March of the Clones

I’m sure it isn’t really a St Andrew’s Bookshops internet takeover bid, but somehow, looking at these, I can’t help wondering…

It’s not the “March of the Clones” effect that bothers me so much, however, as the use of the same “keywords” over and over again across the top and bottom of every page using the St Andrew’s template: 

Across the top: “Online Christian Bookshop Buy Christian Books Online Bibles Christian Resources Christian Music CD”

Across the bottom: “Online Christian Bookshop selling Christian books, Holy Bibles, Christian resources, Christian music, Christian CDs, Christian DVDs, Bible Commentaries, Bible Study material Christian Bookshop”

Behind the scenes it’s more of the same, each page I checked across the various sites using the same META description: 

<meta name="description" content="Christian Bookshop offering 
Christian Books, CDs, DVDs, Videos, Bibles and Books about
Christianity and Christian Living both online and in our various
branches in the United Kingdom">

So, some words to the wise: use the META description and keyword tags and attributes intelligently to describe your page contents; and don’t use “keyword stuffing” techniques, either in your META tags or in your page content. It doesn’t fool the search engines: on the contrary, it might just get you blacklisted instead of higher ranked. See Google’s warnings about Keyword Stuffing for more info and clarification.

One thing we can be absolutely certain about: using exactly the same sequence of “keywords” on every page across an entire site — let alone the same sequence across several supposedly independent sites! — renders them meaningless. Think of it like prayer: meaningless repetition doesn’t work with God, and it doesn’t work with Google either. To be effective and meaningful, keywords need to be specific to each page’s content.


4 thoughts on “March of the Clones

  1. We (Cornerstone Bookshop)had a small website which was working OK for us (and for some reason your wordpress Snapshots thingy is still pointing to that old site, which rather spoils the seamless clone effect, Phil) but we were simply unable to keep it updated with any kind of range of stock. We felt we needed a website which did most of the work for us, and had a range of stock that approximately corresponded to what we sold. The St. Andrew’s ‘clone’ option was the best answer we could come up with.

    I would say this has worked reasonably well for us in the few months we have been on board with it, although it is not without frustrations and difficulties, most of which I have not really talked through with St. Andrew’s yet, so I am not going to air them here. All the stuff about metatags and so forth is part of what I pay St. Andrews to do.

    I know that you use Amazon to fulfil your internet orders, Phil, which is one solution, but not a route that I wish to go down at the moment. So do you have any other suggestions as to how a Christian Bookshop without huge resources, backers, parent companies etc. can develop a web presence that properly represents the range of stock that we have available and without becoming a ‘clone’? This is a serious question!

  2. Thanks John. Yes, I noticed the retro Snapshot too… I’ve contacted them and asked them to update their screenshot to the current site.

    I don’t think the clone thing’s too bad really: St Andrew’s seem to have found a winning formula, so why not make the most of it? On the whole, it’s probably only geeks like me who poke around lots of different Christian bookshop and publisher websites that will notice.

    But I do think a bit more imagination is called for in their implementation: it’s not exactly difficult to dream up a dozen or so different templates and build in a bit of customisability. Take WordPress as an example — and they offer everything for free, so a company that’s charging you for their services really should be able to do better! Check out Christian Templates Online for an idea of the sort of thing that’s possible — hundreds of preformatted, state of the art website templates specifically designed for churches and Christian organisations.

    The cloned meta tags and keyword stuffing is a serious issue, however, which needs to be addressed. I raised it a while back when I reviewed St Andrew’s in Christian Marketplace and it’s astonishing that they’re still doing it, and so blatantly!

    I take it you’ve noticed that according to the meta you’re now one of their “various branches”??

  3. John, you asked about possible alternatives to the St Andrew’s Clone route: have you considered attending the BA SBF, Online and Active? (Personally I think a better title would be ‘Online and Interactive’ but ‘active’ is a step in the right direction… )

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