1&1 your business

Why “1&1ing” Your Website is a Terrible, Terrible, Terrible Idea

This TV ad makes me scream angrily at the television every single time I see it. It makes me angrier than the Go Compare ads from last year. It’s more annoying than this lot. And it’s not because there’s an annoying lead character or anything. It’s simply because of the product it’s trying to sell and the audience to which it is trying to sell it.

Check it out:

On the face of it, those who have small businesses with little or no budget for web development and online marketing and no design or development expertise are probably thinking, “Brilliant. No development skills necessary, a free trial, a nice and simple website live in no time and then everyone will find me in Google. Easy.” And it’s these people that 1&1 is targeting.

I won’t get into the ins and outs of the long contracts, lacking customer support and the way they’ll try and tie you in by keeping a degree of control over your domain. You can read all about that on Review Centre, where (at the time of writing) 274 reviews give 1&1 an average score of 1.2 out of 5.

What I want to talk about is how, what they package up as ‘great SEO friendly’ websites that will get your found in Google are actually really not.

The Scariest Line…

Looking at this purely from an SEO perspective first and foremost, there is one line in the TV ad that sets alarm bells ringing:

  • “With search engine optimisation tools, everyone will find you.”

Now, unless those tools involve access to the algorithm or a blackmail package for someone at Google, this is completely misleading. It’s an outright lie.

I particularly like this bit of the ad (by ‘like’ I mean that it makes me vomit in my mouth a little bit).

1 and 1 SEO tools

Of course, this is just a made up example. Searching ‘interior design Chester’ in Google doesn’t show up any of these sites (which are owned by 1&1 and simply redirect to the 1&1 website).

Now, let’s not be too critical of just an example. Although this does look as though 1&1 is implying that their clients can get to number 1 for their searches just by using their magic SEO tools, we can’t judge until we’ve looked at some real examples, can we?

Some Examples

Here’s an earlier ad from 1&1.

From this ad, I was able to find a number of websites clearly using 1&1 (cos they’re all running the same old copy!) and we’ll look at those examples.

The Architects

So, I Googled a single line shown on the architect’s website some 15 seconds in. That line:

“to design tomorrow’s architecture today.” 

Here’s what I found:

1 and 1 architects seo

1,600 results… and everyone appears to be saying the same thing. Imagine that.

Result after result of the same garbage, sometimes with the odd word changed here and there but always the same. This is a Google Panda nightmare waiting to happen for business owners who are absolutely none the wiser that this is even a potential risk.

Clyde Valley Design Practice

clyde valley design practice

The Clyde Valley Design Practice Homepage

Anyway, I went into one of these sites, clydevalleydesignpractice.com to see how they’re faring in search. The site is definitely still ‘powered’ by 1&1.

A few observations:

  • Those fancy pants “SEO tools” didn’t even magically create custom page titles. #fail
  • This is a firm of architects based in Clyde Valley, yes I can’t even find their website in the top 10 positions for a search for ‘Clyde Valley Architects.’
  • I repeated this with ‘architects’ plus even more specific areas (Crossford and Carluke, both of which are advertised on their Qype listing). Same result.
  • There is no evidence of Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools. The magic SEO tools didn’t recommend anything like that either then?

Other Examples

You might think I picked that example cos it’s one that’s showing the results I want it to show. I didn’t. I repeated the process with several others: Anderson Associates and Gotzheim Associates amongst others. Andersonassociatesltd.com isn’t even first for ‘Anderson Associates Limited’!

My Problem with it…

I’m not suggesting that I expect 1&1 to miraculously make people’s websites rank for their search terms. I don’t actually expect their SEO tools to be miraculous. My issue is that 1&1 make people believe they’ll get Google-friendly websites and tie them in with an inflexible website. Then they encourage them to use ready created text (an SEO killer) and flimsy templates. Where are the mobile versions?

The ads (even the most recent ones) explicitly mention SEO, they explicitly show sites sitting up at the top of search engines as they talk about these magic tools. And by the time these businesses realise that they’re getting nowhere in increasing their visibility, they’re tied in with a website.

These are businesses who don’t know what goes into SEO, don’t realise it often requires an on going effort and 1&1 are taking advantage of their lack of knowledge.

The Alternative

Now, I also get that some businesses simply do not have the budget to have website designed, developed and to have an SEO campaign running. There are alternatives with a similar budget to that required by 1&1.

  • Your own hosting and WordPress. WordPress comes with out of the box themes and it’s open source. So anybody can develop on your website if you want to move it from one developer to another. You can even get decent looking free themes that are mobile friendly for WordPress too. Don’t know how to host your own site? Pay someone for an hour to come and show you what you’re doing.
  • If you’re genuinely in love with the content management system behind 1&1, it’s called Jimdo and you can use that (to a degree) for free through jimdo.com
  • Where SEO ‘tools’ are concerned, don’t worry about them! I’d hazard a guess that 1&1 is advertising search engine submission. Google doesn’t need ‘submission’. It will pick your site up of its own accord as long as you’re not blocking search engines from it. The only real tools you need to get the basics in place are free!! They’re Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.
  • Write your own content. The sites I have seen powered by 1&1 have just a handful of pages. Don’t use ‘industry specific text.’ Use company specific text. Invest a few hours into just coming up with your own.

Don’t 1&1 Your Website

So please, whatever you do, if you really want a shot at anyone realistically finding you for what you do, don’t 1&1 your website…

Having watched that ad over and over again, I can’t help but think that the “with search engine optimisation tools, everyone will find you,” line warrants a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.


[Update – 20th February 2013]

I did submit a complaint to the ASA regarding the line about their magic SEO tools firing your website into search awesomeness (pretty much). I’ve received acknowledgement of the complaint and I will keep this up to date to let you know of the outcome.

[Update – 6th March 2013]

Last week I had a confirmation from the ASA that they were investigating my complaint. I did see a version of the ad with a minor change the offending line about their SEO tools changed, but it was a shorter version of the ad, so unlikely to be related to the complaint. I am expecting to hear more from ASA over the next few weeks.

[Update – 8th November 2013]

The complaint I made against 1&1 was one of two complaints about the same section of their TV ad. Unfortunately, the ASA has ruled that the ad is not misleading and therefore can continue to be broadcast. My honest opinion is that this is a consequence of people outside of SEO not really understanding it. How can the ASA be expected to determine whether or not something about SEO is misleading without fully understanding SEO? Never mind, eh!?