Will the Diggbar Siphon Your Search Traffic?

This is a guest post by SEO expert Ben Cook

Late last week Digg announced the release of their new Diggbar tool. In his blog post announcing the release, Kevin Rose highlighted the fact the new bar would allow Digg users to vote for a story “directly on the destination site” as well as use Digg.com for all their URL shortening needs for sites such as Twitter. Unfortunately, as TechCrunch pointed out, “unlike other short URL services, Digg doesn’t simply redirect to the longer URL. It keeps you on Digg and shows the site being pointed to in an iframe wrapper.”

The New Diggbar In Action

And therein, lies the problem.

As Michael Gray quickly pointed out, the new bar opened up Digg to manipulation through what Gray called “standard parasitic SEO stuff.” Essentially one could leverage Digg.com’s considerable clout with the search engines to get better rankings for your spammy content. Even more concerning, Digg’s version of a submitted page is now even more likely to outrank the source, since many people will link directly to the shortened digg.com URL rather than the source URL.

When Kevin Rose made an impromptu appearance on The Drill Down, I seized on the opportunity and asked him about the SEO implications of the Diggbar. Kevin had once again assured viewers that their motivation for developing the Diggbar was for the users’ benefit and not to keep traffic to themselves.

When I asked why Digg didn’t keep their pages out of Google’s index, thus assuring that their framed page wouldn’t outrank the content’s source, Rose stated that was exactly what they intended. While one can hardly expect Mr. Rose to know all the ins and outs of how things are engineered at Digg, it only took a simple site:digg.com search to prove that despite their intentions, Digg framed versions of many pages were already being indexed by Google. You can hear the question and Kevin’s response here and while the entire show is great, the applicable section starts around the 1:45 mark.

To further prove my point, I set up a quick test to illustrate that Digg’s frame pages are being indexed by Google, those versions can and will outrank the original source, and the manipulation Michael Gray outlined actually works quite well. I submitted a story from one of the many SEO test sites I have set up using a moderately searched for (if not slightly spammy) term “Acai Berry Benefits” as the title. Once the submission was live, I pointed a few low quality links at the Digg.com URL and waited to see the results. Not surprisingly given Google’s speed of indexing powerful sites like Digg, I didn’t have to wait long.

Less than 48 hours later, the framed Digg version of my page is ranking in Google’s top 20 for the search term acai berry benefits.

Digg's Framed Page Ranking

My page, which has a link from the Digg page and has been indexed for much longer, ranks just outside the top 100 for the same search term.

Content Source's Rankings

So, while I’m not questioning Kevin Rose and Digg’s stated intentions with their new Diggbar, at the very least it appears that their engineers don’t quite understand how search works, despite (according to Kevin) talking with several Google engineers to make sure they were doing this the right way.

If Mr. Rose is genuine in his desire to take nothing away from the content source, and would like to avoid becoming a haven for spammers submitting and ranking pages for things much less innocent than “acai berry benefits”, I’d suggest he and his engineers go back to the drawing board.

Update: Digg has apparently heard the voices of concern over their Diggbar and have responded with a blog post of their own. Digg’s John Quinn provides some solid information including the loaded paragraph quoted below. Some of it’s a bit technical so I’ll offer a running translation putting it in plain English as best I can.

We launched a few additional updates early this week to address some lingering concerns in the SEO and publishing communities around the infamous (and sometimes mysterious) search engine ‘juice’.

Translation: Despite Kevin’s claims that the Diggbar URLs weren’t being indexed, they were, and Digg has implemented the change I recommended during Mr. Rose’s appearance on The Drill Down.

We always represent the source URL as the preferred version of the URL to search engines and use the meta noindex tag to keep DiggBar pages out of search indexes.

Translation: Diggbar pages now really won’t show up in Google’s index anymore. That’s definitely a step in the right direction, and I give them credit for making the change.

For those of you interested in the technical details, we also include link rel=”canonical” information to indicate that the original URL is the real (canonical) version. Additional URL properties, like PageRank and related signals, are transferred as well.

Translation: This is where it gets a bit more complicated. Basically Digg is trying to tell Google and other search engine spiders “the Diggbar version isn’t the version you should be indexing, go loook over here at the source!” While that’s also a good idea, there’s no evidence to suggest that SEO signals are transferred, despite Digg’s claims.

While these changes certainly help address the spam issue that I illustrated earlier in this article (in fact my example has dropped into the 90′s in Google and will disappear all together in short order), the Diggbar is till going to take some SEO value away from the content source page.

