BUSINESSES face a grim and confusing lottery when trying to develop profitable, search-engine friendly websites, according to research from Scottish experts.
Online competition for customers is a daily reality for businesses, yet research by search marketing specialists, QueryClick, paints a worrying picture of the web design and build help available to them.
The firm, which has its headquarters in Edinburgh and offices in London, provides services to help companies – from the FTSE 250 to small businesses – perform better online.
Now it has uncovered patchy skills and understanding among some of the top digital agencies in Scotland, which between them build and run websites for thousands of businesses.
Chris Liversidge, the founder and managing director of QueryClick said: “The digital economy is a reality which businesses have to get to grips with, as big names like HMV and Jessops have found to their cost.
“Yet our research suggest that Scotland’s digital agencies – the very people who should be helping our businesses succeed in this new arena – are actually sowing confusion which could be harmful to the competitiveness of Scottish companies.”
QueryClick audited the websites of 20 leading web development agencies in and around Edinburgh. They found a litany of search engine optimisation (SEO) blunders and poor practice, including basic mistakes which could see websites penalised by search engines like Google.
Liversidge added: “We know every one of these agencies can build beautiful websites. The problem is they also claim to be adept at SEO and other skills involved in making sites competitive online.
“However, our research shows that at best they are stretching the truth, while at worst they simply don’t understand what they are doing.
“The tragedy here is that the people who suffer are the businesses which are left wondering why they paid thousands of pounds for a website that actually does very little to benefit their ‘bottom line’.
“That causes a huge breach of trust which damages the reputation of web designers, as well as companies like ours which provide the other services involved in making businesses perform as well as they can online.
“It’s time for the biggest names in the Scottish digital sector to get real about what they can and can’t do and start really helping Scottish businesses to understand what is needed to succeed online.
“After all, no business would expect a one stop shop to handle all of their marketing, accountancy and legal requirements. It’s increasingly absurd to think a single agency can handle every aspect of doing business on the web.”
The QueryClick research was carried out by Alex Cowles, the company’s lead designer. He found web development agencies which also claimed to offer SEO were actually failing the most basic checks – and guilty of errors which can see websites demoted in the Google rankings.
Among the worst blunders he uncovered were that ten of the web design agencies audited still had websites they’d built for clients indexed on their own sites – a major no-no frowned on by Google and also considered a major online security risk.
He also found a long list of other glitches with the structure of pages, how the headings were written and how pages appeared to both search engines and to potential customers carrying out searches.
His findings have been summarised in an easy-to-follow infographic and in a report on QueryClick’s own website, entitled Failing by Example: Digital Agencies Struggle With the SEO Basics.
Alex said he was surprise by the depth of the problems he uncovered and added: “I came upon a quagmire of issues. Problems that are pretty simple to fix, but had been overlooked – pretty severely in some cases – by a large percentage of the agencies I looked at.
“I’d expect agencies of this calibre to lead by example, especially when these issues are standard practice for anyone creating websites.”