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July 23, 2013

Art and Effectively Communicating Impenetrable SEO

This week I spent a very pleasant afternoon being shown around a client’s new art gallery. His website is not performing well and wanted an SEO report as to why. So I duly wrote it later in the day. Although it was written in very simple language, he phoned the following afternoon and told me he didn’t understand a single word of it.

When I started to analyze the site, I realized that although the client has hosting, the code was in a frameset and the content was being pulled from GoDaddy’s temporary server. Worse, some of the linkbacks to the site should have come from major media companies like CNN and the New York Times, but instead are being directed to a website they registered but only parked; a domain with the name misspelled.

Now, he is an art dealer who knows nothing whatsoever about tech. So what is the best method of effectively communicating these two major structural problems? It certainly isn’t by sending him a technical document he has no hope of ever understanding. But in all honesty, I sent one to him anyway, mainly to get the attention of his developer. I then decided to meet him for lunch in the hope of delivering the issues with some common understanding.

Before I did, I read a pamphlet on the exhibition the gallery is running at the moment. The work is said to be formed from a linguistic algorithm — not too dissimilar to the one I needed to speak to him about — and the works of art are computer generated from a “source code” and centred around the politics of fear, suppression and paranoia. Feedback was collated from the public and input into the system on how people felt about today’s society, and then output to form complex structures.

While this might sound froideur, it’s what many of the artists that contribute to the gallery view as their input: for us, the general public, to look closely at, rather than step back from, our innermost fears and then define for ourselves how we interact with the political landscape we live in is out of the ordinary.

I digress, I know, but with this in mind, the idea of communicating title tags, temporary hosting problems, framesets, dead domains, h1 tags and body copy seemed to me it was going to provoke a glazing of the eyes until the inevitable stifling of a yawn. I reasoned that the discussion needed to be face-to-face and framed in a general discussion about the site’s problems and how they could be fixed.

The one thing he does “get” is SEM and the need to disseminate articles and publicity about the gallery so that a greater number of people arrive each day. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how the developer managed to get the domain name so wrong for backlinks from CNN and the IHT. It almost borders on the criminal. So, I have set in motion solutions to fix these structural problems before going anywhere near online marketing for now.

This year has seen the SEO industry facing major challenges from updates to the Google search algorithm, especially for agencies that have been gaming the system. One of them, and I think to some extent we must all put our hands up to, is the practice of exact keywords matching in titles and anchor text.

We have known for perhaps the best part of a decade that anchor text needs to vary, but it was perhaps just too tempting not to play by the rules. This is a significant change and has affected many websites, none of which my company are involved in, I should hasten to add.

The issue I really wanted to discuss was effective communication when producing SEO reports because, when you look on the Internet, they are almost always churned out in a language as foreign to a client as Foucault’s reasoning on the rules of exclusion in society.

As an SEO expert, if you are unable to understand the articulation of this and contemporary art’s obsession with prohibition, how on earth will a client be conversant with why his website is bound up with penguins and pandas?

Besides the technical considerations of getting this gallery’s website back on track, reversing the links and providing copy for each of the pages, there is one distinct advantage with this client: they have expert writers on art who are known personally to the artists. This will provide a very solid basis for the SEM once the architectural issues have been ironed out.

In summary, by all means send a technical report when a client wants his or her website analyzed, but it must not be written in the jargon of an SEO boffin. It needs to be a simple overview of the problems that exist and how you intend to fix them.

The next phase is to convince them that providing content about their company, products and services has a huge impact on their business and to achieve this they should only employ writers that deliver, to very high standards, relevant, unique content that Google demands.

John Sylvester is the owner of, a search engine optimization company based in Bangkok, Thailand, covering copywriting, article and PDF production, infographics, and managing social media and bookmarking to produce measurable, results-driven positioning strategies for clients.