What?! A Search-Hostile Site That Still Ranks Well

What follows is a rant, which is something I rarely, if ever, do. It’s done in the spirit of fun, so don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy!

I feel like the grandpa who laments in a crotchety voice to his grandkids: “Nobody ever writes letters anymore! They just sit on their computers and their cell phones all damn day!” But instead I’m saying: “Nobody ever blogs anymore! They just tweet and re-tweet!”. For example, this tweet by @dannysullivan could have been a fantastic blog post. Instead: it’s 129 characters that merely hints at the story:

@dannysullivan: seriously, pinkberry with locations in 2 of 50 states ranks 14 for yogurt? http://bit.ly/dHOYe well @mattcutts does love them :)

Last week I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Danny on a panel at the eMetrics Summit. The topic, unsurprisingly, was SEO, but targeted to web analytics geeks (a number of whom were SEO newbies). Danny kicked off the session with a quick SEO 101 where he expanded on his gem of a tweet above about Pinkberry.com. Pinkberry is a frozen yogurt brand that I was unaware of until the session. And what a brilliant example it was. Pinkberry.com is a case study in how NOT to build a website. I think they hired the Anti-SEO to ensure they wouldn’t rank for anything other than their brand name.

There was really silly stuff going on. Basic, basic on-page SEO was completely mucked up. Like for example, the page titles. Danny showed the audience site: results in Google for Pinkberry.com and the results were, well, disturbing to say the least—at least for anyone with an SEO bone in his/her body! Sure enough, every title tag was the same across the site. But wait, it gets better! The titles were all one word long: “Pinkberry®”. Luckily, the major engines don’t trip up on circle R and TM symbols, even when they are ASCII characters, or I’d be complaining about that too! (Nonetheless, I dislike such symbols in title tags. If you must use them in titles or elsewhere or you get yelled at by your legal department, then please “escape” them, e.g. ®—it’s just good HTML etiquette.)

Let’s move on to what is on the home page, that most important of pages from an SEO perspective. It’s a circa late 90′s “splash page”. With, you guessed it, zero textual content. This is what the home page looks like from a spider’s perspective. Pretty sad. Well, to be more technically correct, this is what it sees: there’s a single image with no alt attribute and a filename that is of no help whatsoever.

Moving on past the content-less splash page, you end up on a page where the mouseover navigation relies on JavaScript, which of course the spiders don’t support. Not only were the mouseover nav items inaccessible, but the main buttons (the ones available without hovering) stopped working. At least the ones that had mouseover effects attached to them. This included their “Products”, “About”, “Contact”, and “Groupie Corner”. Oh, and again, no textual content to be found. But hey, at least they had defined some meta keywords, so clearly someone at Pinkberry is at the wheel driving their SEO “strategery” (*grin*).

I think the only thing the Anti-SEO didn’t do was take any textual navigation or content elements that may have been remaining in spider-accessible formats/locations and wrapped a Flash movie around all of them. And perhaps added frames for good measure, complete with hidden links in the frameset pointing back to His site.

Yet somehow, despite themselves (as Danny notes in the tweet above) Pinkberry ranks on page 2 in Google for “yogurt!” Huh? Or as the younger generation like to say: “WTF??”

Matt Cutts, care to comment? Is this a result of your hand editing since you’re such a raving fan? Or, put another way (by the more politically incorrect SEOs out there like DaveN), a “hand job”?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | SEO: General


About The Author: is the author of Google Power Search, creator of the Science of SEO and co-author of The Art of SEO now in its second edition, both published by O'Reilly. Spencer is also the founder of Netconcepts and inventor of the SEO technology platform GravityStream. He also blogs on his own site, Stephan Spencer's Scatterings.

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  • http://www.website-and-graphic-design.com/ Anne

    Classic! :D Deeper investigation reveals that the site was built with FrontPage! LMAO !

    Server response data
    Response code 200 (OK)
    Response headers
    date: Thu, 14 May 2009 14:05:52 GMT
    server: Apache/1.3.37 (Unix) mod_auth_passthrough/1.8 mod_log_bytes/1.2 mod_bwlimited/1.4 PHP/4.4.4 FrontPage/ mod_ssl/2.8.28 OpenSSL/0.9.7a
    x-powered-by: PHP/4.4.4
    connection: close
    transfer-encoding: chunked
    content-type: text/html

  • Emile Bourquin

    The site was not necessarily coded in FrontPage. That just means that the web server has the FrontPage module installed on it. Many hosting companies run the FrontPage module in case the client has a need for it, just like the PHP, mod_ssl, etc. modules also listed.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Love it! You saved me from having to do my own dissection, Stephan — not that I would have gotten around to it.

