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    SEO for social good?

    Can you paint a picture of search engine optimization (SEO) for social good?

    Is this how Google pictures it?

    Google [ seo for social good ]

    A Google[seo for social good] search. Screenshot taken with GoFullPage (distortions possible; cropped) at: 2023-08-22 15:37:55

    What might SEO for social good look like?

    What if the optimization was towards social good, not only towards the corporate guidebook? What if discussion of the “ethicality of optimization” (Ziewitz, 2019) considered what should be optimized and not just whether or how to optimize? Is there an approach to “societal relevance” (Sundin et al., 2021)1 that looks well-beyond the search producers? I’m not suggested we should further “outsource morally ambiguous work” (Ziewitz, 2019, p. 18) to SEOs, but coordinate with them? As one example, SEOs worked to repair Google’s failure re the Google Holocaust search results.2 SEOs work to facilitate complaints to Google (Griffin & Lurie, 2022). What else already exists? What might be possible? Can we think about the “various forms of ignorance related to climate change” (Haider & Rödl, 2023) and the role the SEO communities might have? How can we “situate our visions of search [ . . . ] within an understanding of how current search technologies interact with users and affect others” and the massive role SEO plays in making both the best and worst of search in the last two plus decades. Sure, “gaming the system” (Ziewitz, 2019) but also conducting maintenance & repair, articulation work, and using their voice in complaint3.

    See also: Lewandowski et al. (2021).

    Google [ “seo for social good” ]

    A Google[seo for social good] search. Screenshot taken with GoFullPage (distortions possible) at: 2023-08-22 15:36:47


    Added November 02, 2023 11:43 AM (PDT)

    I’ve seen many SEOs engage productively with folks sharing search complaints on Twitter/X. But I think SEO professionals are perhaps well-positioned to more formally receive, document, and relay search quality complaints from the public (alongside other SEO for social good work).

    An alternate phrasing may be public interest SEO (following “public interest technology”) or SEO in the public interest. Who is formally doing, and investing in the expertise & relationships to better do, public interest SEO pro bono?

    Added November 02, 2023 04:40 PM (PDT)

    On Twitter/X, Dave Guarino replied to my tweet, asking:

    Who else is doing SEO for social good work??

    I responded (edited for clarity & to add links):

    I’m not sure! I’m hopeful! I’ve seen folks work to repair the [did the Holocaust happen] SERP in winter 2016/2017, folks donating services re Ukraine in winter 2022, and some firms explicitly mention pro bono work for nonprofits/charities. I’ve seen nothing comprehensive yet.

    I’m very interested in the sort of queries you’ve explored and SEOs maybe organizing around that sorta core public interest searching (along with other YMYL queries with broad impact). But I also think they can help the broader public better understand and advocate around search.

    See queries Guarino has evaluated: “We really need to talk more about monitoring search quality for public interest topics.”

    It has been very much on the backburner throughout my dissertation work and I’d love to find ways to engage more, possibly researching existing efforts or working to connect folks to start something new.


    1. Perhaps something in this vein can be added to Sundin et al. (2021)’s § 5. IDEAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH.↩︎

    2. See also the analysis of this case in Mulligan & Griffin (2018).↩︎

    3. Look at the work of SEOs in observing, describing, and critiquing Google’s rollout of its “Search Generative Experience”: Twitter[google sge (bad OR wrong OR false OR harmful OR lilyraynyc)]↩︎


    Griffin, D., & Lurie, E. (2022). Search quality complaints and imaginary repair: Control in articulations of Google Search. New Media & Society, 0(0), 14614448221136505. https://doi.org/10.1177/14614448221136505

    Haider, J., & Rödl, M. (2023). Google search and the creation of ignorance: The case of the climate crisis. Big Data &Amp; Society, 10(1), 205395172311589. https://doi.org/10.1177/20539517231158997

    Lewandowski, D., Sünkler, S., & Yagci, N. (2021). The influence of search engine optimization on google’s results: A multi-dimensional approach for detecting seo. 13th Acm Web Science Conference 2021, 12–20. https://doi.org/10.1145/3447535.3462479

    Mulligan, D. K., & Griffin, D. (2018). Rescripting search to respect the right to truth. The Georgetown Law Technology Review, 2(2), 557–584. https://georgetownlawtechreview.org/rescripting-search-to-respect-the-right-to-truth/GLTR-07-2018/

    Sundin, O., Lewandowski, D., & Haider, J. (2021). Whose relevance? Web search engines as multisided relevance machines. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.24570

    Ziewitz, M. (2019). Rethinking gaming: The ethical work of optimization in web search engines. Social Studies of Science, 49(5), 707–731. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312719865607