Weekly SEO news: 24 May 2011
Welcome to the latest issue of the Search Engine Facts newsletter.

Spammers have found a new way to get high rankings on Google. The new trick involves hacked websites and the canonical tag. Is your website at risk? What can you do to avoid this?

Also in the news: Google launches social search in 19 new languages, Matt Cutts talks about the canonical tag and the nofollow attribute, it has become easier to remove URLs from Google and more.

Table of contents:

We hope that you enjoy this newsletter and that it helps you to get more out of your website. Please pass this newsletter on to your friends.

Best regards,
Andre Voget, Johannes Selbach, Axandra CEO

1. Is your website used by search engine spammers?

Spammers have found a new way to get high rankings on Google. The new trick involves hacked websites and the canonical tag. Is your website at risk? What can you do to avoid this?

What exactly has happened?

In an online forum, webmasters reported a new spam method. Hackers inserted the canonical tag on websites of other people:

"I came across a website with canonical tags setup on all of their pages and they were pointing to a spam site. I suspect someone hacked in and changed the canonical tags to siphon link juice.

Now that cross cross-domain canonical tags are supported I would not be surprised if this becomes more common. The canonical tag is a small line of code that is easy to overlook despite its large implications."

Google's Matt Cutts confirmed this in a Twitter tweet: "A recent spam trend is hacking websites to insert rel=canonical pointing to hacker's site. If U suspect hacking, check 4 it."

Why is this a problem?

The original purpose of the rel=canonical tag is to help website owners eliminate self-created duplicate content. The canonical tag tells search engine spiders the original source of a file.

For example, a search engine robot might visit the web page "www.example.com/page4.htm". If that page contains the tag <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.originalpage.com/"> then search engines will show originalpage.com in the search results instead of example.com.

If hackers add the canonical tag to your web pages and point it to another website then your website content will help another website to get high rankings while your own website will lose all of its rankings.

How to check if your website is exploited

Open a page of your website in your browser and select "View HTML source" in your browser. If you can see a rel=canonical tag that points to an unknown domain in the head section of your page then your website has been hacked.

Unfortunately, hackers might have changed your web server so that it only shows the canonical tag to Google's indexing robot. In that case, you have to check how Google sees your web pages:

  1. Download and install iBusinessPromoter (IBP).
  2. Select "Tools > Search engine spider simulator"
  3. Select Google's spider.
  4. Check the HTML source in the spider simulator report for the canonical tag.

This works with the free demo version of iBusinessPromoter. You do not have to buy IBP to check your web pages with the spider simulator.

Google is aware of the problem. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find out if a webmaster intentionally inserted a canonical tag to a website or if the tag was inserted by a hacker. Further information about the canonical tag can be found in the news below.

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2. Search engine news and articles of the week

Matt Cutts How does Google handle pages with content that changes on each page load?

Google's Matt Cutts answers that question in a video:

"The short answer is: when we crawl a page, we basically know that snapshot that we fetch on that particular instant in time. If you have got something that rotates through, we might not necessarily see it. [...]

If you have five links and really care about one of these links, take that one out of the rotation and make sure that it is always on the homepage."

Google launches social search in 19 new languages

"Just like on google.com, social search results in other languages and on other domains are mixed throughout the Google results page based on their relevance. For example, if you're looking for information about low-light photography and your friend Marcin has written a blog post about it, that post may show up higher in your results with a clear annotation and picture of Marcin. [...]

So how does this all work? Social search results are only visible to you and only appear when you choose to log in to your Google Account."

Matt CuttsMatt Cutts: a rel=canonical corner case

"We take rel=canonical urls as a strong hint, but in some cases we won't use them:

  • For example, if we think you're shooting yourself in the foot by accident (pointing a rel=canonical toward a non-existent/404 page), we'd reserve the right not to use the destination url you specify with rel=canonical.

  • Another example where we might not go with your rel=canonical preference: if we think your website has been hacked and the hacker added a malicious rel=canonical.

On the 'bright' side, if a hacker can control your website enough to insert a rel=canonical tag, they usually do far more malicious things like insert malware, hidden or malicious links/text, etc. [...]

Should Google trust rel=canonical if we see it in the body of the HTML? The answer is no, because some websites let people edit content or HTML on pages of the site."

Editor's note: Check your web pages now with the search engine spider simulator in the free IBP demo version to find out if your website shows the canonical tag to Google.

Google: easier URL removals for site owners

"When a page's URL is requested for removal, the request is temporary and persists for at least 90 days. We may continue to crawl the page during the 90-day period but we will not display it in the search results.

You can still revoke the removal request at any time during those 90 days. After the 90-day period, the page can reappear in our search results, assuming you haven't made any other changes that could impact the page's availability."

Matt Cutts: should internal links use rel="nofollow"?

"The answer is no. If you are linking from one page of your site to another page of your site, don't use nofollow. [...] I don't know how to make it more concrete than that."

The nofollow attribute should only be used if you link to a web page that you don't trust or endorse.

Search engine newslets

  • The new free analysis page on SEOprofiler.
  • Google has more than 90% share of all searches in Latin America.
  • Google shows the display URL domain in the headline for select ads on Google.
  • Google Translate - the remix.
  • There might be problems with Google's define: search operator.
  • Video: Is there a way to indicate boilerplate content on a page? Answer: no.
  • Russia's Yandex offered at double Google value.
  • Yahoo's emphasis is 'better,' not 'new'.

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3. Success stories


300,000 readers will read your success story!

Let us know how IBP has helped you to improve your website and we might publish your success story with a link to your website in this newsletter. The more detailed your story is, the better. Click here to tell us your story.

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4. Previous articles

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