As lazy as it may be, people are going to link to the Diggbar URL rather than the source. It’s already happening for stories that hit the front page and there’s no reason to think it will change any time soon. So, instead of getting all the SEO benefit of the links you’ve rightly earned, you’ll only be getting the portion coming from people who took the time to link directly to the source.

Ben Cook is an in-house SEO and can be found on Twitter or his latest project, Dreamweaver Course.

  • http://improvetheweb.com Yura

    As a matter of fact, since link rel=”canonical” only works for the website it’s used on, the only page they can show Google to be the original is *the submission page on Digg*, not the original article as claimed in the quote.

    So I still doubt John’s quote unless there aren’t any Digg URL shortcuts in Google SERPs.

  • http://improvetheweb.com Yura

    To see that rel=”canonical” only works on the domain it’s used, read no further, than Matt Cutts on Twitter:
    twitter.com/mattcutts/status/1487556567

    or simply check the announcement post on the Official Google Blog:
    googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/02/specify-your-canonical.html

    Can this link tag be used to suggest a canonical URL on a completely different domain?

    No. To migrate to a completely different domain, permanent (301) redirects are more appropriate. Google currently will take canonicalization suggestions into account across subdomains (or within a domain), but not across domains. So site owners can suggest http://www.example.com vs. example.com vs. help.example.com, but not example.com vs. example-widgets.com.

    Put simply, the Digg shortcut should be 301 redirected to the article source, just as in other URL shorteners, if it really wants to be a shortcut, not a frame.

  • http://dwcourse.com Ben Cook

    Yura, you’re absolutely right. Unless Digg was told something different by Google, the rel=cononical tag won’t do anything, much less help the content source.

    As you mentioned, the only way for Digg to do what they claim they WANT to do is a 301 redirect like other URL shortening services such as http://cli.gs.

    Unfortunately, that won’t let them place their bar at the top of the page and garner all those extra impressions and possibly in the future, ad revenue.

  • http://webitect.net Kayla

    I was a bit excited when I saw they came up with the Diggbar, although I can see the numerous SEO problems you’ve pointed out here. I’m glad their at least claiming their doing something about these problems.

  • Anonymous

    Diggbar is *NOT* a browser toolbar. It’s a website with a frame.

    Simply put, Diggbar is now the biggest content theft scheme on the internet.

    They’re using your content to increase their traffic. It doesn’t matter if they have an option to opt-out as a member, a lot of non-digg members will be forced to see this bar in top of your content. Chances are, they will decide to click on shining buttons in the top (google “heat map” to see why), instead of links in your website.

    Bang! They just made a conversion using your content. Smart (and evil).

    I wouldn’t have a problem about Diggbar if it was actually a real toolbar. Or if it had an option to opt-out as a website (providing Digg algorithm wouldn’t penalize a website for that).

  • http://Www.smarthomesllc.net Daniel byrne

    Great article.

  • http://www.seosultan.co.cc SEO Sultan

    lol they want the diggbar to appear in the results so they can bring in serp traffic, but they don’t want to appear evil.

    They have a dilemma, alienate the webmasters (yeah it’ll hurt a bit, but people will still use digg) and keep the serp traffic or lose on great marketing but satiate the webmasters.

    Either way it’s a lose lose situation, they alienate – then they get a bad rep with webmasters and seo. Put a nofollow/noindex on the diggbar and they lose out on some really great marketing.

  • http://craziestgadgets.com Jeff

    you can use a simple line of javascript to force users out of the diggbar frame and directly to your site.

    http://digg.com/programming/JavaScript_DiggBar_killer_but_not_blocker

  • http://www.tutorial9.net/ David Leggett

    This is a strange argument, but not the first time someones made this point. In fact, it was only several years ago companies were complaining to Google about not being ranked as high as they *should be*.

    And Therein lies the problem: You’re not entitled to something Google provides freely. Just because you have the best answer doesn’t mean Google NEEDS to list you first in certain search results. It’s a service provided to the Internet freely (though they do make a huge profit which just makes the topic much more complex).

    Likewise, Digg is a service that does not charge visitors for it’s use. If you don’t like it, stop using it. Anyone getting substantial Digg traffic will probably keep on using them (it’s free traffic after all).

    Personally, I think Digg and similar social voting sites are on the downward trend, and stopped using them months ago for some of the points explored in your post. It’s not about the content anymore as evidenced by many of the power users. To me, that’s not an ideal system for the betterment of the Net – hopefully as more people stop using the service they’ll reevaluate their methods.

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  • http://www.freeacaiberries.com/ Free Acai Berries

    Nice article, I've enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for the information. I hope diggbar tool can help my blogs.

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