Archived posts from the 'SEO' Category

Supplemental-Only

Nice closing words on “my stuff went supplemental” from JohnWeb.

Applying simplified conclusions to a complex SEO question reveal 20% of the truth whilst 80% are just not worth discussing because the efforts necessary to analyze one more percent equal the 20% analysis. The alternative is working with 20% reasonable conclusions plus 80% common sense.

Unfortunately, common sense is not as common as you might think. Just count the supplemental-threads across the board, then search for words of wisdom. Sigh.

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Update: Read Matt’s Google Hell



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Follow-up on "Google penalizes Erol stores"

Background: these three posts on Google penalizing e-commerce sites.

Erol has contacted me and we will discuss the technical issues within the next days or maybe weeks or so. I understand this as a positive signal, especially because previously my impression was that Erol is not willing to listen constructive criticism, regardless Googles shot across the bow (more on that later). We agreed that before we come to the real (SEO) issues it’s a good idea to render a few points made in my previous posts more precisely. In the following I quote parts of Erol’s emails with permission:

Your blog has made for interesting reading but the first point I would like to raise with you is about the tone of your comments, not necessarily the comments themselves.

Question of personal style, point taken.

Your article entitled ‘Why eCommerce Systems Suck‘, dated March 12th, includes specific reference to EROL and your opinion of its SEO capability. Under such a generic title for an article, readers should expect to read about other shopping cart systems and any opinion you may care to share about them. In particular, the points you raise about other elements of SEO in the same article, (’Google doesn’t crawl search results’, navigation being ‘POST created results not crawlable’) are cited as examples of ways other shopping carts work badly in reference to SEO - importantly, this is NOT the way EROL stores work. Yet, because you do not include any other cart references by name or exclude EROL from these specific points, the whole article reads as if it is entirely aimed at EROL software and none others.

Indeed, that’s not fair. Navigation solely based on uncrawlable search results without crawler shortcuts or sheer POST results are definitely not issues I’ve stumbled upon while investigating penalized Erol driven online stores. Google’s problem with Erol driven stores is client sided cloaking without malicious intent. I’ve updated the post to make that clear.

Your comment in another article, ‘Beware of the narrow-minded coders‘ dated 26 March where you state: “I’ve used the case [EROL] as an example of a nice shopping cart coming with destructive SEO.” So by this I understand that your opinion is EROL is actually ‘a nice shopping cart’ but it’s SEO capabilities could be better. Yet your articles read through as EROL is generally bad all round. Your original article should surely be titled “Why eCommerce Systems Suck at SEO” and take a more rounded approach to shopping cart SEO capabilities, not merely “Why eCommerce Systems Suck”? This may seem a trivial point to you, but how it reflects overall on our product and clouds it’s capability to perform its main function (provide an online ecommerce solution) is really what concerns me.

Indeed, I meant that Erol is a nice shopping cart lacking SEO capabilities as long as not the major SEO issues get addressed asap. And I mean in the current version, which clearly violates Google’s quality guidelines. From what I’ve read in the meantime, the next version to be released in 6 months or so should eleminate the two major flaws with regard to search engine compatibility. I’ve changed the post’s title, the suggestion makes sense for me too.

I do not enjoy the Google.co.uk traffic from search terms like “Erol sucks” or “Erol is crap” because that’s simply not true. As I said before I think that Erol is a well rounded software nicely supporting the business processes its designed for, and the many store owners using Erol I’ve communicated with recently all tell me that too.

I noted with interest that your original article ‘Why eCommerce Systems Suck’ was dated 12th March. Coincidentally, this was the date Google began to re-index EROL stores following the Google update, so I presume that your article was originally written following the threads on the Google webmaster forums etc. prior to the 12th March where you had, no doubt, been answering questions for some of our customers about their de-listing during the update. You appear to add extra updates and information in your blogs but, disappointingly, you have not seen fit to include the fact that EROL stores are being re-listed in any update to your blog so, once again, the article reads as though all EROL stores have been de-listed completely, never to be seen again.

With all respect, nope. Google did not reindex Erol driven pages, Google had just lifted a “yellow card” penalty for a few sites. That is not a carte blanque but in the opposite Google’s last warning before the site in question gets the “red card”, that is a full ban lasting at least a couple of months or even longer. As said before it means absolutely nothing when Google crawls penalized sites or when a couple of pages reappear on the SERPs. Here is the official statement: “Google might also choose to give a site a ‘yellow card’ so that the site can not be found in the index for a short time. However, if a webmaster ignores this signal, then a ‘red card’ with a longer-lasting effect might follow.”
(Yellow / red cards: soccer terminology, yellow is a warning and red the sending-off.)

