Okay, looks like I’ve got one more debunking (and fun!) blog post in me this weekend.
So many people talk all the time about SEO. Is it better to use hyphens or underscores? Is it better to separate meta tags with commas or spaces? Is it worth doing the table trick? Can the Google Toolbar cause pages to be indexed? Many of these questions work out well if you just experiment with them. Here’s an example.
You sometimes hear people say “I installed the Google Toolbar, and a day later, Google crawled my secret/unlinked page. Clearly installing the Google Toolbar caused that!” Then you’ll often see me post and say “No, it didn’t.” You’ll often see me point to this page that discusses how a page that you think is secret and unlinked can be crawled (hint: our addurl form is one way, referrer leaks is another). Philipp Lenssen decided to try an experiment. He created an unlinked web page in August, then visited it with the Google toolbar to see if it would be crawled. Read his description of the experiment, then come on back.
When I heard about his experiment, I wrote to give him some advice on how to do the experiment well:
Just to be safe, you should make sure that the name isn’t guessable (e.g. use a different long random number for the path/filename). If it’s guessable, someone could submit the url to Google. I’d also keep an eye for any accesses to that page at all, b/c if someone finds it and surfs to a new site, it could leave a referrer in the server log of the dest site, when then might turn into a hyperlink that Google could crawl.
Philipp replied and offered a bet. Eventually we settled on the terms. If the hidden page showed up in our search results, I would autograph this card and send it back to him:
(This card is part of a fun series that Philipp did in May 2006.)
If the hidden page (and he didn’t tell me where it was, so it could have been anywhere) never showed up in Google after a couple months, he would send a copy of his book, 55 Ways to Have Fun With Google, to anyone that I chose.
Google didn’t index the hidden page that Philipp visited with the toolbar, so I won the bet. Now the question is: who should get the free copy of Philipp’s book? I already bought myself a personal copy of Philipp’s book months ago. Should I donate this new copy to Google’s engineering library or send it to some SEO who needs to have more fun with Google? Let me know your thoughts. The main thing is that I’m glad an experiment by a smart third party supports what I’ve been saying for a while.
More details for the terminally interested.
Q: What toolbar did Philipp use?
A: I didn’t know until he wrote it up. It turns out Philipp used the Firefox toolbar. However, in the comments on the experiment, Ionut reveals that unbeknownst to both of us, he ran a similar experiment starting in August with the IE toolbar, with the same results.