I woke up this morning and thought about SEO (did I mention I’m unemployed? And single?) and the way it has evolved since the heady, webby days when I first started.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s there were always two problems if, like me, you were the designated Webmaster. Firstly, how to enable your own users to find content. At LMU we bought a package called Ultraseek1, which came with a hefty user manual and lots of settings to play with. Hours of fun. It mostly worked, too.

The second was how to help external visitors to find information, and for that we tended to stuff the keywords metadata tag with whatever we thought was relevant.

When I started at Metro in 2000, one of my tasks was to get Metro higher up the search page rankings – somewhere in the first two or three, please. As if! There are thousands of ‘metro’s out there, and the web address was something silly and unmemorable. It wasn’t going to happen.

Then it did, for which I took all the credit even though I had done nothing proactive – nothing in the sense of trying to convince Google and AltaVista to push up the rankings.  ‘All’ I did was get other people to link to us, to be the public transport resource people were looking for. The digital equivalent of word of mouth.

These days it’s a lot more complicated. WordPress is a very SEO-savvy platform, which handles some of the heavy lifting. We don’t stuff pages with keywords any more – I tag my posts but those tags don’t appear in the metadata, which is strange to my eyes. And SEO itself doesn’t simply mean optimising your content to be searchable – it means optimising your whole site.

As it happens, mine does quite well. Visit tools.pingdom.com and see for yourself (or try it with your own site). It even mostly passed the W3 Consortium’s XHTML and CSS tests. Not bad, considering I’m not a business, or expecting to be found or read voraciously. I don’t even track hits; no Google Analytics, and I periodically junk the logs from the web site to make space. Although, if you know me (in person or through this site) you’ll know how obsessive I can get when there’s a target in sight, and 100% is a good target.

‘Good’ SEO also requires your page titles to match up with the content, which is the bit that people are actually interested in. This causes consternations in newsrooms (and in any room where people have a sense of humour), as the SEO-friendly version of a story might have a bland headline whereas the print version has a cunning pun. “Crepes of Wrath”, or “French restaurateur wins libel case”? I’d do the former as the title, the latter as the standfirst, and everyone wins.

By way of a test, I searched for ‘Gary Taylor’ using Ask and Google. One returned my LinkedIn profile; one the page on the CIPR web site about last year’s elections. One also returned a photo of a former World’s Strongest Man…

Searching for ‘Gary Taylor Eeyore’ found links to this site. But who would ever search for me like that?

And that, perhaps, is the point. It doesn’t matter how optimised you make your site, you might not be who or what people are looking for even if they land here. It all depends on how they phrase their search… and we know what people are like.

  1. I don’t mention this on my CV or job applications because it’s largely pointless now – and because I forget I used to do this. []