I found your comments about our business preferring “a few fast bucks”, suggesting we are driven by “greed” and calling our customers “victims” particularly distasteful. Especially the latter, because you infer that we have deliberately set out to create software that is not capable of performing its function and/or not capable of being listed in the search engines and that we have deliberately done this in pursuit of monetary gain at the expense of reputation and our customers. These remarks I really do find offensive and politely ask that they be removed or changed. In your article “Google deindexing Erol driven ecommerce sites” on March 23rd, you actually state that “the standard Erol content presentation is just amateurish, not caused by deceitful intent”. So which is it to be - are we deceitful, greedy, victimising capitalists, or just amateurish and without deceitful intent? I support your rights to your opinions on the technical proficiency of our product for SEO, but I certainly do not support your rights to your opinions of our company and its ethics which border on slander and, at the very least, are completely unprofessional from someone who is positioning themselves as just that - an SEO professional.

To summarise, your points of view are not the problem, but the tone and language with which they are presented and I sincerely hope you will see fit to moderate these entries.

C’mon, now you’re getting polemic;) In this post I’ve admitted to be polemic to bring my point home, and in the very first post on the topic I clearly stated that my intention was not slandering Erol. However, since you’ve agreed to an open discussion of the SEO flaws I think it’s no longer suitable to call your customers victims, so I’ve changed that. Also in my previous post I’ll insert a link near “greed” and “fast bucks” pointing to this paragraph to make it absolutely clear that I did not meant what you insinuate when I wrote:

Ignorance is no excuse […] Well, it seems to me that Erol prefers a few fast bucks over satisfied customers, thus I fear they will not tell their cutomers the truth. Actually, they simply don’t get it. However, I don’t care whether their intention to prevaricate is greed or ignorance, I really don’t know, but all the store operators suffering from Google’s penalties deserve the information.

Actually, I still stand by my provoking comments because at this time they perfectly described the impression you’ve created with your actions respectively lack of fitly activities in the public.

  1. Critical customers asking whether the loss of Google traffic might be caused by the way your software handles HTML outputs in your support forums were downtrodden and censored.
  2. Your public answers to worried customers were plain wrong, SEO-wise. Instead of “we take your hints seriously and will examine whether JavaScript redirects may cause Google penalties or not” you said that search engines do index cloaking pages just fine, that Googlebot crawling penalized sites is a good sign, and all the mess is kinda Google hiccup. At this point the truth was out long enough, so your most probably unintended disinformation has worried a number of your customers, and gave folks like me the impression that you’re not willing to undertake the necessary steps.
  3. Offering SEO services yourself as well as forum talks praising Erol’s SEO experts don’t put you in a “we just make great shopping cart software and are not responsible for search engine weaknesses” position. Frankly that’s not conceivable as responsible management of customer expectations. It’s great that your next version will dump frames and JavaScript redirects, but that’s a bit too late in the eyes of your customers, and way too late from a SEO perspective, because Google never permitted the use of JavaScript redirects and all the disadvantages of frames were public knowledge since the glory days of Altavista, Excite and Infoseek, long before Google overtook search.

To set the record straight: I don’t think and never thought that you’ve greedily or deliberately put your customers at risk in pursuit of monetary gain. You’ve just ignored Google’s guidelines and best practices of Web development too long, but –as the sub-title of my previous post hints– ignorance is no excuse.

Now that we’ve handled the public relation stuff, I’ll look into the remaining information Erol sent over hoping that I’ll be able to provide some reasonable input in the best interest of Erol’s customers.

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Beware of the narrow-minded coders

or Ignorance is no excuse

Long winded story on SEO-ignorant pommy coders putting their customers at risk. Hop away if e-commerce software vs. SEO dramas don’t thrill you.

Recently I’ve answered a “Why did Google deindex my pages” question in Google’s Webmaster Forum. It turned out that the underlying shopping cart software (EROL) maintained somewhat static pages as spider fodder, which redirect human visitors to another URL serving the same contents client sided. Silly thing to do, but pretty common for shopping carts. I’ve used the case as an example of a nice shopping cart coming with destructive SEO in a post on flawed shopping carts in general.

