As a writer, there are three things about the term 'search engine optimization' that I find difficult to accept. We'll start there, and then go on to why I also find the concept of 'search engine optimization' to be linguistically troubling.

First, readability in English is reduced by a heavy concentration of nouns, and the term 'search engine optimization' is three nouns in a row. We'll call it a three-word noun cluster. In science and technology, that isn't too bad compared to many terms, and there are much worse offenders. Nevertheless, if we want to write a text that is easy to read, a three-word noun cluster is not a good peg on which to hang the rest.

Second, because it is not easily readable, the term 'search engine optimization' is often reduced to its initialism, SEO. This aids readability for those people who are 'in the know', but adds another dimension for a writer. That is, how do you know who your readers on the web are going to be, and how do you know if they will understand what an opaque initialism like SEO means or stands for? Overuse of abbreviations often doesn't do much good to anything except the ego of the in-crowd who understands them.

Third, how many people actually use words like 'optimization' in their everyday language? If you think of someone who might, do you want to be like them? Partly because 'optimization' is a clumsy word (and partly, I suspect, to avoid the three-word noun cluster), most people find other ways to express the concept. A text might be 'made easy to find on the web', or something else that follows a natural pattern of English.

I could add a fourth point and say that I am naturally inclined to use the spelling 'search engine optimisation', but the debate over '-ise' and '-ize' belongs elsewhere.

So what about the concept itself? Well, what 'search engine optimization' means is that a web page is created so that it is more likely to be found when someone is looking for web content through a search engine like Google. This manipulation includes textual elements such as key words. And there's the rub. A text that is heavy with SEO key words is easier for a machine to find, but not necessarily easier for a human to read.

For example, let's imagine that I want to make sure that is found by people in Finland who are looking for English language editing services. An SEO tip might be to pepper my page with key words like 'language editing Finland'. The only problem being, of course, that 'language editing Finland' does not easily fit into a readable and grammatical sentence.

'Language editing Finland' is, like 'search engine optimization', a three-word noun cluster. Unlike 'search engine optimization', it is not grammatical. As noun forms in English do not carry intrinsic case, I do not know whether it is 'language editing in Finland', 'language editing for Finland', or 'language editing about Finland'. In this instance, it might even be 'Finland being edited by language'!

In short, careless techniques for optimizing text for search engines can seriously damage your language. SEO key words can be used well, but it takes skill in phrasing and a knowledge of the language and of the internet. These are things that are not necessarily guaranteed by some of the 'cent per word' text mills that ply their trade on the treacherous internet seas.

Search engine technology has moved forward so that it no longer falls for texts that are simply stuffed with key words. Let us try to move the quality of web text forward as well.