SEO Showdown: Which city leads in search optimisation?

Digital marketing, Strategy, Networking | Lauren Pettitt | 01 November 2017

In a comparison between iconic institutions in the famous cities of Cambridge and Oxford who came out on top? What can local businesses learn from an ‘SEO Showdown’? Andrew Cock-Starkey finds out.


Guest blog

Cambridge-based Andrew Cock-Starkey, Founder of Optimisey, a new networking and learning group about SEO in Cambridge, looked into how the old rivals compared in terms of SEO – Search Engine Optimisation.

SEO is all about things you can do on the web and your website to help search engines – like Google – discover and rank your pages when people are searching for what you do or sell. 

Through this light-hearted contest I wanted to see which city ‘did SEO’ better.

The SEO Showdown pitted seven similar institutions or groups from each city against one another. The seven matches were:

1. Cambridge University vs. Oxford University

2. Cambridge United vs. Oxford United

3. Magdalene College vs. Magdalen College

4. Scudamores vs. Oxford Punting

5. Cambridge University Press vs. Oxford University Press

6. City of Cambridge Rowing Club vs. City of Oxford Rowing Club

7. Pink Floyd vs. Radiohead

Comparing factors key to SEO such as links, site speed and use of meta data each contest was scored with the winner notching a point for their city.

Here’s a, rather one-sided, example of a contest:

Scudamores vs. Oxford Punting

Scudamores are the biggest punting company in Cambridge and Oxford Punting came out on top in a search for “punting Oxford” (which means they must have done some decent SEO) so were chosen to represent Oxford.

Round 1: SEO basics

This one is shaping up to be a bit of a trouncing.

Scudamores have https in place, a sitemap and robots.txt file. has just one of those three, the robots.txt.

Given both sites are trying to push customers towards making a booking of various sorts the “Secure” message or padlock symbol (which comes with having an https site) is very reassuring to users entering personal and payment details on Scudamores’ site.

A good robots.txt file and sitemap can help search engine crawlers find their way around your site – and steer them away from pages you don’t want indexed too.

As if that weren’t enough Oxford Punting make a right royal mess of their H1s – sprinkling them like confetti on almost every page throughout the site.

H1, H2 (and H3s, H4s etc.) are the headings you have in your content. 

They’re not as important as they used to be in SEO but as with Page Titles and meta descriptions they’re an open goal of a chance to influence the search engines and what their systems understand your pages to be about and therefore rank for.

If your site has a site-wide logo set as H1 (say unrepeatable things to your developer) then fix it.

Round one to Scudamores.


Round 2: Page speed

Ready the white towel because, though the Scudamores homepage is a full 1Mb heavier than Oxford Punting’s, it loads just half a second slower.

Oxford Punting’s ‘sub-menu’ of images pulls in huge photos and then jams them into boxes around a tenth the size – utterly wasting valuable download time. 

If you were a customer, out and about in Oxford, looking for something to do and searching on your phone this also eats valuable data allowances.



Round 3: Backlinks

The knock-out blow is delivered. Scudamores have an impressive 1,100 links (from 351 different domains) to Oxford Punting’s 249 (from 142 domains).

Game. Set. Match.


You can find the contest in full (and the final score) on

I’m aiming to help Cambridge businesses improve their understanding of SEO and connect with SEO specialists during a series of free networking and learning events in the city – the first of which was in October. 

You can book your free place at the next one now.

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