Telegraph calls No10 site 'a technical mess'

Last night, the Telegraph published a piece by their head of audience development, Julian Sambles accusing the Downing Street website of being ‘a technical mess’. This damning conclusion was based on the following criticisms:

  • It wasn’t in the top search results for a few randomly-selected Budget-related search terms.
  • It doesn’t have a ‘link canonical’ tag in its code header.
  • It has a pretty curious set of ‘meta keywords’ – including ‘piercings’, ‘tattoos’ and ‘polish armed forces’. (Update: apparently not random at all – see comment below.)
  • The page templates aren’t especially well structured for SEO purposes.
  • It has inconsistent names on various external sites like Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

None of which, in my mind, constitute a ‘technical mess’. So it’s interesting to see, this morning, that the headline has been watered down, to mock the keyword selection.
Some of the criticisms are valid. The site could do a few simple things to improve its SEO standing, probably taking barely a few minutes. And yes, I have trouble remembering which specific configuration of ‘downing’ and ‘st(reet)’ it uses to make up its various usernames. But some of the accusations are way over the top, and some don’t stand up at all.
The ‘meta keywords’ criticism, for example. In the old days, search engines respected the keywords you entered in your page header as a guide to the page’s substance. But then people, possibly working in the field of ‘audience development’, began abusing them. So what does Google, with 90% of the UK search market, think about meta keywords?
Let’s ask Google’s Matt Cutts, shall we?
His answer: they don’t use it. ‘Basically not at all… Even in the least little bit.’ Not worth spending much time on then, I’d say.
And then there’s the failure to rank highly for certain budget-related search terms. But would you want or expect Number10 to be a high-ranking result, when it has very little material on the subject – and isn’t the ‘lead site’ on the subject, from either a policy (HM Treasury) or a citizen-facing (Directgov) perspective?
If you search Google right now for ‘budget’, you’ll get both HMT and DG in the top few results. That’s the appropriate outcome.
I’m not saying there aren’t improvements I’d want to make to the Number10 site. As regular readers may know, I contributed some advice in the early days of their migration to WordPress – but I didn’t have any hands-on involvement in the build itself. If I had, for the record, certain things would have been done differently.
PS: Thankfully, someone at the Telegraph saw sense, and dropped the ‘technical mess’ line. Otherwise I’d be forced to point out that their article page scores 88 HTML validation errors in the W3C checker, compared to the Number10 homepage’s zero.

5 thoughts on “Telegraph calls No10 site 'a technical mess'”

  1. Good on you Simon! I must admit I was waiting for your response after reading the Telegraph article. I was reading it thinking: ‘those who live in glass houses…’
    Sure the No.10 site isn’t technically perfect, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that is. It’s certainly better than most. There are so many positive angles to the Downing Street site story. They could have focussed on the adoption of open source and cost effective techs or the genuine use of social media. But why try and be positive and constructive when they can have a quick rant.
    By the way: avid reader of the blog. Great stuff.

  2. I am not an expert. But I knew google doesn’t bother with keywords. I do a few amateur sites and blogs, as a volunteer for a community. Presumably the person who does the No10 site gets paid? If so, that person should know a lot more than I do, or maybe the tattoos were put in as a joke? there are some wits about.
    I agree with previous comment, no such thing as a SEO expert, the real experts are just out there doing it. You only become an ‘expert’ or a consultant if you can’t earn your living using/doing your chosen subject. 😉

  3. I’ve been in touch with one of my No10 sources – always wanted to say that 🙂 – and in fact, the meta keywords quoted by the Telegraph weren’t quite as random as they might have seemed.
    They are derived automatically from the tags used on the site’s latest posts: which, in this case, happened to be petition responses. And if you look down the page, you’ll see – yes, responses to people with specific concerns about tattoo and piercing equipment.
    You know what? That’s actually a pretty smart way to manage your meta keyword tags. It ensures they stay current, without taking up any specific extra effort. Good on them.
    There are some very good people who are, or have been, working on the No10 site. Names you’ll probably know and respect if you read this blog. To reassure cyberdoyle, yes, they do know their stuff.

  4. heck, that’s well smart! didn’t know you could do that…
    Reassuring to know that good people are working on it, should have known better than to believe a newspaper article. doh.

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