In which I clarify my feelings about SEO

I’ve said in the past that I’m deeply sceptical about the role of SEO in achieving good Google rankings, but, in light of what I’m seeing as a result of my local search experiment, I think it’s time for a clarification.

When I asked about SEO being BS, I should have been more specific. Certainly there are some basic rules of web writing which I think you’d be a fool not to follow if you’re concerned about rankings. Get your keywords up high, preferably in the title, and use them as much as you can without destroying your writing style. This may make for more repetitive word use than hardcore literary stylists prefer, but such is the way of the web.

My objection to the SEO industry is its promotion of the idea that SEO is more important than content in boosting your rankings because, while it’s old fashioned, I persist in the belief that content is still king.

My little local search experiment has, however, taught me just how effectively truly bad SEO can kill your good content, as the following results — taken from an actual search that landed the searcher at this blog — so aptly demonstrate. The only reason I’m beating the Gazette at its own game on its own turf is its abysmal SEO — or its complete lack of SEO.

Update on my local search experiment

Almost two weeks ago I started an experiment to see how fast a web page on this blog, featuring Montreal Italian restaurants, would move up in the search rankings.

My hypothesis was that newspapers could own this kind of local search if they’d just unlock some of the information hidden away in their archives and optimize it for search engines.

So, you ask, what have I discovered?

Well, despite having a page that would instantly confuse any first time visitor, my Italian restaurant page still ranks — at the time of writing —

on page three of the Google SERPs for “Italian restaurants Montreal.” That’s higher than any Gazette page on the subject, if only because there is no Gazette page on the subject, despite the fact that the source of much of my information was Gazette articles available online. The newspaper simply doesn’t organize or curate its articles in a way that makes sense to search engines and searchers.

I also noticed yesterday, after someone arrived here who had searched for “La Cantina restaurant Montreal,” that my page was on the first page of the Google SERPs for those keywords. Once again, the Gazette was nowhere in sight, but this time it wasn’t just due to failure to optimize content that was present online, but because its La Cantina review isn’t even available on the web. The citation I used came from a private database.

To really make my point — that newspapers could own this poorly served local search market in a flash — I would have had to be on page one of the Google rankings, but the fact that my confusing page — poorly designed to review restaurants and with zero brand recognition — is even where it is demonstrates that this market is wide open.

Newspapers, what are you waiting for? Consumers want the great content you already have. Get it up online and optimize it. Or some other smart aggregator — who isn’t just relying on empty restaurant templates and user generated content — is going to beat you to it. Tick tock…

Local search experiment faces setback

Oh dear, this morning we had dropped down page four, from the number one spot to number six or so.

I linked from a relevant post at another one of my blogs to try and give the page a bit of a boost. I’m also going to go in and freshen it up since Google tends to reward new material.

Here’s the background if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Italian restaurants in Montreal

Reviewed by Lesley Chesterman and Gazette critics

This is a list of some of the hottest new Italian restaurants in Montreal along with a few old stand-bys. All come highly recommended for one reason or another.

Please feel free to add your favourite Italian restaurants in the comments section and be sure to provide specific examples of why you think they’re the best. Needless to say, you should also chime in if you think a much-praised restaurant is overrated or disappointing.


Lesley Chesterman wrote last month:

I have so many good things to say about this week’s restaurant that I’m afraid you’ll think its owner is bribing me, blackmailing me or is my second cousin once removed. None of the above. The reason I enjoyed it is because it fits what I like about food now…fancified comfort food that features pure flavours and simple cooking techniques. As a fan of the latter it isn’t a stretch to say that if I imagined my fantasy restaurant, this week’s could be it.

Fish and seafood dishes came especially highly recommended as did the desserts. Read the full review.

Phone: 514-876-0116

La Cantina

Far from downtown, just north of Metropolitain Blvd., La Cantina was described by Chesterman as “a well-kept secret … (where) crowds of regulars converge at lunch and dinner for delicious food made with top-quality ingredients, courteous and professional service, a wine list with interesting bottles at many price points, and an ambience that is molto simpatico!”

Phone: 514-382-3618

Le Piemontais

Chesterman calls this old-fashioned Italian restaurant ”solid” and recommends it if you’re heading to or from nearby Place des Arts for a concert. “The menu features just about every traditional Italian dish, ranging from antipasto to cassata with a dozen classic pastas and rich meat and fish dishes in between. Yet considering the innovative eats we’re fed these days, classic can either be an opportunity to renew your faith in traditional fare, or an unwelcome reminder of how far food has evolved,” she writes. Full review here.

Phone: 514-861-8122


On St. Laurent Blvd. north of the hipster strip and south of Little Italy. Chesterman says, “This chef-owned Italian restaurant features simple, traditional and regional Italian cuisine prepared with high-quality ingredients. The reasonably priced daily specials offer the most seasonal selections.”

Phone: 514-277-6921

Liverpool House

This is the newest restaurant of the trio who put together the highly praised Joe Beef and it’s just down the street from their firstborn. While there are old English favourites like roast beef and roast chicken on the menu, there’s also plenty of Italian. Chesterman writes:

You’ll spot dishes like ricotta gnocchi, papardelle with mushrooms, and liver wrapped in mortadella, which begs the question: Is Liverpool House more Tony Soprano or Martha Stewart?

Main courses carried on in the same Anglo/Italian vein. Linguini with shrimp is as classic as it gets, and with gorgeous meaty jumbo shrimp and a nice hit of spice in the sauce, this rendition was thoroughly satisfying. I also adored the pork “Milanese,” a thin cutlet of pounded pork loin, breaded, deep-fried and served in a pool of that excellent tomato sauce. Piggy? Absolutely! But delicious nonetheless, especially as the meat was so tender and topped with a thin layer of melted provolone. Yum.

A coconut tart was the favourite dessert. Read the full review.

Phone: 514-313-6049


Pinch-hitting restaurant critic Brian Kappler headed out to Roberto last summer. It’s a neighbourhood restaurant that’s good enough to also be a destination dining spot. The gelateria downstairs is considered one of the city’s best.

As appetizers Kappler recommended grilled asparagus paired with roasted portobello mushroom slices, topped with melted goat cheese, and grilled calamari rings, garnished with cherry tomatoes and a little oil. He wrote:

We were able to sample a range of main dishes, from a $7.50 grilled-vegetables sandwich to the slow-roasted lamb for four times as much. The sandwich, on a ciabatta-type roll, was pleasingly filled with grilled eggplant, onion and mushrooms, plus some tomato and lettuce and a hint of bocconcini. Slow-roasted meats are a Roberto specialty, with piglet, osso bucco, duck, rabbit, veal shank and liver on the la carte menu.

The full review is here.
Phone: 514-374-9844


This restaurant couldn’t survive where it does without something special to offer and in its case, that’s Portuguese dishes along with the mainly Italian fare. Chesterman wrote, “Word is obviously getting around that Vella is a great destination for a hearty meal at a fair price. The mostly Italian menu features rustic dishes like pastas, risottos and braised meats as well as Portuguese food, with a section of the appetizers devoted to cod. ” Reservations are a must.

Phone: 514-274-8447


And since I wrote this, I’m allowing myself to stick in one of my favourite Italian joints. Amelio’s has the best white pizza in town and meat sauce to die for. Plus, it’s cheap and BYOB.


I put this list of Italian restaurants in Montreal together as a local search experiment.I’ll keep you informed on how it turns out.