Hi. My name is Tom and I have a problem. Actually I have a lot of problems, but none are more pressing or more relevant to you than how SEO has affected my perception of the internet. More specifically, SEO has ruined how I use the internet so I hope that sharing my story will keep you free from suffering my fate.
Everywhere I look, I see bad websites. I see hideous design, poorly designed technology, flash implementations that render websites invisible, information architectures based on a company’s organizational chart, copy that looks like it was written by my six year old, cluttered layout, garbled code, ugly interfaces, and worst of all, sites that forgot they were there to serve a purpose.
Don’t get me wrong, design and usability have come a long way since the early days of the Netscape 0.9 browser’s black text on a grey background. There are now some truly useful websites, ones that I use and enjoy on a regular basis and have the user’s best interest at heart.
For most, the state of the web probably doesn’t seem like such a graveyard. But you see, no matter how hard I try I can’t look at a website without looking for problems. Even when I find a site I like, I have to look under the hood to see how they did it or view site:www.domain.com in Google to see what issues lurk beneath. For every time that I marvel at the makeup or smirk at the creativity, I find many other examples that leave me wondering why they even bothered.
I’m not even sure whether it started in my early days as a technical writer, designing and writing online help systems for software I didn’t understand or whether the 12 plus years of analyzing, auditing and solving SEO and usability issues is at the root of my problem. All I know is that I need to find a way to purge my burden or at least find a good psychiatrist.
SEO has left me in such as state that I can no longer look at a website like a normal person. I see flaws in websites everywhere I look. Here’s just a taste of what my warped little mind sees as I browse the web.
You would think that after 15 years of web design we’d finally have it figured out. But, no, bad design is everywhere. It lurks around every corner, hides in the darkest places waiting to suck the time away from unsuspecting visitors trying to reach their goal.
Even when I’m on a site I like I can’t help but find something to critique.
I see information architectures so infected by corporate org charts that you know the site was designed by committee. There are services, products and about us instead of cleaning, mortgages, adidas volleyball shoes and flights to Sydney. The good stuff is buried down so many levels that you need detective skills just to unearth it. In some cases, it’s a wonder how anyone or any bot gets past the first page.
I see content that is so hopefully lost, that no one in the organization remembers to update the Thanksgiving day details until a disturbed woman calls on the following Monday morning to share how distraught she was about inviting her husband’s entire extended family out to the park for celebrations that never took place.
You might laugh but it’s as true today as it was in 1996.
I see intranet software designed for corporate internal use stretched to serve as corporate websites because the technology team was told it would reduce maintenance time, increase staff productivity and free up time for more exciting development.
I see content management systems sold as SEO friendly based on the fact that they can be hacked to be accessible. I see systems that create more SEO hurdles than they claim to solve. I’m sorry, but a CMS, that creates multiple static URLs for the same page of content doesn’t deserve to be classified friendly for anything.
I see other systems that garble code so badly that you would think that the site was put together by a group of high school students just learning HTML (I apologize if I’ve hurt the feelings of any high school students working on their first website).
I see developers who claim that SEO is easy (it’s just non-brain-damaged web design) and that they alone are well suited to build the best user friendly and accessible website. They will sit and nod in agreement at every meeting, yet run away to their little cubicles to plot the project’s demise at the first possible moment.
I see marketing managers too inexperienced to know that SEM is more than just a few ads on Google. I see project managers so keen to run the show that they bring in all their friends to help regardless of whether their skills will help the project succeed.
I see brand managers too lazy to learn the basics of SEO that they devote their entire search budget to PPC, and even worse, those that have given up on search all together so they don’t miss out on the social media phenomenon.
I see websites built entirely with Flash. So pretty, yet so useless as few will ever know they exist. I hear ear shattering screams from marketing managers at the moment they first learn that their potential award-winning masterpiece won’t win them any love from Google.
I see gorgeous websites developed by creative agencies (that also do SEO) leaving just a small part of me wishing that Steve Jobs gets his way with Flash.
Over optimized copy
I see copy that is so over optimized you wonder whether the owners had any intention of providing a service or praying that Google might consider them useful. Is it really necessary to repeat the word hotel for all 200 plus destinations you have listed on a page?
I see websites with content so poor that you wonder how it ever got released. I see copy that is so entrenched with industry jargon that you know there’s no possible way Bing or its audience will be able to connect the dots.
I see websites that scream out for more whitespace—even a little to help you scan the content for the nugget of gold. I see designs so cluttered that it’s painfully apparent that someone forgot to ask whether the next image, word or element added will help or hinder the message.
I see small white text on a dark or bright background that makes me want to run away from the screams.
I see code so garbled that you’re left stunned that the browser was able to display anything at all. I see nested tables inside nested tables that leave you wondering when the birds are going to return to their nests.
I see code that renders like a piece of art in one browser but a dumpster in another. Sure, we know that the search engines will fight past the mess, but why make their work more difficult.
A website for the CEO by the CEO
Perhaps worst of all, I see websites where the user is clearly the last thing on any one’s mind. Websites where you know the CEO got his way. Websites that leave you asking yourself: Is there a purpose here?
I see websites that have forgotten the people they were meant to serve: you and me.
If you’re doing SEO for any websites that exhibit any of the above symptoms, a humble request: please help me… and your users, customers and the web population at large. In the words of the famous marketing slogan, just say no.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.