I am, as anyone who knows me would tell you, a massive fan of The Guardian.
I get the paper delivered every Saturday (as well as The Observer, its sister paper, every Sunday). I have its Tech section set-as my homepage on my laptop at work as well as on my Mac & PC at home. When I’ve had letters printed in it I’ve been ridiculously chuffed. And I loved it when the redesigned the paper and, eventually, the website. Which is why I’m so disappointed with the way they seem to be going about their SEO (I know, I know – last time I was moaning at what they were saying about SEO – what can I say, I’m hard to please).
When I worked at RBI I used to give training courses to journalists on how to integrate SEO into their writing (something I still do, yours at a very reasonable price if you’re interested). As part of this course I used to talk about how journalists could use links: not only to offer their readers further information, but also to boost the ranking of other articles or pages on the sites they were writing for. And to illustrate this point I used to use a screen-shot of an article from The Guardian site which linked from the body copy to other pages on the site.
The reason I used to use this example was three-fold: firstly because it was the first time I’d seen internal links within an article on The Guardian, as opposed to a blog post. Secondly because I argued that what The Guardian did other online publishers ought to follow. And finally because the way in which those links were handled wasn’t too great (basically the links didn’t use relevant anchor text and had obviously been forcibly inserted by a sub after the article had been written). Well, it seems like they got a lot better.
It was whilst I was reading up on the sacking of Paul Ince that I realised how many links there now were in many of the articles. But really got my attention was that many of the links obviously hadn’t been put in for any reason other than for SEO. So, for example, in an article on how Big Sam has been given the Blackburn job (sorry Chris, but I really hope they go down now) there was a link from the words Blackburn Rovers in the first paragraph: but rather than going to the official Rovers site, it goes to a Guardian landing page on the club. From an article on Harry Redknapp backing Ince there were similar links to internal pages from words or phrases you might reasonably expect to go to 3rd party sites. A quick flick through other parts of the site soon showed that these were the norm rather than exceptions.
Now it may well be that I’m being overly picky about this and that I should be celebrating the fact that my favourite paper has got on-board the SEO train to such a large degree. But personally I think they’ve taken it a bit far. If you’re talking about a specific story that you’ve covered in the past, then absolutely link to that from the body of the article. But if it’s a link to a general landing page on a theme, organisation or person, I personally think that should be placed outside of the body copy – more from a user’s point of view than anything else.
I just find linking of this sort rather stingy: if you’re writing about the England & Wales Cricket Board and the phrase appears as a link I think its reasonable to assume that it will go to the official ECB site rather than a landing page. Especially when many of the landing pages don’t even link out to the official sites. The BBC, another media organisation I love, has been criticised for hoarding links and I think its a real shame The Guardian are doing it too.
I mean, I realise that SEO is important but I’d hate to think that anyone would sacrifice a user’s experience for no other reason.
Scrooge image by kevindooley on flickr