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.