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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.

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Published 17 November, 2009 by Malcolm Coles

Malcolm Coles is Director at Digital Sparkle and a contributor to Econsultancy. He also blogs at malcolmcoles.co.uk. You can follow him on Twitter here.

16 more posts from this author

Comments (26)

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Chris Hyland

That is too funny... that quote is brilliant!

The scary thing is that there are still thousands of companies out there who do not realise the importance of search engine marketing!

Thankfully they are beginning to learn the hard way... great article!

over 6 years ago

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Ilana

Ha, I love this post. Thank you for writing it.

over 6 years ago

Jaamit Durrani

Jaamit Durrani, SEO Director at OMD UK

Looks like you got them to hastily change their page titles Malcolm! Have a look at a few of them now, eg: "Alex Reid misses Jordan Katie Price: 3am" or "X-Factor's Olly Murs puts the rubbish out: 3am"!!

Econsultancy public humiliation FTW!

over 6 years ago

Jaamit Durrani

Jaamit Durrani, SEO Director at OMD UK

Who else reckons it went a bit like this in the 3am offices:

1. Site launches with unoptimised page titles, PR bods release "middle finger to SEO" comments

2. 3 months later, after the initial traffic reports have been distributed and digested to the top brass at the Mirror, someone realises their traffic is crap because they've ignored SEO and they're not getting any visibility from the biggest source of website traffic on the planet.

3. After a bollocking from on high, someone in the web team goes and spams the crap out of the page titles to try and get some Google traffic.

4. Bright spark SEO bod Malcolm Coles notices these horrible horrible titles and decides to blog about them in econsultancy

5. One of the Mirror bigwigs who reads econsultancy sees this post and more bollockings are swiftly doled out. Page title formats are quickly changed for all articles from that afternoon onwards.

:D

over 6 years ago

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Adam Lee

They could have been looking at this more from a Google News view point than a Google search.

Its still funny and shows they know nothing but to add to Jaamit's process it could have been:

They looked at the analytics saw some traffic from Google News.

They add every keyword they can in the title as on-page factors are heavily influenced in Google News.

Google News displays the article heading not the page title like Google search (so the spam is not noticed by most)

3am ranks well in Google News, getting the relevant traffic.

If they are not really looking at Google search then potentially this strategy could work for them.

NOTE (I'm not saying it is right!!)

over 6 years ago

Jaamit Durrani

Jaamit Durrani, SEO Director at OMD UK

ah. right you are ;) i thought it was too good to be true!

over 6 years ago

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devil's advocate

I wish them success. They have original content for which they will pay good money. They employ people on good salaries who go out and get their own stories. Are you saying that readers interested in this genre who find the page through Google will think they've been misled? What's your point?

over 6 years ago

Rishi Lakhani

Rishi Lakhani, Search Strategist at Independent Consultant

This article should be have title tag: "Britney Spears Paris Hilton Naked Celebrity Shame SEO Link Building 3AM = Bad."

over 6 years ago

Rishi Lakhani

Rishi Lakhani, Search Strategist at Independent Consultant

@devils Advocate - you probably work for them right? Why the anonymity?

over 6 years ago

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Dean Cruddace

Malcolm as ever you have put another fine piece together, but as Jaamit say`s 4 and 5 will be a point of interest from their point of view from now on... i think they will be taking notes (lots of them lol)

over 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Devils's avocado: My main point was that it was funny, having climbed on their SEO high horse. Also, while I like their site, this sort of behaviour promotes their content at the expense of other people's. While it's not illegal or anything, it's not playing by the rules, so I don't see much wrong with pointing it out. Yes, I *am* the self appointed guardian of the internet. Also, it's an interesting example to highlight how Google works, and how you can legitimately (and illegitimately in google's eyes) use this to your advantage.

Adam: really interesting analyis. The titles they've stuffed look SO rubbish as to be incomprehensible (and therefore unlikely to be clicked) in the web results. However, as Google News uses the headline, maybe they don't care, as you say - they're sacrificing web traffic to boost news traffic.

It could also be cock up of course.

