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The Guardian is one of the best mainstream media publishers when it comes to technology. Not only does it do a lot of things right, as far as its website goes, but it has some excellent tech-savvy writers.
However, sometimes it gets things wrong, and an article today by Richard Wray on the search engine optimisation woes of price comparison engine Foundem is badly misguided.
I read the article on the tube, so wasn’t immediately able to check the website in question, but normally when firms blame Google for their problems it is related entirely to their web strategy (or lack of it), as opposed to some outlandish flaw with Google's algorithm. As such I reckoned there would be a problem with the Foundem website, and probably relating to unique content, technology, and a lack of quality links.
It turns out that there are problems in all of these areas...
The Foundem website caters for price comparison across lots of different markets. Typically the most successful engines work in a niche, such as Moneysupermarket, or Confused, or Kayak. So the first thing to say is that there is nothing niche about Foundem. This is not a major issue however: a broader site can still rank well.
So what’s the big headache here? Well, Foundem is pretty much an aggregator of third party content, with very little unique content of its own. This, as far as Google is concerned, is not an attractive proposition.
The site itself resembles a link directory. The homepage contains more than one hundred navigation links to other parts of its website. That’s not a big problem... the problem is that the pages it links to are nothing special. The company simply pulls in content from product feeds provided by retailers and other merchants. You or I could do the same thing very quickly indeed.
Category pages give way to product pages, which are based on content culled from product feeds: the very opposite of unique content. Foundem invites users to ‘write a review’, which would at least differentiate a page from other identical ones found elsewhere on the web (from sites that use the same product feeds / product information), but I have yet to find a product page on Foundem with a review on it.
What product ‘pages’ do have are lots of outbound affiliate links. Take this example, which provides a ‘comparison’ of the Nokia 6600 mobile phone. It is in fact 27 pages of links to mobile retailers, and there is duplicate content all over the place (in the extracts to each offer). That’s not something Google would like to see, and it does nothing for me either.
As for links, well, the price comparison market is saturated and quality inbound links play a huge role in pushing sites higher up the rankings. Perhaps Foundem’s amusingly-titled blog – The Google Delusion – has helped generate the press necessary to attract more links? There is a lot of detail on that blog about the firm's historical issues with Google, some more valid than others, but ultimately if you want love from Google then you need to play by Google's rules. Those rules are well-known and thoroughly documented (not least in our ultra-comprehensive SEO Best Practice Guide, which Foundem could do with reading). If you're not bothered about optimising your website for Google (and for people too), then you can't expect amazing search rankings.
A good website starts and ends with unique, frequently-updated content, which delivers real value to people like you and me (as opposed to Googlebot). Google is remarkably good at determining which sites deserve attention, and which ones don’t.
Anyway, you be the judge, but for me this is an open and shut case.
The last word on this goes to Ciaran Norris, who says: “I have to wonder whether the fact that Foundem apparently continues to rank well in Bing and Yahoo isn't in fact a perfect example of why those sites currently struggle to manage 10% market share between them.”