Day by day other site owners operating Erol driven online shops popped up in the Google Groups or emailed me directly, so I realized that there is a darn widespread problem involving a very popular UK based shopping cart software responsible for Google cloaking penalties. From my contacts I knew that Erol’s software engineers and self-appointed SEO experts believe in weird SEO theories and don’t consider that their software architecture itself could be the cause of the mess. So I wrote a follow-up addressing Erol directly. Google penalizes Erol-driven e-commerce sites explaines Google’s take on cloaking and sneaky JavaScript redirects to Erol and its customers.

My initial post got linked and discussed in Erol’s support forum and kept my blog stats counter buzzy over the weekend. Accused of posting crap I showed up and posted a short summary over there:

Howdy, I’m the author of the blog post you’re discussing here: Why eCommerce systems suck

As for crap or not crap, judge yourself. This blog post was addressed to ecommerce systems in general. Erol was mentioned as an example of a nice shopping cart coming with destructive SEO. To avoid more misunderstandings and to stress the issues Google has with Erol’s JavaScript redirects, I’ve posted a follow-up: Google deindexing Erol-driven ecommerce sites.

This post contains related quotes from Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, and Google’s quality guidelines. I guess that piece should bring my point home:

If you’re keen on search engine traffic then do not deliver one page to the crawlers and another page to users. Redirecting to another URL which serves the same contents client sided gives Google an idea of intent, but honest intent is not a permission to cloak. Google says JS redirects are against the guidelines, so don’t cloak. It’s that simple.

If you’ve questions, post a comment on my blog or drop me a line. Thanks for listening

Sebastian

Next the links to this blog were edited out and Erol posted a longish but pointless charade. Click the link to read it in full, summarizing it tells the worried Erol victims that Google has no clue at all, frames and JS redirects are great for online shops, and waiting for the next software release providing meaningful URLs will fix everything. Ok, that’s polemic, so here are at least a few quotes:

[…] A number of people have been asking for a little reassurance on the fact that EROL’s x.html pages are getting listed by Google. Below is a list of keyword phrases, with the number of competing pages and the x.html page that gets listed [4 examples provided].
[…]
EROL does use frames to display the store in the browser, however all the individual pages generated and uploaded by EROL are static HTML pages (x.html pages) that can be optimised for search engines. These pages are spidered and indexed by the search engines. Each of these x.html pages have a redirect that loads the page into the store frameset automatically when the page is requested.
[…]
EROL is a JavaScript shopping cart, however all the links within the store (links to other EROL pages) that are added using EROL Link Items are written to the static HTML pages as a standard <a href=”"> links - not a JavaScript link. This helps the search engines spider other pages in your store.

The ’sneaky re-directs’ being discussed most likely relate to an older SEO technique used by some companies to auto-forward from an SEO-optimised page/URL to the actual URL the site-owner wants you to see.

EROL doesn’t do this - EROL’s page load actually works more like an include than the redirect mentioned above. In its raw form, the ‘x123.html’ page carries visible content, readable by the search engines. In it’s rendered form, the page loads the same content but the JavaScript rewrites the rendered page to include page and product layout attributes and to load the frameset. You are never redirected to another html page or URL. [Not true, the JS function displayPage() changes the location of all pages indexed by Google, and property names like ‘hidepage’ speak for themselves. Example: x999.html redirects to erol.html#999×0&&]
[…]
We have, for the past 6 months, been working with search engine optimisation experts to help update the code that EROL writes to the web page, making it even more search engine friendly.

As part of the recommendations suggested by the SEO experts, pages names will become more search engine friendly, moving way from page names such as ‘x123.hml’ to ‘my-product-page-123.html’. […]

Still in friendly and helpful mood I wrote a reply:

With all respect, if I understand your post correctly that’s not going to solve the problem.

As long as a crawlable URL like http://www.example.com/x123.html or http://www.example.com/product-name-123.html resolves to
http://www.example.com/erol.html#123×0&& or whatever that’s a violation of Google’s quality guidelines. Whether you call that redirect sneaky (Google’s language) or not that’s not the point. It’s Google’s search engine, so their rules apply. These rules state clearly that pages which do a JS redirect to another URL (on the same server or not, delivering the same contents or not) do not get indexed, or, if discovered later on, get deindexed.