Rishil: don't think I didn't consider it ;)

over 6 years ago

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devil's advocate

I agree with your main point. I did not realise they had unfairly pushed out other sources from Google search results. Whose content did they dislodge?

over 6 years ago

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james

what's also interesting, if you look at google ad planner, is that they've actually failed at their goal of building a "loyal and engaged audience". according to ad planner, they're averaging 3.8 visits per visitor spending 4:10 on the site. that's way lower than perez hilton with 13 visits per visitor and 9:00 time on site, and almost all other celebs sites i can think of to look at. i count that as three epic FAILS:

first, no seo

second, bad seo

third, audience building / publishing strategy

having said that, i liek the site! god knows how they think people will find it though

over 6 years ago

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Eric Andrews

I'm confused. You seem to be castigating them for doing what you suggest, or am I missing something? And I thought keyword stuffing is the practice of putting irrelevant words into the html. These are all relevant to the story as far as I can see - a little climsy, sure, but not what I'd call keyword stuffing. This article feels a little bit like sour grapes. Did Mirror Group somehow spurn Mr Coles I wonder? He certainly seems to have issues with them in particular. I like the site and the approach they're taking. It's funny and memorable, and I think that's the point they were trying to get across.

over 6 years ago

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Hobo

"keyword stuffing is the practice of putting irrelevant words into the htm"

I think that's just crap pointless spamming. Keyword stuffing for me is trying too hard to get too many keywords into a post and making your title, for instance, virtually unreadable and too keyword rich, as in the cases highlighted.

I don't think it's necessary to call anybody names when it's an article highlighting how little some folks know about what clever seo actually is after publicly dissing it.

Shaun

over 6 years ago

Fran Jeanes

Fran Jeanes, Internet Business Consultant at i-contact web design

This post cracked me up! I'm an expat SEO so this post caught my attention. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when Jaamit's scenarios were going down - which I am sure they were. :)

Thanks for posting something funny about SEO, it makes a welcome change.

over 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Eric, if that's your real name as opposed to being Devil's avocado's sock puppet, I shall ignore the rude bits. (Anonymous comments, really? Not associated with the site I take it?)

On the stuffing point, the google quote above goes on to say:

To fix this problem, review your site for misused keywords. Typically, these will be lists or paragraphs of keywords, often randomly repeated. Check carefully, because keywords can often be in the form of hidden text, or they can be hidden in title tags or alt attributes.

I think hidden in title tags covers this case.

over 6 years ago

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Eric Andrews

Malcolm, this is my real name yes, so what's anonymous? I've got no affiliation with the site whatsoever. In fact, I'd never looked at it before reading this article. It's really not my bag. i'm 52 and more into Top Gear than Heat. Do you think that any difference of opinion could only be explained by the fact that I work for the company you're abusing in you're rather childish manner? I don't know you either, but I'm willing to be you've got a bit of a reputation as an arrogant blowhard...

over 6 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Eric - your second comment has been deleted. Disagreements are what makes the world spin but let's keep the language on the street...

over 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Interesting that the BBC has just announced that it will be using slighlty different on-page headlines to HTML titles. This is how to do it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2009/11/changing_headlines.html

over 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Oops, no they're not, sorry. They are using different link text to their headline - the headline and title stay the same.

over 6 years ago

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Sheffield

Tobe honest this kind of thing will never stop until the idiots realise it wont work long term. Engines are getting too smart

over 6 years ago

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David Goldie

Spot the difference... http://tinyurl.com/y8czf7v http://tinyurl.com/ykftceh


It seems that the Mirror's left hand doesn't know what the right is doing!

"The SEO fraternity have been outraged by our blind stupidity. Dumbstruck by how much we don't get the web. Interestingly, I sense a touch of foreboding in their mockery. As though they realise the game is up."

over 6 years ago

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Ashish

Hi all, I agree with your point. I did not realise they had unfairly pushed out other sources from Google search results. Thanks

about 6 years ago

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Sarah

When will companies learn that SEO and PPC are the real way to get their sites noted, not just ramming their headlines with keywords! They're not going to get the loyal customers they're looking for....

almost 6 years ago

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water spout pool care

I have just recently found your blog and absolutely love the posts. Thank you, thank you. I am still .NET programming but can't wait to try these things in Ruby and it is a great help to see such clear examples.

about 4 years ago

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