SEO Showdown: Cambridge vs. Oxford

The founder of Cambridge’s first free SEO meetup event, Andrew Cock-Starkey, started ‘Optimisey’ with aim of trying to help people in and around Cambridge learn about SEO, get better at it and share knowledge.

Having lived and worked in Cambridge for over 10 years, and with his wife originally being from Oxford – these two cities compete with each other on many grounds; the Boat Race possibly being the most famous, as well as them both having world-famous universities, hospitals and publishers. The age-old ‘Cambridge vs. Oxford’ rivalry got SEO guy, Andrew, thinking who would come out top in an ‘SEO Showdown’. Being Cambridge born and bred, Brand Recruitment are of course Team Cambridge. But who will it be, Cambridge or Oxford?

Here’s how it went…


  1. There will be 7 match-ups between representatives from each city
  2. Match-ups will be made between businesses/institutions of similar ilk or aims (comparing a college of Cambridge University with an Oxford primary school would not be a good or fair match)
  3. Points will be scored for: – SEO basics (e.g. optimal use of page titles, meta descriptions, H1s, robots.txt, sitemaps etc.), – Page speed (as measured by GT Metrix), – Number of backlinks (as reported by SEMrush)
  4. Each match winner will score one point for their city
  5. The city with the most total points wins
  6. This is all just for fun (and to point out some SEO stuff you should probably be considering for your site. Obviously, good SEO covers many, many factors – so,  just go with it, OK?)


Mention Cambridge and Oxford to anyone and almost invariably people will think of the Universities so it makes sense to start our SEO Showdown there. Both cities have much more to offer beyond world-famous seats of learning, but where else could we start the contest?

Let’s get them to pull on their metaphorical gloves and sound the bell for the SEO Showdown.


Neither site is on https, which is not the best start. Google are pushing increasingly hard on the shift to https. What does https mean? It basically means that data transferred between you and the website is encrypted. Https is the web equivalent of shading your hand as you punch in your debit card PIN number.

At the moment it’s considered to only be a ‘tie-breaker’ in ranking terms but it’s going to become more and more of a factor. From October 2017 Google’s Chrome browser will go even further, displaying “Not secure” messages to users entering details on non-https sites.

Mozilla’s Firefox already does something similar – inserting a pop-up pop-up message warning users if they’re entering data (e.g. an email subscription form) on a site that is not secure. Migrating to https is no joke – especially for sites the size of these two – but work to be done here for both.

For internationally famous institutions that recruit a high number of students and faculty from overseas you’d hope they’d have their lang tags sorted out – and both do.However, both do this with html lang tags, which isn’t optimal.

Href-lang tags is the suggested route. Href-lang is a signal to search engines to say which language your website is in.

If your site is available in multiple languages and/or if even the version of English your site is using (British English, American English, Australian English etc.) is important then this is important. Again, some ‘Optimisey-ing’ to do here.

Oxford edge ahead as they have a sitemap whereas Cambridge don’t. Sitemap’s aren’t vital to SEO but they’re a good way to take some control of which pages on your site can be discovered by search engines and how often the search engines should revisit them. Not a requirement but some low hanging fruit.

Cambridge pull it back with their use of on their site – something I’m a big fan of and something that can really elevate a site above their competition.

This round is too close to call. I’ll call it even.



There’s a clear winner in this round.

When testing their homepages using GT Metrix, Oxford’s clocked a staggering 21.8 seconds to fully download their page. Hardly surprising given it’s calling a chunky 9Mb in 319 separate requests (meaning a count of how many times a web browser has to fetch a resource like an image or a tracking pixel etc.). That’s a lot. No wonder it’s slow.

Cambridge would struggle to be slower… and they’re not, clocking a zippy-seeming 4 seconds. The list of things Oxford need to look at to increase their site speed is considerable. It’s a clear Cambridge win.



No surprise that in all the contests in this Showdown these two are streets ahead in terms of the number of sites linking to them.

But who has the most?

The blunt answer is: Cambridge, who have 6.5m links (from 61,000+ different domains) to Oxford’s 5.3m (from 71,000+ domains). Now, raw numbers are not the only thing that counts with links – one or two relevant links are better than a few dozen links from low-quality websites irrelevant to topics your site is about.

Without exploring each of those nearly 12 million links it’s hard to say whose links are ‘better’. As a tie-breaker here I’ll say that having more unique domains linking to you is preferable.

When you consider that one site with a link in it’s footer (that appears on every page) could supply many thousands of links (and that search engines recognise this and value those links less) seeing that Cambridge have 1.2m more links from 10,000 fewer domains would suggest that this could be the case here.

A tough call but this round goes to Oxford. Making this first contest a tie.




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This blog was originally posted by Andrew Cock-Starkey on 31.8.17 and has been re-purposed. Read the full blog:

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These look really interesting as the MD of an SEO company would you like some industry input into these?


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