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Questions Raised On ClickTracks Use Of Alt Text

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Over on Threadwatch, Clicktracks Inserting Hidden Links in Customers Pages? has discussion of how ClickTracks tracking code made use of an ALT text attribute in a way that may have helped the company rank well for "web analytics" on major search engines.

Here's the situation. Below is the standard code that those using ClickTracks to monitor their web site activity would put on their site:

<script type="text/javascript">
document. write ('<'+'script type="text/javascript"
 src="'+document.location.protocol+' //
stats1.clicktracks.com/cgi-bin/
ctasp-server.cgi?i=datasetID">
< /'+'script>');
</script>

<noscript>
<a href="http://www.clicktracks.com/">
<img src="https://stats1.clicktracks.com/
cgi-bin/ctasp-server.cgi?i=datsetID&g=1"
 alt="Web Analytics" border=0>
</a>
</noscript>

The first section is acted upon by those using browsers that can process JavaScript. It lets ClickTracks know that the page has been viewed. FYI, ClickTracks says 96 percent of pages it processes are viewed by JavaScript capable browsers.

The second part is acted upon by those with JavaScript switched off. In their case, an image is loaded, an alternative way to know that the page is viewed.

Search engine spiders show also only see the second part, as they generally do not process JavaScript. But since they don't see the image, the visit isn't recorded.

The controversy in the thread comes over the ALT text that's associated with the image. That's because the image itself is a link to ClickTracks.com, with the ALT text saying "Web Analytics." That means the link will be associated with those words, similar to how it might have been an ordinary link with those words.

For example, look at the bottom of this cached page in Google. I'm showing the text-only cache. At the bottom, you'll see the last two words are a link, "Web Analytics," that leads to ClickTracks.

So, something ClickTrack did to help with rankings? Yes, said John Marshall, CEO of ClickTracks, when I emailed him about it:

There is alt text in there because we felt it was OK to get some slight keyword ranking from it (it's widely done by competitors also).

Marshall also added that it's fine that the ALT text be altered or removed, if anyone is concerned about giving ClickTracks some type of benefit. In addition, ClickTrack is going to offer customers two versions of the script in the future. Anyone concerned can select an option that doesn't provide a link benefit.

Did it work? ClickTrack is definitely in the top listings for "web analytics" at Google and Yahoo, as the thread shows. It certainly has gained links because of the technique. But as also discussed in the thread, it may very well have ranked well for those terms even without using the ALT text.


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