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This blog post is partly a public service to those wanting an iPad, and partly a walkthrough of how to screw up an exclusive deal by making a complete pig's ear of your website execution. 

First the public service: Here's how to find stores with iPads or ipad stock levels (note the careful use of anchor text to help Google understand the linked to pages are relevant to those words).

Now, the walkthrough.

The iPad went on sale in the UK on Friday - and DSGi has signed an exclusive deal that means that, apart from Apple stores, only Dixons, Currys and PC World will sell it for 60 days. I don't know what they paid for this - let's assume a lot.

A few days on, stock levels are generally low. So in an attempt to find a store selling an iPad, I turned to Google.

Dixons: no mention of iPads

Starting with Dixons, I searched Google for Dixons iPad and found this page at result three - a thin, content-less page with no iPads shown. In fact, the Dixons site doesn't seem to have any iPads or any information about them. Well done. Money well spent.

Currys: how to hide your content from Google

Giving up on them, I turned to Currys and searched Google for Currys iPad. There are no results from the Currys website in the top 10 Google results.

Currys homepage iPad boxInstead, I click on the paid ad for Currys and get to the Currys homepage. There on the right is an iPad image and link.

Brilliant!

Not.

The iPad link is just a way of changing the tab on the box shown here. The rest of the box is one image, with an ALT text of "Default". And the link to the next page uses anchor text of "more information". Not may clues for Google there...

When you do get to the iPad page, every single bit of content is an image, all six of which have ALT text of "Apple iPad". 

On top of this, the HTML title of the page (one of the key on-site optimisation issues for SEO) is "iPad_has_Arrived | Currys".

I won't bore you with my previous testing but if you separate words in your HTML title with underscores, then Google doesn't recognise them as separate words. So it doesn't see this as a page about how the iPad has arrived - it just sees one, meaningless word.

To sum up this page, therefore: the anchor text used to link to it is generic, the HTML title is gibberish and the content is six images, all with the same, generic ALT text.

If you do follow the link on that page, you finally get to the page that tells you stock levels for its stores. (This is, according to the phoneline, updated every hour - shame it doesn't tell you this on the page).

In good news, this page does at least have some words on it. Again, though, the HTML title is "iPad_stores" which Google will not interpret as "iPad stores". On top of this, it only mentions the word iPad three times on the page.

Conclusion: facepalm

If Currys had wanted to go out of its way to hide its iPad content from Google, some ways to do would be to:

  • Hardly use the word iPad on the pages.
  • Use meaningless anchor text when linking to the pages.
  • Use HTML titles that aren't readable because words are separated by _s.
  • Hide most of the content in pictures with meaningless or identical ALT text.

It has done all these things. And it's done exactly the same on the PC World site.

Maybe it's no surprise after their copywriter's triumphant "last place you'd want to go" marketing campaign.

Dixons Group: the last place search engines would want to go for an iPad.

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Published 3 June, 2010 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

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Wyndham Lewis

Wyndham Lewis, Head of Business Development at Harvest Digital

On the positive side at least there weren't any queues at Curry's.

about 6 years ago

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Andy bryant

Your post highlights the SEO failings, but poor headings, ambiguous anchor text and images with nondescript alt text are all major accessibility failures too. An alround balls up, I'd say.

about 6 years ago

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malcolm coles

Wyndham: LOL

Andy: Yes, I meant to add this in but I forgot! But yes - the iPad pages are 100% unreadable to anyone with a screenreader.

about 6 years ago

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Roger Dixon-Small

Thanks to this article I manage to find an iPad in stock and am delighted to announce I bought it - great marketing - turning adversity into success.

Did DSG pay for this advertorial I wonder?

about 6 years ago

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Best Buy

Your article suggests only DSGi had them apart from Apple. Best Buy also had them and did a good job selling them

about 6 years ago

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malcolm coles

Roger: Does this really read like an advertorial to you?! If you want me to criticise your company like this, I'd be happy to be paid to do so ...

