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.”
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.
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.
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.