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Reader Q&A: July 2003

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Q. What do you tell people who ask about paid registrations with Lycos/FAST/AllTheWeb and Ask Jeeves/Teoma? What do they bring to the table anyway?

A. Certainly both have smaller distribution than someone like Google or Inktomi. Nevertheless, additional qualified traffic is always welcomed. In general, I usually advise people to see what gets picked up by crawlers for free. If they don't want to wait, then paid inclusion is a great way to get listed quickly. It's also a good thing to do if you have lots of quality content that simply isn't all getting in -- and if you have the budget to try some of the trusted feed/bulk inclusion programs offered. More general advice is summarized on the Submitting To Crawlers page.

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Q. We have modified our Cold Fusion site to hopefully make it Google friendly. But is CFM a problem for google? Also, we have a "form" on our site which allows our customers to edit their quantity without advancing to the next page for more detail. This "form" is fairly early in the crawl, in which case if it were a "stopper" for Google, it would eliminate thousands of following pages to be indexed.

A. Cold Fusion files don't pose any particular problem for Google. You might find that if you have long URLs full of parameters, this might be an issue. However, many have used workarounds for Cold Fusion to eliminate these. The Search Engines & Dynamic Pages article has more about this. As for the form issue, Google and other crawlers cannot interact with forms. They can't fill in drop-down boxes, pull down menus and so on. So, if the only way to access a page is to generate it through a form, then that will be a crawler-stopper. However, if you have a directory-like structure that brings up pages as if a form is filled out, then that may help. There are also products that create spider-friendly pages based on your dynamic data. They are listed on the Dynamic Pages article, as well.

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Q. Just wanted to bring to your attention a mailing we recently received from the "Internet Corporation Listing Service" out of New York. Their scam is a one-page mailer mocked up like an invoice to get the recipient to subscribe to an "Annual Listing" with 8 keywords on the 14 major search engines -- all for the bargain price of $37.50! To naive prospective customers, the name alone, "Internet Corp. Listing Service," will make people think this is how to get listed on the internet. Do you have any suggestions about what we or you can do to warn people about this outfit?

A. I've gotten one of these mailings myself, either from that company or a similar-sounding one. Certainly I hope this Q&A response will help others realize that unsolicited mailings about getting listed in search engines can be trashed. On an individual level, if you or anyone feels mislead by this or another company, you can always file a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission. There's an easy online form for this. The FTC does take action against companies that are deemed to be deceiving consumers. Just today, an FTC press release announced an action against a company that was suggesting people had agreed to be registered in an offline directory.

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Q. Google no longer works. In the middle of May, Google started one of their "dances" and when the music stopped, it appears that someone had stepped on their spider. Google used to be able to read a site's URL and show a description along with it. Now many Google searches bring up an URL with no text. Not very helpful.

A. This doesn't mean that Google is broken. In fact, it's how Google has always worked, for pages it hasn't actually spidered. Some pages Google knows about only by seeing links to them. In these cases, it shows only a URL -- not a description. Google itself does provide help information about this, but it's unfortunately in an area designed for webmasters, rather than searchers. Let me add that while Google has always shown these "partially indexed pages," as it calls them, I agree that they now appear to be more noticeable. This could be part of the engineering works that are ongoing with Google, which I wrote about in June. But, I'll also check with Google to see if they are noticing these types of links are becoming more prominent themselves.

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Q. Google's home page now has links to hardcore pornography. Why am I not seeing a cry of outrage over this?

A. You're not seeing outrage because the vast majority of people aren't seeing these links. And that's because it appears some software has made a change to your system, so that when you go to Google, you're actually going to a different web site pretending to be Google. I have to admit, it's confusing. The copy of the "Google home page" you sent does appear to have Google URLs in it associated with various porn and other "category" links that don't appear on the real Google home page. However, it may be that behind the scenes, some "spyware" or other type of nefarious software may be redirecting these specific links to other locations. This software is also probably why you are seeing the odd Google home page when you try to reach the real Google.com. It's essentially hijacked your browser -- that's the informal word I've gotten back from Google, so far. Ad-Aware is a good, free utility that may spot this type of software. SpyBot is donationware that may also help. SpywareInfo is a good site that provides information about spyware generally, providing forum help and software listings.

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Q. Back in October you did an article about RealNames clones, but I haven't seen anything recently about this. In the last week I have been contacted by a company that swears they have an agreement with Microsoft to provide this service in the MSN8 software. Naturally, they can't prove this claim (because of current litigation, they say). This company says it is not affiliated with IGN and no plug-in is required for the MSN8 browser.

This appears to be the latest twist to claims made by some of the many keyword navigation companies (or more often, their resellers) that have sprung up over the past year. In my April 2003 newsletter, I warned briefly that I'd checked on this type of claim with Microsoft and was told that they have no such relationships at all. I asked Microsoft about this again at the end of June and was told again they have no deals of this type. I'd be wary of any company making such claim without easily substantiated proof. Also see the ABCs and URLs page, where I'm now keeping a list of articles about these type of companies.

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Q. The URL that we were told by our corporate office to use on packaging is actually registered by another company. To change now would cost over $385,000. We have tried to get the domain from the other company, but it refuses. Is there any way in search engines to direct the customers who will have the wrong URL to the right site?

A. Sorry, that won't work. Most people who see your URL on packaging are likely to enter the URL directly into their browser, which will take them to the other company's web site. For those who might enter the URL into a search engine, the search engine is likely to direct them to the URL -- so again, to the other company's web site. If you can't get the company to sell you the domain, perhaps they might rent some space on their home page with a notice leading to your web site, which you'd use until the packaging ran out. Otherwise, you'll need to change the packaging.


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