The fact that many x-pages are still indexed and may even rank for their targeted keywords means nothing. Google cannot discover and delist all pages utilizing a particular disliked technique overnight, and never has. Sometimes that’s a process lasting months or even years.

The problem is, that these redirects put your customers at risk. Again, Google didn’t change its Webmaster guidelines which forbid JS redirects since the stone age, it has recently changed its ability to discover violations in the search index. Google does frequently improve its algos, so please don’t expect to get away with it. Quite the opposite, expect each and every page with these redirects vanishing over the years.

A good approach to avoid Google’s cloaking penalties is utilizing one single URL as spider fodder as well as content presentation to browsers. When a Googler loads such a page with a browser and compares the URL to the spidered one, you get away with nearly everything CSS and JS can accomplish — as long as the URLs are identical. If OTOH the JS code changes the location you’re toast.

Posting this response failed, because Erol’s forum admin banned me after censoring my previous post. By the way according to posts outside their sphere and from what I’ve seen watching the discussion they censor posts of customers too. Well, that’s fine with me since that’s Erol’s forum and they make the rules. However, still eager to help I emailed my reply to Erol, and to Erol customers asking for my take on Erol’s final statement.

You ask why I post this long winded stuff? Well, it seems to me that Erol prefers a few fast bucks over satisfied customers, thus I fear they will not tell their cutomers the truth. Actually, they simply don’t get it. However, I don’t care whether their intention to prevaricate is greed or ignorance, I really don’t know, but all the store operators suffering from Google’s penalties deserve the information. A few of them have subscribed to my feed, so I hope my message gets spread. Continuation

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Google deindexing Erol driven ecommerce sites

Follow-up post - see why e-commerce software sucks.

Erol is a shopping cart software invented by DreamTeam, a UK based Web design firm. One of its core features is the on-the-fly conversion of crawlable HTML pages to fancy JS driven pages. Looks great in a JavaScript-enabled browser, and ugly w/o client sided formatting.

Erol, offering not that cheap SEO services itself, claims that it is perfectly OK to show Googlebot a content page without gimmicks, whilst human users get redirected to another URL.

Erol victims suffer from deindexing of all Erol-driven pages, Google just keeps pages in the index which do not contain Erol’s JS code. Considering how many online shops make use of Erol software in the UK, this massive traffic drop may have a visible impact on the gross national product ;) … Ok, sorry, kidding with so many businesses at risk does not amuse the Queen.

Dear “SEO experts” at Erol, could you please read Google’s quality guidelines:

· Don’t […] present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as “cloaking.”
· Don’t employ cloaking or sneaky redirects.
· If a site doesn’t meet our quality guidelines, it may be blocked from the index.

Google did your customers a favour by not banning their whole sites, probably because the standard Erol content presentation technique is (SEO-wise) just amateurish, not caused by deceitful intent. So please stop whining

We are currently still investigating the recent changes Google have made which have caused some drop-off in results for some EROL stores. It is as a result of the changes by Google, rather than a change we have made in the EROL code that some sites have dropped. We are investigating all possible reasons for the changes affecting some EROL stores and we will, of course, feedback any definitive answers and solutions as soon as possible.

and listen to your customers stating

Hey Erol Support
Maybe you should investigate doorway pages with sneaky redirects? I’ve heard that they might cause “issues” such as full bans.

Tell your victims customers the truth, they deserve it.

Telling your customers that Googlebot crawling their redirecting pages will soon result in reindexing those is plain false by the way. Just because the crawler fetches a questionable page that doesn’t mean that the indexing process reinstates its accessibility for the query engine. Googlebot is just checking whether the sneaky JavaScript code was removed or not.

Go back to the whiteboard. See a professional SEO. Apply common sense. Develop a clean user interface pleasing human users and search engine robots as well. Without frames, sneaky respectively superfluous JavaScript redirects, and amateurish BS like that. In the meantime provide help and work arounds (for example a tutorial like “How to build an Erol shopping site without page loading messages which will result in search engine penalties”), otherwise you don’t need the revamp because your customer base will shrink to zilch.

Update: It seems that there’s a patch available. In Erol’s support forum member Craig Bradshaw posts “Erols new patch and instructions clearly tell customers not to use the page loading messages as these are no longer used by the software.”.

