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SEO Website Audit

When Google Fails, It's SearchWiki to the Rescue!

January 21, 2009

It was a few weeks before our annual trip to Pompano, FL to visit my grandmother and get away from the nasty New England weather. We had our plane tickets and hotel reserved, but still needed a rental car. I'd been reserving cars for years through a rental car aggregator website that I found many years ago when searching online for rental cars in Ft. Lauderdale. It was one of those websites that show you the best prices from the various companies in the area. Years ago it always showed up in a search for "rental cars Ft. Lauderdale" or similar searches, so I never bothered to remember their name.

This year, however, I typed the keyword phrase "rental car ft. lauderdale airport" at Google and didn't see the site I was looking for on the first or second page of results. Too lazy to sift through my old emails to find the company name, I noticed the number-one result was an Expedia page for rental cars in Ft. Lauderdale. "Okay," I thought, "Expedia does a good job with finding decent flights, so this should work fine for rental cars as well," and clicked through.

What I was met with was paragraphs and paragraphs of prose on why renting a car in Ft. Lauderdale was a good idea. In other words, pretty much a doorway page created by some sort of SEO-type.


And thus began my Twitter rants:

Everyone knows that I am a fan of making sure that people know they're at the right place on your website when they get there by having some descriptive copy, but this was just silly. It's not that the copy was overly keyword stuffed, it just wasn't necessary. If I'm searching for a rental car in Ft. Lauderdale, I'm already sold on the fact that I need a rental car. And I know I need it in Ft. Lauderdale. And yes, I also know that Ft. Lauderdale is a really cool place to visit (that's why I'm going there!).


At any rate, I decide to overlook the zealous SEO efforts (after all, they were #1 for the search query, so they must have been givin' ole Googly what she wanted), and I looked for the form to choose my car. There was nothing in the first screenful that allowed this. But there was a box in the sidebar with links to all the other locations from which I could order a rental car! Of course, this wasn't very helpful since I had already said at Google that I wanted one from Ft. Lauderdale – especially since I was on the Ft. Lauderdale landing page.


So I scrolled all the way down past the SEO text to look for the form. Ahh...there it was, way down at the bottom of the page.


Thus, my second ranting tweet:


Okay, so now I had found the form, but guess what? It wasn't pre-filled in with Ft. Lauderdale as the pickup location!


This led to my third Twitter rant...



...and the straw that broke the camel's back. I ranted once more to any Twitter followers who were still listening, and left Expedia in a huff:


I then went back to my original Google results, gave a quick scan and saw Thrifty there. I knew we had gotten good prices from them before, so I gave them a shot. So far, so good – their form was pre-filled out with Ft. Lauderdale Airport as my pickup location as it should have been – yay! Unfortunately, they were all sold out for the days of our trip. I scanned the search results again and saw Alamo, which we had also used in the past. Their resulting page was their home page, which I thought was weird. That also meant that their form was not pre-filled out with the location. I filled it in anyway, but their prices looked awfully high to me and I was pretty sure I could do better if I could just find an easy place to compare prices, like I was originally looking for.


I clicked through multiple pages of Google search results looking for the familiar website that I used to use, but couldn't seem to find it and still didn't remember the name (and was still was too lazy to look through old emails). I decided to change my search query a little bit and see if I could find it that way. Bingo! I finally found it, although it was pretty buried. When I clicked through, it was the perfect page. Not only did it have a pre-filled-out form and not a lot of useless keyword-stuffed prose, it even had a sample pricing chart for the most popular car rental agencies. Within 2 minutes of finding that page, I had my car reserved at a great price from Payless.


Figuring that I might be in the same boat next year, I wanted to ensure that I could easily find the website again, and remembered Google's newish SearchWiki function that lets you move websites up and down in the search results. While you only move them up in your own personal results (and must be logged in to your Google account to enable this), it occurred to me that this was exactly what SearchWiki was designed for.

I had previously thought about playing with SearchWiki a bit to see what it was all about for SEO purposes. The thing is, I don't particularly trust Google and was afraid that hundreds or even thousands of SEOs were probably already out there trying to scam the SearchWiki results by moving their clients' websites to the top of the list. I had no interest in flagging our sites as having been SEO'd. Why provide Google with that sort of signal?

