When SEO fails

20 January 2010

I hate most SEO, I really do. Companies are spending too much effort trying to game their position in search results and not enough trying to provide a good user experience.

Take, for example, British Airways.

The use case: I want to find out how much BA will charge to get me to Pisa this summer.

So, I visit a search engine, type in British Airways and skim down the results. Surprisingly, BA doesn’t appear to be number one, or two. The third hit is Google’s standard link off to Google News, then we hit the BA recruitment site.

What is going on? Why aren’t BA showing up?

The answer? They are, and at number one. I’m just overlooking them because they look like spam from a crappy price comparison website.

This is the problem: <title>Book Flights, Hotels, Holidays, Car Rental with British Airways -</title>

I’m looking for BA, but BA are so concerned with having good search engine positioning for “Flights”, “Hotels” and other keywords that I wouldn’t associate with BA in the first place, that they pump up their title with those keywords instead of making it a useful title. The only bit of actual title (British Airways) is stuffed almost at the very end, and I’ve given up reading by that point.

Do they really want browser tabs to be labeled “Book Flights, Hotels, Holidays…”? Do they really want the default bookmark label to be “Book Flights, Hotels, Holidays…”? Probably not, but they’ve put so much focus on their search engine position that they’ve made the sacrifice.

Even being at that position in the search results isn’t entirely good for them. I actively sought them out, initially overlooked them, and when I dig through their spiced ham camouflage I found myself wanting to see what their competitors had to offer.