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Related links:
Matt Cutts August 19, 2005: “If you make lots of pages, don’t put JavaScript redirects on all of them … of course we’re working on better algorithmic solutions as well. In fact, I’ll issue a small weather report: I would not recommend using sneaky JavaScript redirects. Your domains might get rained on in the near future.”
Matt Cutts December 11, 2005: “A sneaky redirect is typically used to show one page to a search engine, but as soon as a user lands on the page, they get a JavaScript or other technique which redirects them to a completely different page.”
Matt Cutts September 18, 2005: “If […] you employ […] things outside Google’s guidelines, and your site has taken a precipitous drop recently, you may have a spam penalty. A reinclusion request asks Google to remove any potential spam penalty. … Are there […] pages that do a JavaScript or some other redirect to a different page? … Whatever you find that you think may have been against Google’s guidelines, correct or remove those pages. … I’d recommend giving a short explanation of what happened from your perspective: what actions may have led to any penalties and any corrective action that you’ve taken to prevent any spam in the future.”
Matt Cutts July 31, 2006: “I’m talking about JavaScript redirects used in a way to show users and search engines different content. You could also cloak and then use (meta refresh, 301/302) to be sneaky.”
Matt Cutts December 27, 2006 and December 28, 2006: “We have written about sneaky redirects in our webmaster guidelines for years. The specific part is ‘Don’t employ cloaking or sneaky redirects.’ We make our webmaster guidelines available in over 10 different languages … Ultimately, you are responsible for your own site. If a piece of shopping cart code put loads of white text on a white background, you are still responsible for your site. In fact, we’ve taken action on cases like that in the past. … If for example I did a search […] and saw a bunch of pages […], and when I clicked on one, I immediately got whisked away to a completely different url, that would be setting off alarm bells ringing in my head. … And personally, I’d be talking to the webshop that set that up (to see why on earth someone would put up pages like that) more than talking to the search engine.”

Matt Cutts heads Google’s Web spam team and has discussed these issues since the stone age at many places. Look at the dates above, penalties for cloaking / JS redirects are not a new thing. The answer to “It is as a result of the changes by Google, rather than a change we have made in the EROL code that some sites have dropped.” (Erol statement) is: Just because you’ve got away so long that does not mean that JS redirects are fine with Google. The cause of the mess is not a recent change of code, it’s the architecture by itself which is considered “cloaking / sneaky redirect” by Google. Google recently has improved its automated detection of client sided redirects, not its guidelines. Considering that both Erol created pages (the crawlable static page and the contents served by the URL invoked by the JS redirect) present similar contents, Google will have sympathy for all reinclusion requests, provided that the sites in question were made squeaky-clean before.



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Spamming wannabe SEOs: SEO Affiliates, Cleveland, Ohio

Got this email from a site owner today:

I can put your site at the top of a search engines listings. This is no joke and I can show proven results from all our past clients.
If this is something you might be interested in, send me a reply with the web addresses you want to promote and the best way to contact you with some options.

Thanks in advance,

Sarah Lohman
SEO Affiliates
124 Middle Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44035

I told him long ago that he should dump that site if its affiliate earnings from MSN and Yahoo traffic drop too much, and now some spamming assclowns from Cleveland, Ohio guarantee a #1 listing for crap, sheesh. Here’s the polite reply:

I’m sure you’re joking coz being a that experienced SEO you should have noticed that this site suffers from Google’s death penalty for various good reasons since 2002.
Go figure spammer

Sigh. Off to submit a ton of my email addresses to the spammer’s idiot collector.

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Why eCommerce Systems Suck at SEO

Listening to whiners and disappointed site owners across the boards I guess in a few weeks we’ll discuss Google’s brand new e-commerce penalties in instances of -30, -900 and -supphell. NOT! A recent algo tweak may have figured out how to identify more crap, but I doubt Google has launched an anti-eCommerce campaign.

One don’t need an award-winning mid-range e-commerce shopping cart like Erol to gain the Google death penalty. Thanks to this award winning software sold as “search engine friendly” on the home page, respectively its crappy architecture (sneaky JS redirects as per Google’s Webmaster guidelines), many innocent shopping sites from Erol’s client list have vanished, or will be deindexed soon. Unbelievable when you read more about their so-called SEO Services. Oh well, so far an actual example. The following comments do not address Erol shopping carts, but e-commerce systems in general.

