Search Engine Optimisation Event in Kensington, Day One

 by Martin Belam, 27 October 2004

I spent much of today at an Ark Group event on "Search Engine Optimisation", where I am speaking tomorrow about "Designing Your Website To Be Search Engine Friendly". It is a debut for this particular presentation, which I intend to publish in article format on currybetdotnet in the near future.

In today's proceedings there were certainly some quotes, facts and figures that made me sit up and take notice. Peter Sargent from Ordnance Survey included in his presentation the claim that:

"The Government currently have over 4000 web sites with over 5 million pages. The cost to the tax payer is over half a billion a year."

They are apparently now being urged to pass the Google test - i.e. if they are not ranking highly for what they are good at, someone must be doing it better than them online.

There was an excellent presentation from Peter Maxted and Nick Masters of PriceWaterhouseCoopers about re-inventing a corporate site, whose joint motto was "Rip it up and start again". I was impressed that PWC claim to have a QA & compliance process for their published web pages that include search engine optimisation techniques as part of the criteria. They also urged people to disassemble their pages, and ensure that each element made sense out of context - thus no more "click here for" or "more..." links.

The fantastic Ross Jenkins was as charismatic as ever when presenting, and wasn't afraid to tell home truths:

"If you are going to market something, make sure the technology works."
"With logfile analysis you can tell a lot of things. A lot of irrelevant things."
"Content management is the linchpin of our work online....without content management you cannot optimise a site."

[I guess when quoting Ross I should have said optimize]

I also enjoyed Samantha Fanning's presentation about her work at MacMillan Cancer Relief - although I have to confess it was quite jarring to hear cancer described as a "market-place". There was also something quite sobering as she repeated the statistic that 1 in 3 people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime.

For me the most interesting aspect of her presentation was her description of how the site had reacted, or failed to react, to a news story earlier this year, that a herbal remedy developed in India had cancer preventative properties. GMTV included a link to as a related link to their online coverage of the story. It is MacMillan Cancer Relief policy to concentrate on providing information for sufferers and careers, but not to do work in the field of preventative measures, so anyone visiting their site from GMTV expecting to find more information would have been disappointed. This was picked up in the search logs, as they noticed a spike in searches for the name of the alledged remedy.

For me this example illustrated the power of the web and especially the power of search analysis. An editor independently decides to link to an organisation as a related facet of a story, the audience follow the link and ask for information on the story, the organisation doesn't provide any, but in turn is forced to re-investigate the corporate policy.

If the audience had just visited the MacMillan Cancer Relief site, not found what they wanted, and left no trace of their activity, then the charity would be none-the-wiser. However, because of the work in web analytics by Samantha and her team, they know the virtual footprint their users have left, and are having to evaluate their future responses to similar situations accordingly.

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