mentioned, I'm sure I'd be shocked with what it reveals.


10:13 pm on Jun 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

So, I guess the presentation training that extolls "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them" is right out the window. Unfortunately that method is necessary to pound the message into most thick human skulls these days. Approaching this from the brevity angle might then be considered writing for the search engine. I think there is a fine line where long winded content becomes an obvious page filler and nothing more.


10:40 pm on Jun 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

If you can summarise a subject in a few sentances rather than 1000 words this should be a skill that works well online. Its easier to read and to the point. However I feel panda has promoted onsite waffle by webmasters concerned over "thin content"


11:12 pm on Jun 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member sgt_kickaxe is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member

Two prominent search team members, Matt Cutts from Google and (temporarily forgot his name) from Bing, got together at an event recently and discussed what is most important to them. Tops on the list was influence, social and other. Second on the list was schema markup.

To me that suggests that you need to write in a manner that makes your content as sticky as it can be and you need to pay attention to your code so that it tells search what you are writing about using schema(.org).

In that sense, yes, quit targeting keyphrases and write in your own (hopefully unique) style to garner the most influence you can by providing GOOD VALUE.


11:27 pm on Jun 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I don't think that the negative notion of some duplication or overlap accounts for the idea of "perspectives," which I think are key elements in any sort of evaluation of any topic or product. 100 people can travel somewhere or live in the same place or eat the same food, but each may have a different experience. I believe that sites which allow for different perspectives on the same topic are very useful in providing a fuller picture of the possibilities and interpretations and should not be penalized for doing so. I know that I do not believe that anyone is an "authority" on most given subjects, which is generally born out over time, and that the strength of the web is in allowing different viewpoints. Obviously you are looking for writing that is literate, but even that is all relative, as experts on user interface design on the web emphasize the use of bullet points and the like in lieu of the type of full paragraphs used in print media. Such differences are due to the speed and nature of user scanning of a webpage or tiny little mobile screen in the digital world.


12:50 am on Jun 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

What a lot of gibberish and nonsense! Presumptuous little "Wise" people debating on what is good, proper and beneficial for the billions of users of the 'net at large -- with total disregard to principles of democracy and pluralism.

There is nothing wrong with debating any idea, however debating with the clear implication that the arrogant clan at Google should listen and proceed with righteous zeal accordingly, in total disregard of whatever millions of webmasters and billions of users see fit doing - is not only presumptuous and arrogant, but also dangerous for democracy, pluralism and liberty.

I know, I know, I know -- fascists know best . . . . .



2:05 am on Jun 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Extremism in defense of mediocracy is no vice!


9:17 am on Jun 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

More often it's a style fault when you say something, and then repeat it using different words.

...well, i believe its at least partly the search engines fault, because at least till now they were too stupid to understand exactly that issue. So in order to be found, you had to write the same thing in several ways, so the SE can find it...


2:43 pm on Jun 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Honestman, I agree that a single approach to waffle wouldn't be as useful when it comes to multi-author pages like forums and comment sections. They're greater than the sum of their words, and they do tend to invite duplication.

However I don't think this is an insurmountable difficulty for the engines. They're at least quite good at figuring out whether the page is a forum or a blog, so in theory an algorithm could split the contributions up by author. A long, boring comment shouldn't detract (too much) from an excellent, concise blog post and there should be some way to recognise that. Yet there's also a need to cut through the noise on busy comment systems: either with editorial comment highlighting like the BBC does, or a user moderation system.

So, I guess the presentation training that extolls "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them" is right out the window.

I don't know. For a certain audience that's going to be useless filler, but for others it's desirable. But there are lots of different types of waffle. I'd be more concerned about repetition of phrases/ideas within the same paragraph, using three adjectives where one would do, and the overuse of empty words: sometimes you can point to words that everyone agrees are better off struck out.


2:58 pm on Jun 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Here is the thing, to date, I don't think the SE algos actually read the Waffle :) They assign scores.

Somehow, one does not forsee G acquiring editorial staff to edit the web anytime soon

And i do agree that the web is full of inferior self published tat, an I give myself a good slap any time i suspect i've added to it


3:24 pm on Jun 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member

Reading AndyA's comments here, this is something that's been bothering me re: Google's desire to penalize spammers: how does the algo tell spam from certain writing styles or flaws? For example, people who aren't good at using synonyms have been "keyword stuffing" their papers since the dawn of academia, LOL. It's not about Google when they do it online, it's just they don't know a better style.

I know Google knows this is hard to work out with just math, and I assume that's why social is so important to them: if the algo can see that loads of people are spending time on or passing along this site that mathematically reads like spam, the algo can work out that maybe it's just a spam-like writing style and the page still has value.

And yet, I'm afraid it will always be points off for one of those writing styles the algo thinks might be spam, so someone who writes that way will need even more positive social feedback to get where they should be in the SERPs.

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