“I don’t think it’s a machine imperative,” he said. “I think it’s a people imperative. The impulse now is, ‘We don’t have time for that.’ Maybe in a slower day we would’ve had time for a headline where we have to think, ‘Oh, I see. That’s what they really meant.’ But with the rush of information, there’s nothing anti-human with saying that simple is better.”

As the closest thing to a SEO peacemaker I found, Shearer gets the final, crossing-the-aisle word, contributing two more of his résumé entries in the hope of increasing readership: “Wait. Don’t call me a humorist. Mention The Simpsons and Spinal Tap,” he said, as he does multiple voices for the television show and was the bassist Derek Smalls in the classic mockumentary. “It’s better for SEO.”

Update: The third paragraph of this article has been updated from the print version to include a reference to Google’s recent adjustment of its algorithm to minimize search results from content farms.


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Karen Stabiner is the author of eight books and the editor of an essay anthology. She is an adjunct professor at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.