My usual question when asked to optimize eCommerce sites is “are you willing to dump everything except the core shopping cart module?”. Unfortunately, that’s the best as well as the cheapest solution in most cases. The technical crux with eCommerce software is, that it’s developed by programmers, not Web developers, and software shops don’t bother asking for SEO advice. The result is often fancy crap.

Another common problem is, that the UI is optimized for shoppers (that’s a subclass of ’surfers’, the latter is decently emulated by search engine crawlers). Navigation is mostly shortcut- and search driven (POST created results not crawlable) and relies on variables stored in cookies and whereever (invisible to spiders). All the navigational goodies which make the surfing experience are implemented with client sided technologies, or -if put server sided- served by ugly URLs with nasty session-IDs (ignored by crawlers or at least heavily downranked for various reasons). What’s left for the engines? Deep hierarchical structures of thin pages plastered with duplicated text and buy-now links. That’s not the sort of spider food Ms. Googlebot and her colleagues love to eat.

Guess why Google doesn’t crawl search results. Because search results are an inedible spider fodder not worth indexing. The same goes for badly linked conglomerates of thin product pages. Think of a different approach. Instead of trying to shove thin product pages into search indexes write informative pages on product lines/groups/… and link to the product pages within the text. When these well linked info pages provide enough product details they’ll rank for product related search queries. And you’ll generate linkworthy content. Don’t forget to disallow /shop, /search and /products in your robots.txt.

Disclaimer: I’ve checked essentialaids.com, Erol’s software does JavaScript redirects obfuscating the linked URLs to deliver the content client sided. I’ve followed this case over a few days watching Google deindexing the whole site page by page. This kind of redirects is considered “sneaky” by Google and Google’s spam filters detect it automatically. Although there is no bad intent, Google bans all sites using this technique. Since this is a key feature of the software, how can they advertise it as “search engine friendly”? From their testimonials (most are affiliates) I’ve looked at irishmusicmail.com and found that Google has indexed only 250 pages from well over 800, it looks like the Erol shopping system was removed. The other non-affiliated testimonial is from heroesforkids.co.uk, a badly framed site which is also not viewable without JavaScript. Due to SE-unfriendliness Google has indexed only 50 out of 190 pages (deindexing the site a few days later). Another reference brambleandwillow.com didn’t load at all, Google has no references but I found Erol-styled URLs in Yahoo’s index. Next pensdirect.co.uk suffers from the same flawed architecture as heroesforkids.co.uk, although the pages/indexed-URLs ratio is slightly better (15 of 40+). From a quick look at the Erol JS source all pages will get removed from Google’s search index. I didn’t write that to slander Erol and its inventor Dreamteam UK, however these guys would deserve it. It’s just a warning that good looking software which might perfectly support all related business processes can be extremely destructive from a SEO perspective.

Update: Probably it’s possible to make Erol driven shops compliant to Google’s quality guidelines by creating the pages without a software functionality called “page loading messages”. More information is provided by several posts in Erol’s support forums.

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Why proper error handling is important

Misconfigured servers can prevent search engines from crawling and indexing. I admit that’s news of yesterday. However, standard setups and code copied from low quality resources are underestimated –but very popular– points of failure. According to Google a missing robots.txt file in combination with amateurish error handling can result in invisibility on Google’s SERPs. That’s a very common setup by the way.

Googler Jonathon Simon said:

This way [correct setup] when the Google crawler or other search engine checks for a robots.txt file, they get a 200 response if the file is found and a 404 response if it is not found. If they get a 200 response for both cases then it is ambiguous if your site has blocked search engines or not, reducing the likelihood your site will be fully crawled and indexed.

That’s a very carefully written warning, so I try to rephrase the message between the lines:

If you have no robots.txt and your server responds “Ok” (or 302 on a request of robots.txt followed by a 200 response on request of the error page) when Googlebot tries to fetch it, Googlebot might not be willing to crawl your stuff further, hence your pages will not make it in Google’s search index.

If you don’t suffer from IIS (Windows hosting is a horrible nightmare coming with more pitfalls than countable objects in the universe: go find a reliable host) here is a bullet-proof setup.

If you don’t have a robots.txt file yet, create one and upload it today:

User-agent: *
Disallow:

This tells crawlers that your whole domain is spiderable. If you want to exclude particular pages, file-types or areas of your site, refer to the robots.txt manual.