Best Buy: OK, 60-day exclusive deal apart from Best Buy in Thurrock, and possibly one other place. But no other retailers have it.

about 6 years ago

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Tony T

DSGi are just a dreadful company - check out this guy's stry of being a sold a second hand ruter as new - and their response!

http://www.wirefresh.com/pc-world-flog-us-used-goods-as-new-customer-service-says-whatever/

about 6 years ago

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Rob

I agree that the SEO failings you point out, however I fail to see how this would have had an immediate impact on their ability to sell their ipad stock. 1. They had extensive offline marketing directing people to their websites. 2. As you point out, they have a sponsored link at the top of the google search results. 3. Had they have done best SEO practice, would google have indexed their content in time for it to appear in the search results during the days directly following the ipad launch? And I can't help but see irony in the accessibility failings that Andy points to and wonder if DSGi actually may have helped users in this case. The problems highlighted will pose most problems to blind and visually impaired users. I am yet to see a blind user using either an ipad or an iphone. Perhaps one day I will, but I'm not going to hold my breath...

about 6 years ago

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Sheldon Entwistle

What's an iPad?

about 6 years ago

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malcolm coles

Rob: I noticed all this as a potential customer. I wanted to buy an iPad and planned to go to the Apple store on Regents Street. But I was delayed returning to London, so decided to do some research into where I could buy one instead in Hertfordshire.

Despite numerous searches, I couldn't find anywhere easily that gave me stock levels of the iPad (and I wasn't aware of the exclusive DSGi arrangement at the time). It was only after a lot of hunting that I came across those pages.

Dixons, which I tried first by googling Dicons iPad, just doesn't have any information on its site. Fortunately I'd uncovered the Apple / Dixons deal after some hunting around, which lead me to trying PC World but searching for PC World ipad only returned pcworld.com - not much use. Then I had the Currys problems outlined above.

The sponsored ad I referred to was triggered by the word Currys, not iPad so wasn't of much help and cost them a few pence they needn't have spent(although I see Currys is bidding on iPad terms today).

Also, there's no point having a page with stock levels if you don't reveal when it's updated. I rang their helpline which revealed it was hourly. Why not put this on the page?

The upshot of all this was that my wife went to the Apple store on Regents Street to buy one. They had sold out. Doh. But that's how close they came to losing the sale.

As to point 3, I don't know, but Google indexes things very fast these days, so I'm sure it would have done.

And as for the accessibility point, the question isn't whether people who use screenreaders want to use an iPad. The question is can they use the Dixons site? The answer is 'no'. It's got nothing on it but pictures with generic ALT text.

about 6 years ago

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Robert

I searched for Curry's ipad on Google and found a sponsored link at the top of the page, taking me to the Curry's Ipad web page.

I also live in Hertfordshire - so I went to Currys in Stevenage and bought one - and actually had great customer service.

This was on Bank Holiday Monday.

about 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Rob: Leaving aside the specifics of when they were paying for PPC ads (they weren't when I looked - maybe they'd spent all the money ...), surely it makes long term sense to build some properly optimised pages NOW when they've got an exclusive deal.

They can then earn links to those pages that will stand them in good stead when the iPad is on general sale and they are competing against all sorts of other retailers for both natural and paid search positions?

about 6 years ago

Suzanne Locke

Suzanne Locke, Editor-in-chief at Yahoo! Middle East

Please DO bore us with your testing on separating words in HTML with underscores - what's the best alternative, a dash (-)?

about 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Suzanne: I'm talking about the HTML title (which is the bit of text that usually appears on Google's results and in your bookmark list etc), so there is no reason to use anything other than spaces. No hyphens, no underscores ...

about 6 years ago

Suzanne Locke

Suzanne Locke, Editor-in-chief at Yahoo! Middle East

My misunderstanding, thought you were talking about the URL itself. Gosh, underscores in the page title?! Not the cleverest idea...

about 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

They have them in the meta description fields too ... "iPad_has_arrived on Currys"

about 6 years ago

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Steven Ricketts

What a boring blog.Seriously. I bought 3 ipads for my staff from Currys the first week they came out. No problems. If you had a problem did you really have to blog it. SAD...

about 6 years ago

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Simon Gq

Steven you are so lucky to have got through the article. I lost the will to live after reading malcolm coles blog that I killed myself half way through. I mean it was so so so boring... I agree with Suzanne Locke... can we have some insight into decent stuff econsultancy is getting lame.

about 6 years ago

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joe

If you look into the exclusivity Apple has strict rules in terms of advertising only they can produce advertising within the first 60 days which may be dropped after but that is up to apple. It is not DSGI who are not advertising, so dont slate the UKs biggest retailer cause you are pathetic.

about 6 years ago

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Tara

Now the 60 day exclusive period for DSGi group is up I'd have thought some big promotions from the likes of Comet or John Lewis (if they're rellers) would be forthcoming. Perhaps part of the agreement with Apple is that they can't activley promote the gadget, or have big restrictions. 

about 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Joe: this isn't about advertising. This is about how they publish information on their own website. So not sure what you're on about. I can't believe it's part of the exclusivity agreement that they have to publish web pages in an SEO-unfriendly, inaccessible way ...

about 6 years ago

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