The Daily Mirror’s 3am.co.uk gossip site has gone from disavowing SEO and promising to concentrate on building a loyal audience – to stuffing its HTML titles with as many keywords as it can think of. And then adding some more. Before finally making sure Britney is in there.

Take this story:

  • Headline: Paris is worried she’s not part of the in-crowd anymore. She is 28 years old.
  • Keyword-stuffed HTML title: Paris Hilton Kim Kardashian Hollywood It Girl rivalry: 3am

Or:

  • Headline: Alex Reid, coming to a TV screen that you won’t be watching at some indeterminate point in the future
  • Title: Alex Reid Jordan Katie Price Peter Andew Bravo TV Show: 3am

And my personal favourite

  • Headline: Now we’re all supposed to get upset about Dermot’s sick X factor jokes
  • Title: X Factor Dermot O’Leary Jedward death threats Louis Walsh sexuality Britney Spears miming Never Mind The Buzzcocks: 3am

OMG! WTF! Etc.

When 3am launched, it was obvious that not much attention was being paid to SEO – and the all important title tag. In fact, one of the developers proudly told paidcontent.co.uk that:

We know full well this site won’t perform brilliantly in google. And guess what? we don’t care! (oooh… someone doesn’t think SEO is the be all and end all .. good grief, what a shocker).

We want this site to perform well over a period of time. Not live or die by how many times we can write Britney Spears or Michael Jackson into the metadata.

And a Mirror spokesman told the NMA that:

You need to have an audience but obviously we’d prefer a loyal and engaged audience rather than chasing numbers.

New tactic: keyword stuffing the titles

That’s all gone out the window it would seem.

Quick bit of background about the HTML title: It’s shown in the HTML but doesn’t show up on the page (although you can see it in the top bar of your browser). Most people on the 3am site won’t ever notice the HTML title.

However … the HTML title is what Google uses in its results, as the screenshot shows.Keyword stuffed 3am result in google's results

And Google also pays a lot of attention to the title when deciding what a page is about – you’re usually advised to ensure your relevant keywords are at the front of the title if you want to do well for SEO.

So one way to try and do better in Google’s results is to ram the title full of as many keywords you can think of.

When it launched, the 3am site had taken its anti-SEO approach so far, that every page had the same title, so each page looked identical in Google’s results. Now, it seems to have gone to the other extreme …

SEO, titles and personality

3am definitely had a point that concentrating on SEOing your pages can lead to bland headlines. What most sites do is set their HTML titles to be “page headline – site name” (as well as publishing umpteen stories with only small differences about the same celebrity.)

Then they write keyword-rich headlines – which can be boring and obvious, it’s true.

But SEO and personality don’t have to be strangers. I’m a Celebrity pages like this, this and particularly this combine good on-page SEO with useful content for readers and interesting headlines (someone tell ITV, quick). The secret is to SEO category pages – so you can concentrate on interesting headlines for individual stories.

Given all this, there is a case for small differences between headlines and HTML titles.

Using a headline like “Back and as desperate as ever” in the title is rubbish for SEO. Google can’t tell who the story is about, and searchers are unlikely to click on such a keyword-light title in the results. There’s a case there for tweaking the HTML title slightly to include the celebrities’ names – even if it’s not used in headlines or on-site links.

Google penalizes sites that stuff

But Google frowns on sites that overdo this:

“Keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google’s search results. Filling pages with keywords results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking.

So stuffing every X factor and Britney keyword you can think of in the title runs the risk of google banning your site, and is generally not a great idea. Especially when you’ve got on your massive high horse about not doing SEO.

Grrrr! as they say on 3am.