    I should say that I was totally joking about Matt doing a hand job on Pinkberry. Anyone who reads his blog knows he loves them, but he’s not alone — and I presume there are enough links out there pointing at them to get them onto the second page of results for yogurt naturally. They made top of page three at Yahoo.

    But that makes the anti-SEO so sad. You’ve just got to wonder if they dropped the Flash, updated the page titles and other small things, perhaps that would be enough to tip them into the first page of results.

  • Winooski

    Well, at first blush, they don’t appear to be doing so badly in the link department compared with Dannon.com:

    4,548 links for http://www.pinkberry.com

    2,333 links for http://www.dannon.com

    All other things being equal, that’s gotta help.

    Oh, and re FrontPage: The circa-’98 version was teh suck as far as inserting unnecessary code, but the 2000+ versions have in my experience been as robust as Dreamweaver. ‘Tis the poor craftsperson who blames (or stigmatizes) the tool, and I encourage us to refrain from passing judgment based solely on the tool used.

  • http://joshgarnerproject.com seofactor

    I don’t know, Stephen. I love a good rant every once in a while, but I think it would be wise to point out the overall situation. I would hate to find that someone not “in the SEO know” would read this and use it as an example of not needing SEO. I’m sure you know as well as I that we get that a lot.

    As Danny noted, they have some decent links, and the overall site is decent to look at (subjectively). Sure, the code sucks and is stuffed full of Flash and JS, but who cares? At the end of the day, it’s a quality site. They have an apparent following (they are actually new to me) and plenty of national news about them. And I think that’s the point.

    We as SEOs do our work because of the situation we are often given. Brand new sites, or sites that are so poorly thought out (in any sense, not just SEO) that they need a professional to polish them up and set them out. And more often than not, these are sites that are not only in a competitive market, they also don’t really have anything that sets them apart (yet another e-commerce site selling shoes).

    The site seems to be part of a larger marketing plan (I’m downloading that song as we speak) which probably has a hefty price tag. That marketing has obviously worked for them; and again, they seem to be of a higher quality yogurt. Though I didn’t think anyone other than Jamie Lee Curtis actually ate that stuff.

    As Danny stated, surely a decent SEO could push them to page one, and likely expand their ranking portfolio (not in the top 5 pages for “yogurt ca”). This would make for a better marketing strategy overall.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve upped my price because a client wants SEO to be their silver bullet to drive their business. Sure I can work with a half-assed business model and marketing plan, but it’s gonna cost you. It would be the same scenario in reverse. Run of the mill sites ranking fantastically.

    Seems to me that there are tons of ways to market a brand, and a proper online campaign goes great with that of the offline variety. But you have the option of going either way. But without one you’ll be paying more for the other.

    Just my 1 cent (bad economy).

  • http://www.planetc1.com/ chiropractic

    Lesson learned: If you cannot afford a really talented SEO maybe build a site that’s so horribly wrong it’s bound to get attention, especially if that attention comes from Sullivan, Cutts, or Spencer. :)

  • http://www.website-and-graphic-design.com/ Anne

    I know FP code, used it “back in the day”. It’s not just the response header that is giving the site’s poor development away, it’s in the deprecated source code as well.

    As for “blaming the tools” in this case it is relevant to note the tools used to craft the site, especially since it is enjoying high rankings! I smell a blackhat SEO rotten fish here.

    The designer used a combination of hand-coding + MSFP: Note the use of standards compliant code (read: search engine friendly code) and deprecated code (read: search-engine UN-friendly code).

    Under “normal” circumstances the likelihood of the site losing rank due to the deprecated code (MS FrontPage circa 2000 – 2003) will only increase each time web standards are more fully supported by ever-modernizing browsers & search.

    Any web developer worth their salt knows this, so I stand by my “critique.”

  • http://www.danmozgai.com/ Dan Mozgai

    It’s got to be the mass of incoming links, and they do have yogurt in their meta keywords for what that is worth. Still they’re not in the top 10, so from the perspective that they are a major corporation in the frozen yogurt industry, they have failed.

    The site is absolutely bad in terms of accessibility as well, and of course good accessibility practices (use of Headings/on-page navigation, text content, alt tags) seem to go hand-in-hand with SEO practices. I suppose sight-impaired customers don’t eat frozen yogurt.

  • ellen

    It should be pointed out that, in spite of a site that defies all SEO common sense, they sit @ #1 for a google search on “frozen yogurt” w/ no geographic qualifiers…just “frozen yogurt”

  • http://www.semtek.net Michael Pieper

    There’s no knocking the theme song though… It rocks!

    Great example from an SEO perspective though.


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