The Intersection of Substack and Search Engines: How Writers and Algorithms Shape Online Content

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Hatched by Glasp

Aug 26, 2023

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The Intersection of Substack and Search Engines: How Writers and Algorithms Shape Online Content

Substack, the popular newsletter platform, recently celebrated its first birthday with an impressive milestone - 25,000 paying newsletter subscribers. What sets Substack apart is not only its success in attracting writers from various genres and subject matters but also in recognizing the importance of a dedicated following and a unique perspective. According to Substack's co-founder, the writers who thrive on the platform are those who have a particular point of view that makes them indispensable.

This notion of a unique perspective and dedicated following resonates with the world of search engines as well. In 1994, the World Wide Web Worm (WWWW) had an index of 110,000 web pages, a fraction of what today's search engines claim to index. Over the years, search engines have strived to improve the quality of their results and provide users with the most relevant information. Google, for instance, was designed to enable other researchers to process large chunks of the web and produce interesting results efficiently.

One of the key resources that search engines have largely underutilized is the citation graph of the web. While academic citation literature has been applied to the web, it has mainly been through counting citations or backlinks to a given page. This approach offers some approximation of a page's importance or quality. However, Google's PageRank algorithm revolutionized this concept by considering the importance of links from different pages and normalizing by the number of links on a page.

PageRank can be seen as a model of user behavior, assuming a "random surfer" who clicks on links and eventually starts exploring another random page. The probability that the random surfer visits a page is its PageRank, with the damping factor representing the probability of the surfer getting bored and requesting another random page. This algorithm not only improves the accuracy of search results but also allows for personalization, making it difficult to manipulate rankings deliberately.

Interestingly, the goals of commercial search engines often revolve around advertising rather than providing quality search results. This misalignment can sometimes hinder the user experience and the overall quality of online content. In the pursuit of revenue, search engines must strike a balance between advertising and delivering relevant, reliable information to their users.

So, what can writers and search engine users take away from this intersection of Substack and search engines?

  • 1. Develop a unique perspective: Whether you're a writer on Substack or a website owner aiming to improve your search engine rankings, having a unique point of view is crucial. It's not about conforming to a particular genre or subject matter; it's about offering something that makes you indispensable to your audience or users.
  • 2. Cultivate a dedicated following: Substack's success can be partly attributed to the writers who have built a loyal following. Similarly, websites that consistently provide valuable content and engage with their users tend to attract more organic traffic and higher rankings on search engines. Focus on building a community around your content and nurturing relationships with your audience.
  • 3. Prioritize quality over revenue: While advertising is a prevalent business model for search engines, it's essential to prioritize the quality of search results. As a writer or a user, seek out platforms and search engines that prioritize delivering reliable, relevant information. Support platforms that value content creators and prioritize user experience.

In conclusion, the success of Substack and the evolution of search engine algorithms highlight the importance of unique perspectives, dedicated followings, and quality content. Whether you're a writer seeking success on Substack or a user relying on search engines for information, understanding these common points can help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of online content. By focusing on developing your perspective, building a community, and prioritizing quality, you can thrive in both the world of newsletters and search engines.

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