Richard J. Tofel: Someday, the sun will set on SEO — and the business of news will be better for it

By Richard J. Tofel

Editor’s NoteRichard J. Tofel is general manager at ProPublica, a Wall Street Journal veteran, and author of a number of books, most recently Eight Weeks in Washington, 1861: Abraham Lincoln and the Hazards of Transition. Here he looks toward a future when search engine optimization has been rendered obsolete by advancing technology — and the implications for news.

The first time I saw the Google guys in action, one of them — I believe it was Larry Page — stunned the small crowd. It was long before the IPO, when Google was the Next New Thing, the search engine that the cool kids in the class, or the office, were knowingly mentioning to the rest of us. The interviewer was fawning over the young upstarts when Page said, “I’m glad you think Google is great, but I think it sucks.”

His point, he quickly added, is that the objective of a search engine is to enable the reader to find what he or she wants. Google, Page noted, rarely does this perfectly. Even the simplest searches retrieve pages of choices, many of them quite beside the point...more

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