Egg on webmasters face – or is it?

by Donna Fontenot November 19th, 2006 

I have to relate a very humorous story that happened at Pubcon a few days ago. Please read all the way through because the ending is special.

It always amazes me that anyone would volunteer their sites during the site review portion of a conference. I mean, here you have the search engine reps looking at your sites. That just gives me chills. In any case, the first couple of sites were decimated by the reps due to the webmasters' having numerous duplicate sites, which Matt Cutts found within seconds. By the time these sites had been hashed through, the reps were feeling pretty smug, I would imagine, as they flexed their spam-busting muscle.

Next up was a woman who freely admitted that she knew nothing about being a webmaster or SEO. Her site at first glance was a really nice looking site, in what I would imagine is a fairly competitive field. As the panel was looking at the home page, the woman informs us that she has been looking for years for a programmer to handle the site (the site is quite old).

The first thing the panel noticed was that the title of the home page was way too long and looked more like a description than a title. This prompted one of them to View Source. (Note that the audience can see all of this on a big projection screen). The next thing they notice is that the source contains not one Title, Meta Description, and Meta Keywords, but a bunch of them! Each one of them was unique, but they were all on the same page! At this point, although the crowd of spectators is feeling sorry for the woman, we can't help but start laughing at the mess. The woman then explains why there are numerous titles and meta tags on the home page. She says that she has no idea how to edit any of the interior pages, so she decided just to put all the information for each one of them on the home page. No matter how sorry we feel for her, we just can't help but continue to laugh, just a little louder this time.

Now, the panel member starts scrolling down further into the source of the home page, and it goes on and on and on and on. It is getting clearer and clearer that not only did the woman put multiple metas on the home page to cover the interior pages, but she also put tons of text (almost hidden text) at the bottom to refer to the interior pages as well. So, now we realize that she's got all kinds of problems, including nearly hidden text, nearly hidden links, multiple titles and metas, and just a general mess - all on a very, very long home page.

The laughter is unstoppable. Several people agree to help the woman clean up the problem, and we feel good about that, but still we laugh. Now the panel is essentially feeling extremely smug about the fact that they are stopping spam, and showing the world how good they are at doing so. But wait...there's more.

A member of the panel then decides to check the rankings of what he assumes is the woman's main key phrase (which I assume is fairly competitive, although I haven't actually researched it, but I'd guess it is). Guess what? The site is ranked #3 in Google for that phrase! Now, the crowd ROARS. All this time we thought the poor woman had egg on her face, but no! It seems that the egg is really on some search engine's face, eh?

You can be assured that every person in the room started wondering if adding multiple titles, metas, and tons of nearly hidden text and links might just give them a #3 ranking as well!

I purposely didn't include the woman's URL, so I wouldn't embarass her any more than necessary.

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12 Responses to “Egg on webmasters face – or is it?”

  1. Jason Litka says:

    I about fell out of my chair when they actually started searching on Google and she showed up at the top. It was amazing how well she ranked for a site that went against all the "rules" of SEO.

  2. john andrews says:

    Nice story, Donna. I met the lady and her sister afterwards to ask about back links, because we don't get to see Matt Cutt's magical laptop screen when he checks sites. Did she have a back link campaign supporting her homepage for that one very competitive phrase? No. So her #3 was natural.

    Did you catch it when someone on the panel admonished Matt, suggesting that the site had better not lose that #3 spot now that it had been highlighted? Too funny.

  3. […] Jason Litka doesn't get why blogs are so important but he took a leap of faith and started one yesterday. I don't know Jason. In fact I found his site through a comment on SEO-Scoop. But I do know what he's in for. […]

  4. bwelford says:

    That's a great story, Donna. Thanks for surfacing it for those of us who couldn't attend. Of course it is always possible that the search engine algorithms just happen to let through something that is so different and unexpected that they weren't programmed to drop it out. I wonder whether this lady was secretly working for Yahoo! or Live/MSN. :)

  5. Donna – great retelling of a really humerous story – the laughter in there was tremendous when we saw her ranking.

    It looks like she is also now at the top spot in AdWords as well for that term (so much for the landing page quality score)…

  6. drum says:

    I was one of those laughing too in the crowd. I think we all laugh because we have been there before too.

    I was amazed that she ranked so well.

    Donna, I enjoyed meeting you at the conference. Maybe next time we can talk longer.


  7. robert paulson says:


    And @ John Andrews, I was thinking exactly that – retribution for some public G embarrassment. I hope she's still holding her ranking.

  8. DazzlinDonna says:

    As of this moment, she still holds the #3 ranking.

  9. lyndseo says:

    I was far in the back, but I thought she was ranking for something not related to her site? I did feel terrible for her, but as my friend pointed out, think of all the help she's going to get now.

    10 years of being unable to find a programmer though, perhaps her standards are too high?

    Kudos to her, I never would have had the guts to submit my site to a site clinic run by the reps themselves, in a room of 2000+ experts when I admittedly know next to nothing on SEO.

    Donna, I'm so sorry we didn't meet in Vegas. Next time!

  10. DazzlinDonna says:

    You were there, and didn't say hi? Oh, girl, you are in trouble! 😉 And the keyword phrase that she ranks for is very relevant to her site. In fact, it's the first thing that would come to my mind as being her ideal keyword phrase. I'm not sure her standards for finding a programmer are too high. I have a feeling it's just that she had no idea what she was doing, or where to look, or who to ask. Goodness knows, it's awfully easy to find someone, so she had to have been looking in all the wrong places. Or maybe you're right…I have no idea. But certainly, there was plenty to pick from at PubCon!

  11. everett says:

    You should post the keyword and the link to her site so we can all link to her and push it up to #1. 😉 I was there, but forgot what the term and site were. After seeing the meta tags I started laughing and couldn't hear the rest.

  12. Beth says:

    Hi Donna,

    Great recap on that session, it was one of the best I attended. It was great to have met you at the conference; we were outside quite a bit chatting.

    Beth (lilbit)