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Knowing When To "Go"

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John O' Donovan | 12:26 UK time, Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Recently, in response to feedback, we have been putting more external links onto the BBC site and have also started using tracking for external links on the BBC News sites.

Essentially the reason for tracking links is to allow us to report to the BBC Trust how many click-throughs we are generating to external sites so that they can accurately monitor this.

We have had some feedback that the way we are doing this has an unintended side effect ("BBC pledges to link out - but holds back the Google juice").

Strategically there is no intention to drink all the Google Juice. The reasons for this are less sinister and I thought it worth explaining.

Google JuiceThe system the BBC uses for tracking external links has been around for years, but we only recently added this tracking to the external links on the Right Hand Side of the BBC News site. You will find the /go/ tracking system in use across the BBC website and the way it redirects links is nothing new. You can see the mechanism working if you use a /go/ URL off the BBC site (e.g. this). (Editor's note 6.44 p.m.: To see the tracking mechanism in action, you need to be on a website that isn't the BBC. We suggest you copy this entire link into a new browser window or tab: http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/bristol/content/features/2003/01/13/ sayingaboutus.shtml/ext/_auto/-/http://www.venue.co.uk/ )

On the BBC site you don't get this delay, but you can see what it is doing - it is basically logging that you have clicked a link from he BBC to an external site by going to the intermediary page and then sends you on to this page. Many sites use similar mechanisms and have to deal with the side effects of this.

We are rolling out improvements to the way this works, as already used on some other parts of the website. Essentially we use JavaScript to retain SEO ("Search Engine Optimisation") and Google juice for external sites, while we will still be able to track external links. Search Engines, casual observers and those without JavaScript will still see the original URL.

So thanks for your comments but because of the workload around the US election, bear with us while we improve the way this works.

I can't speak for the history of /go/ tracking at the Beeb, but there is some more background in Martin Belam's post here for those interested...

John O'Donovan is Chief Architect, BBC FM&T Journalism

Google Gulp image courtesy of Google

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hey John,

    Kudos for listening, and for responding quickly and openly.

    It would be great to see more in-page links within the BBC's articles, just like there are in this blog post. What's the latest on the trial you started to roll out in August?

    http://www.e-consultancy.com/news-blog/366180/bbc-finally-experiments-with-in–text-links.html

  • Comment number 2.

    Re: "Essentially we use JavaScript to retain SEO".

    And for people who don't have Javascript enabled/ available..?

  • Comment number 3.

    #2: The answer is given in the remainder of that paragraph...
    "Search Engines, casual observers and those without JavaScript will still see the original URL. "
    ...basically meaning without JS you will just get the non-tracking URL and be able to access that website. I get the impression the JavaScript (if enabled) will do a 'find and replace' with links to insert the tracking code.

  • Comment number 4.

    of more concern to readers might be the fact "The BBC Are gifting your online viewing to Omniture"

    see the NoDPI https site to comment on this and other privacy related subjects, does the BBC and the "BBC trust" know about and advocate the UK populus and the BBC site users world wide data being tracked and sold/given away for free as commoditys to be traded inside and outside the UK ?.

    https://nodpi.org/forum/index.php/topic,206.0.html

  • Comment number 5.

    Personally I don't like being tracked around the internet by the BBC or anyone else especially covertly. I see that some of your tracking domains are now helpfully included for blocking in the MVPS HOSTS file and I have several routinely blocked in my cookie blocking list.

    I would have preferred to have found out about the BBC website tracking from the BBC in a prominent announcement on the news site but instead I found out about it through the privacy site https://nodpi.org/ where we discuss privacy matters including the most sinister bit of tracking to hit the internet - BT's Webwise product discussed here
    http://donottrustwebwise.org/

  • Comment number 6.

    I don't understand the technical terms here but I do not want the BBC to design links so they can be exploited by search engine consultants. The BBC is funded by the license fee, it must not be concerned with the commercial value that SEOs see in its content. SEOs already ruin search results in my view. An obvious example is when Google marks the start of a new season with a doodle. Any classroon clicking on that logo hoping to find out about the season is met with a disappointing list of search engine consultants. My view is the BBC needs to hold its ground on linking out.

  • Comment number 7.

    "still see the original URL", or see a clickable link, marked up with "A" tags and an "href" property?

