I have Google alerts running to spot when my last name (since it is uncommon) comes up in a newly indexed web page. Usually, the mention is about me, but sometimes it's one of my distant cousins. Anyhow, there was a link to the Dallas Morning News that came in today, but my last name was nowhere on the page. Usually, that's when I go into the source of the page, finding a link or something where it appeared.
Since the DMN story was on using American credit cards in Europe, I figured that a story about Todd Bulmash (who's been getting press in a wire service story about how the credit card companies don't allow minimum transaction fees) must have been mentioned. No dice.
So I went to check the source of the page and a name in the Meta Keywords caught my eye... Rick Steves. For those not familiar with Rick Steves, he's a travel writer who has authored many travel books, has a syndicated travel column, and has a PBS show about travelling in Europe. But the odd thing was that Rick wasn't the author of the piece, in fact he was mentioned nowhere in the piece and had absolutely nothing to do with the page. It was a wire service story from the Washington Post. Yet in the Meta Keyword and Meta Content sections of the page's HTML headers, he was mentioned.
Here are the contents of those two Meta headers:
Keywords: Christopher Elliott, travel troubleshooter, hotel advice, car rental, travel ombudsman, Las Vegas Advisor, Anthony Curtis, Las Vegas deals, Las Vegas hotels, Los Vegas restaurants, Eileen Ogintz, taking the kids, traveling with children, traveling with kids, resorts, travel advice, Tom Parsons, Best Fares, air travel, travel deals, cheap flights, bargain travel, Rick Steves, European travel, budget travel, travel in Europe, travel tips, tour trips, dallas news, dallas morning news.
Content: Chistopher Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter, helps readers solve their travel-related problems. Anthony Curtis is publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor column which covers the city's deals, restaurants and hotels. Eileen Ogintz writes about traveling with kids for The Dallas Morning News. Tom Parsons is publisher of Bestfares.com and writes about bargain travel for The Dallas Morning News. Rick Steves writes about European Travel for The Dallas Morning News.
Now you as a reader never see these portions of the page unless you go looking for them. Who are they for? Search engines. They're trying to tell search engines that all these terms are relevant to this page. But if you read the story, you find that 80-90% of them aren't. None of those authors' names are relevant, nor is the article relevant to cheap flights, traveling with kids, or Las Vegas. Yet, whether it's through sheer laziness or evil intent, the Dallas morning news is attempting to convince search engines that this page is relevant to them.
Now, if all newspapers were doing this, it might be understandable, so I checked a random story at the Los Angeles Times. The keywords were the story title, repeated. A description tag contained a relevant slug line for the story (a brief description). And that was it.
When done with ill intent, what the Dallas Morning News is doing is called "spamdexing" and is frowned upon by all of the major search engines. In fact, it's gotten to the point where they give those fields a lot less weight in their search algorithms because they are so widely abused. But just because the Dallas Morning News may not benefit as much from this as they might have years ago, they're still doing something that could unfairly place their pages in results for search terms those pages don't address.
If this is merely due to pure laziness, the Dallas Morning News is still decreasing the usefulness of search results and thus wasting the time of the general public just so they don't have to be inconvenienced. If it's for more greedy motives, then it goes from obnoxious to evil. Either way, they could and should do better.