Are you promoting someone else’s site without even knowing it?
My tale of being victim to a below-the-belt SEO tactic.
Recently, we added user forums to our company web site, in order to give our customers and potential customers a place to voice their questions and opinions. We settled on using Invision Power Board (IPB) which runs using PHP and MySQL.
A couple of weeks ago I installed a modification to our forums which makes the URL of the pages appear to be static html pages and it also inserts the topic title into the URL. The modification package (also called a “mod”) is called FURL, which is short for “Friendly URL”.
Friendly meaning the URLs are more search engine friendly.
After installing the FURL modification, instead of using this URL:
it uses this URL:
Both of the above URLs take you to the same page, but the second one both looks nicer, and is supposed to improve search engine placement.
Last night, I wanted to check if Google was picking up the URLs with the static or dynamic URLs, so I searched for a pretty unique phrase from one of the pages: “It sounds like RESPeRATE is working well for you” and surely enough, the page had been picked up, but the URL it was showing was the dynamic one, not the static one.
I was curious to see how Google was seeing the page so I clicked on the cached button:
That’s when my jaw dropped
There was some additional stuff I had never seen before at the top of the page which looked like this:
Instead of the normal forum section header which looks like this:
The modification I installed didn’t just modify the URLs. It also added, unknowingly to me, some extra text at the top of the page as well as some links to other pages – but the added text was only being shown to the Google spider, and was not visible to a normal human viewing the site. This alone can get you banned from Google.
The fact that FURL adds this content is not mentioned anywhere in the documentation or installation instructions.
It really saddens me that the author of FURL added a very underhanded tactic improve their search engine rankings.
If they would have added a small footer to the bottom the page that was shown to everyone, I would have been perfectly OK with that and would have left it.
It seems that quite a few sites have FURL installed and are affected by this SEO hack. If you do a search for “SEO Powered by FURL” in Google, it says over 2 million results.
* sigh *
I looked at the source code of the mod itself which does have this “”disclaimer”:
// Tracking Code / Copyright String - DO NOT REMOVE
// !!Please leave this code in, if you dont then please remove the mod from your site!!
// !!You are only free to use this mod while the following line is in!!
// I went to alot of time making this mod and would like a little
// in return so i can continue to spend time upgrading it,
// instead of charging for this mod ive put some link code in
// this just links back to my site using my keywords to improve
// my rating on Search Engines, the links only appears to search
// bots though so its not on every page.
// Its also because i like seeing my mods in use on other peoples sites!
also – I got a writeup from john andrews at http://www.threadwatch.org/node/5589
February 13, 2006 at 3:20 am
A lesson to everyone that code is not free, and while open source is great for productivity, it is not because you don’t have to review the code. Hopefully it is faster and more efficient to *carefully review* someones contribution, than it would be to create it from scratch, and “many eyes” on code can keep bug counts down.
This one bothers me because it exploits ignorance of specialized knowledge coders may not have (that user-agent cloaking can get your ste banned by Google). Even if carefuly reviewed by many eyes, the cloaking issue may have slipped through.