  • Comment number 8.

    pigsonthewing: If you check EG here:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/mens_health/body_shapes.shtml
    (random page i looked at).
    The links on the right are /go/ links if you have javascript on, and standard ones if you don't.

    So google sees standard (a href="") links, and the linked to receives the link benefit.

    As I understand John's post, this is what they're rolling out across the BBC.

    If you want some other targets for mainstream companies hording pagerank, try the ones on the list I made at: http://www.malcolmcoles.co.uk/blog/worst-offenders-sites-that-accept-links-but-dont-link-back-out-fairly/

  • Comment number 9.

    andrewmmartin:

    I'm in complete agreeance. One of my many feathers to my bow is I carry out SEO work (or, as I like to call it, "web marketing"). There are two ways of carrying out the work in my field.

  • Comment number 10.

    gah, where has the rest of my comment gone!?!?

  • Comment number 11.

    The new link tracking code is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/includes/linktrack.js

    It's certainly an improvement from a giving-Googlejuice-to-external-websites viewpoint, but still has some accessibility/usability issues (for instance by rewriting the URLs, 'visited' links don't show up, and 'copy link location' doesn't work either).

    An improvement would be to have the javascript add an onclick event handler to the external weblinks which calls a tracking URL just before navigating to the target website. Basically, a javascript implementation of the 'ping' attribute, see http://www.whatwg.org/specs/web-apps/current-work/#ping.

    (apologies to all for being technical...)

  • Comment number 12.

    This is the second part of my comment:-

    Far too many SEO'ers focus on writing for search engines, instead of writing for users. Many of the users aren't knowledgeable about keyword density (a myth IMHO), or KEI or other buzzwords SEO'ers seem to conjure up, all they care about is what they have found via Google is what they want.

    I'd be interested to see what sort of traffic numbers & increase in RSS Blogstorm gets from this article, as I'm sure from an SEO benefit he doesn't want to be ranked for the word "sinister"

    Rhys

  • Comment number 13.

    Great news that it's being addressed. Goods stuff. I still think Google has a problem with the nofollow issue. Glad the BBC isn't going to be contributing to the growing issue.

    Will
    ArenaFlowers.com

  • Comment number 14.

    I’m editor of the BBC homepage and in response to pippip99 and others in relation to Omniture, I would venture that it’s not as sinister as it may seem.

    As one of the people actually using the data Omniture captures, I assure you that all I’m doing is analysing how the homepage is functioning. Specifically, we’re tracking what users are doing with the customisable bits of it.

    It’s giving us figures like – say - the percentage of users removing the Sport section, the percentage of users adding the “tennis” feed to the Sport section…and so on.

    The BBC is absolutely not singling out individual behaviours here. I’m using the data in aggregate only.

    Hope that helps.

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm glad to see that the the googlebots at least will see the proper link, but (not being a SEO-conscious blogger) I don't care that much. It would be far nicer if normal web users got a genuine link rather than a redirect page. What FrankieRoberto says is spot on, both in terms of what is wrong with the current set-up, and the alternatives.

    I want external links that behave as any other links - most importantly: to be coloured differently if I have visited them before; such that I can "copy link location"; and that don't leave me hanging for five seconds before taking me somewhere. It might seem churlish to quibble over five seconds, and a few minor points, but the whole thing is ridiculous and unnecessary. Tracking by internal javascript is certainly the way to go, here. Or at very least, remove the 5-second delay from the redirect page. It's so very last century.


    Also: James, I don't think the major concern is *your* use of Omniture data - the concern is that *Omniture* is being given huge amounts of user data.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi all - thanks for the comments.

    As frankieroberto poiints out there are at least two ways to approach this, and we are looking at the options and testing them out at the moment. We are trying to find the most appropriate approach for the Journalism sites but within the mechanisms used by the whole BBC, and I will let you know when we are rolling out the update. Will be soon.

    The conversation seems to have drifted into user stats.

    This is a separate discussion but I should point out that the system we use in Journalism for usage statistics is an internal one called LiveStats.

    Amongst many things Livestats drives this page:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/live_stats/html/map.stm

    and also drives the "most popular stories widget" you see on the right hand side of our news and sport web pages.

    The Omniture / Visual Science system is used by BBC WorldWide but only if you are outside the UK or on the Homepage. Only BBC staff access the data.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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