Next look at the .htaccess file in your server’s Web root directory. If your FTP client doesn’t show it, add “-a” to “external mask” in the settings and reconnect. If you find complete URLs in lines starting with “ErrorDocument”, your error handling is screwed up. What happens is that your server does a soft redirect to the given URL, which probably responds with “200-Ok”, and the actual error code gets lost in cyberspace. Sending 401 errors to absolute URLs will slow your server down to the performance of a single IBM-XT hosting Google.com, all other error directives pointing to absolute URLs result in crap. Here is a well formed .htaccess sample:

ErrorDocument 401 /get-the-fuck-outta-here.html
ErrorDocument 403 /get-the-fudge-outta-here.html
ErrorDocument 404 /404-not-found.html
ErrorDocument 410 /410-gone-forever.html
Options -Indexes
<Files “.ht*”>
deny from all
</Files>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www\.canonical-server-name\.com [NC]
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.canonical-server-name.com/$1 [R=301,L]

With “ErrorDocument” directives you can capture other clumsiness as well, for example 500 errors with /server-too-buzzy.html or so. Or make the error handling comfortable using /error.php?errno=[insert err#]. In any case avoid relative URLs (src attribute in IMG elements, CSS/feed links, href attributes of A elements …) on all landing pages. You can test actual HTTP response codes with online header checkers.

The other statements above do different neat things. Options -Indexes disallows directory browsing, the next block makes sure that nobody can read your server directives, and the last three lines redirect invalid server names to your canonical server address.

.htaccess is a plain ASCII file, it can get screwed when you upload it in binary mode or when you change it with a word processor. Best edit it with an ASCII/ANSI editor (vi, notepad) as htaccess.txt on your local machine (most FTP clients choose ASCII mode for text files) and rename it to “.htaccess” on the server. Keep in mind that file names are case sensitive.

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Hapless Structures and Weak Linkage

Michael Martinez over at SEO-Theory (moved!) has a nice write-up on how to get crawled and indexed. The post titled “Search engine love: now they crawl me, now they don’t” discusses the importance of internal linkage, PageRank distribution, and Google’s recent architectural changes — topics which are “hot” in Google’s Webmaster Help Center, where I hang out every now and then. I thought I blog Michael’s nice essay as sort of multi-link-bookmark making link drops easier, so here is some of my stuff related to crawling and indexing:

About Google’s Toolbar-PageRank
High PageRank leads to frequent crawling, but nonetheless ignore green pixels.

The Top-5 Methods to Attract Search Engine Spiders
Get deep links to great content.

Supporting search engine crawling
The syntax of a search engine friendly Web site.

Web Site Structuring
Do’s and don’ts on information architectures.

Optimizing Web Site Navigation
Tweak your UI for users to make it crawler friendly.

Linking is All About Popularity and Authority
LOL: Link out loud.

Related information

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Interested in buying a text link

Today I give up on answering emails like this one:

Hello,

First of all I would like to introduce my company as one of the best web hosting service provider from [country] named [link]. We are in the hosting business since 2004 and have more than 3000 satisfied customers.

We are having PR -6 and an alexa ranking of 63,697

We are interested to purchase a link at your site, please provide us with a suitable quotation.

Waiting for your kind reply.

Regards,
[Name, Company …]

Besides the fact that a page claiming a PageRank of minus six most probably is not that kind of neighborhood I’d tend to link out to, it’s a kinda stupid attempt.

Not only the page where the contact link was clicked is in no way related to web hosting services (it just triggers a few green pixels in the Google toolbar). Each and every page on this topic has a link leading to my take on paid links, which does not encourage link monkey business, so to say.

My usual reply to such emails was “Thanks for writing, you can buy a nofollow’ed link marked as advertising for a low as [tiny monthly fee] when you suggest a page on my site which is relevant to yours and I like what you provide to your visitors/users” plus an explanation of the link condom. No takers.

The message above is from a clown abusing my contact form today, so I guess it’s OK to quote it. It is however symptomatic, there are lots of folks out there who still believe that fooling the engines is that simple. I admit it can be done, but I’m with Eric Ward who says it’s not worth it.

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Priceless SEO Advice

Just stumbled upon: If you are too stupid to use a computer you might try giving SEO advice. Best business plan ever, for idots ;)

My favourite:

Q: Why are SEO Consultants too expensive for webmasters?
A: I personally used a firm that did a 250,000 site submissions for my site, it worked great.

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