And yet, I had been curious about SearchWiki and how "regular people" might use it. Here was the perfect opportunity to try SearchWiki and use it to personalize my own results. And so I did. I moved my favorite rental car aggregator page to the top of the search results page (SERP), and also wrote a nice comment on why I had done so, being sure to mention that I wasn't affiliated with the company, just a happy long-time customer.

Checking the Google SERP with personalization completely off, as well as with SearchWiki off (by using a Chrome Browser Incognito window) shows Expedia is still #1 and my favorite website is still nowhere to be found. In fact, they seemed even harder to find, which worries me a little. I certainly hope that my moving them up didn't actually hurt them – but that's probably just my tinfoil hat talking!

When searching while logged in with my personalization on, my favorite website does show up first, complete with a little green SearchWiki arrow next to it showing that I moved it there. My comment also shows up as part of its description. As long as Google doesn't scrap SearchWiki by the time I'm looking to reserve a car next year, I should be able to easily find my favorite site right at the top of the results.

How about you? Have you tried SearchWiki in this way? I just read that they've added even more personalized functionality this week called "Google Preferred Sites." Feel free to let me know how you're using SearchWiki or the new Preferred Sites in the comments!


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Services company.

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Post Comment

 Al Kalar said:
Uh, I don't go to all that trouble. I just add a site like that to my favorites in an appropriate folder. That way, if Google dumps their wiki, I still have my link.
 Jill said:
But, Al, that would be too easy! :D
 lianne said:
I have tried it, but what do you do as a web designer/seo and you want to keep track of how google ranks your page (or all pages, for that matter) when you start re-arranging listings? It seems useless to me, or am I missing something? I guess it's google's anwer to iRazoo....? (Btw: I am ALWAYS logged in to google).
 Jill said:
@lianne, that's when you need to log out and turn off all personalization. As I mentioned in the article, Google's Chrome browser with an incognito window up is great for that.
 WingsDove said:
I have not used the Google Search Wikki . . . yet, thinking it was some Evil Google Creation threatening to overturn all ethical SEO efforts. After reading your article, I now have a clearer idea of how the Wikki works and will try it. So much for listening to all the naysayers. :-)
 Chris Gragg said:
I have used Wiki the same way - if I know a site that is useful but not optimized and doesn't show up in the search results, I have bumped it up. That being said, I am still paranoid of their goals with Wiki, and as an SEO it concerns me that they are now editing the results - in the end I see them making editorial changes to the results based on the Wiki results - maybe it would take a few thousand user edited changes before they make the edit, but what else would they use it for?

I know they want to deliver a better search experience, but are they really that altruistic? I doubt it.

Now where did I put that tinfoil hat?
 Joseph Alvini said:
I think bookmarking is really a lot better than searchwiki, but thats just my opinion.. :)
 Ben McKay said:
In response to this "In fact, they seemed even harder to find, which worries me a little. I certainly hope that my moving them up didn't actually hurt them"

...I bet you checked their previous rankings without a clean browser that time, so I expect they were skewed slightly towards your preferences.

I tend to use Search Wiki ever so rarely but when I do it's because I'm offering feedback where the option doesn't exist on the site (tut tut!)...but then again the comment is typically good because I have been dazzled so I'm all the more happy to champion them! :)

An interesting read Jill, thanks.
 Joe said:
Why don't you just bookmark the page? Why go to all the trouble? It's like you're purposely making things harder on yourself for future uses. Even IF you haven't cleared your cookies by the time you need a car again, you've now made it a 3+ step process instead of a 1 step process. Search Wiki is a complete waste of time. And of course your moving them up won't hurt them, b/c it only affects YOUR search from YOUR browser alone.
 Darren Moloney said:
Its a shame that Expedia do not monitor their company getting mentions on Twitter - might have been useful in reacting to your comments and perhaps providing you a service...
 Kris said:
So, what is the name of this wonderful comparative price website?
 Jimiroddy said:
It's always good if you add all that resources to your favrities, so next time you dont have to look out for them again..........!