Background Part 01: A core piece of Search Engine Optimization magic is to have human readable titles in your URL. For example: mySite.com/man-barks-at-moon/ rather than mySite.com/120984/.
Background Part 02: Older content management systems use the SEO unfriendly numbered system but organizations have implemented hacks to get around this.
Background Part 03: England’s Independent is one such organization. They’ve put a human readable title before a series of numbers that actually identify the article. Key point here though is that the readable part of the URL serves no purpose except for SEO. That is, if you change the words, the numbers still bring you to the correct article.
So why does this matter?
Because yesterday, a clever nutter turned this URL of a non-story about Kate Middleton
into a viral piece of media criticism:
Soon, many were passing along this new URL and the paper’s editor tried to respond.
Both URLs bring you to the same story. As a matter of fact, you can change any of the words before the “2269573” at the end and you’ll end up at the non-story. And, to keep things consistent, you can do this with any URL on Independent.co.uk that ends with a string of numbers.
So, as many consider the value of news games, and how to implement news games, here’s one paper that stumbled upon one quite unwittingly.
Slight Update: While the above still works, the Independent implemented a script today so that “faked” URLs work but transform back to what the paper intended.
The fact is, it’s almost impossible to find a single ‘content’ company on the web that maintains a horseshit:quality ratio better than 10:1…
…For free, ad-supported content, pageviews are king – and pageviews are what slideshows and celebrity fluff and SEO generate. Those horseshit pageviews are then magically transformed into money which is used to hire more staffers to produce more horseshit in order to generate more pageviews. And so the world wide web keeps turning.
If [AOL CEO Tim] Armstrong – or any other CEO or Editor In Chief – decided it was time to reverse the ratio; hiring foreign correspondents, axing slideshows and investing in quality over quantity, the result would be amazing. For about a week. Then pageviews would take a dramatic hit as search engines stopped unloading their daily cargo of drooling, eyelash-curling morons. That drop in pageviews would cause a commensurate drop in revenue which would result in the rapid firing of all of those costly journalists and a return to business as usual.
An interesting read from Stack Overflow’s Jeff Atwood.
The issue: Scraper sites and content farms reposting Stack Overflow content are showing up higher in search results than Stack Overflow is.
In 2010, our mailboxes suddenly started overflowing with complaints from users – complaints that they were doing perfectly reasonable Google searches, and ending up on scraper sites that mirrored Stack Overflow content with added advertisements. Even worse, in some cases, the original Stack Overflow question was nowhere to be found in the search results!…
…The idea that there could be something wrong with Google was inconceivable to me. Google is gravity on the web, an omnipresent constant; blaming Google would be like blaming gravity for my own clumsiness. It wasn’t even an option. I started with the golden rule: it’s always my fault. We did a ton of due diligence… to ensure we weren’t doing anything overtly stupid…
…Throughout my investigation I had nagging doubts that we were seeing serious cracks in the algorithmic search foundations of the house that Google built. But I was afraid to write an article about it for fear I’d be claimed an incompetent kook. I wasn’t comfortable sharing that opinion widely, because we might be doing something obviously wrong. Which we tend to do frequently and often. Gravity can’t be wrong. We’re just clumsy … right?
Jeff continues that perhaps gravity is broken, defeated by dark-knighted SEO-ninjas and the content farms that train them. If so, that’s trouble for all content creators.
Much has been made about Facebook replacing Google as a primary referrer. But if the ninjas have broken through Google’s algorithmic walls, surely they’ll figure out a way to do the same on Facebook.