How marketing ruined web search, and how I deal with it

If you've ever searched for advice on any business topic - hell, any topic - you'll have come across a 'listicle'. Like '12 ways to do social media better' or 'my top 10 cash flow forecasting tools'.

At first glance, they look quite helpful. In practice, they often aren't. You were just looking for a couple of ideas for blogging tools. What you got was loads of different lists, each with 10-20 suggestions, and something nice to say about every single one. 

I realised how out of hand this whole thing had got, when I came across a list of 176 marketing tools. If I wanted a massive list, I’d have just Googled ‘marketing tools’. 

I think some of these articles are genuinely trying to be helpful. They just get a bit carried away. If 7 helpful tips are good, it doesn't follow that 37 helpful tips are better. And if the 7 helpful tips all try to solve the same problem, it would be nice if the writer stuck their neck out and said which one they thought was best.

On the other hand, some bloggers aren't really trying to help you at all. They're just building links to their site to boost their search ranking. If you publish an article saying Tool X is good, it’s likely the people behind Tool X will tweet and blog your article. If you publish a list of 12 tools and say they are all good, you get 12 lots of people tweeting and blogging your article. This agency explains how it works for them, here. If you are honest and say that one of the tools is better than the others, you’ll get fewer links. 

When I need a recommendation, I often turn to Lifehacker. This site does do 'listicles', but tends to keep them short. They also crowdsource suggestions, asking readers to nominate tools in a category, then vote for the best option from a shortlist. Lifehacker covers business tech as well as personal software, and also runs a UK specific site

My tip: follow both @lifehacker and @LifehackerUK on Twitter. Save articles that look interesting or relevant, to create your own archive of recommendations. And if you’re in a hurry or you’re after something obscure, ask Twitter. That nearly always works.