Friday, February 15, 2008

Google Page Rank fun

Since we launched What They Play in November, one of the "milestones" we've had in our business plan has actually been one of the most elusive things to track, or plan for: getting out Google PageRank. This magical internet voodoo will ensure that we start showing up in natural search, and hopefully we'll get a bit more of a lift to our traffic. We've been (obviously) toiling away as a pr0 for the past three months, but some information came to light yesterday (which, incidentally, was also our suckiest traffic day in the last two months...I guess people don't browse on Valentine's Day?) that revealed two things: 1) some of our pages are ranked already. And some of them are as high as a pr5! (which is incredible - thank you Assassin's Creed for being so popular!) BUT...and it's a big one...our homepage is still a pr0. This is weird, because it's our homepage that is getting all the links from the big pr6, 7, and 8 sites (like the NY Times, LA Times, etc.) We have over 1000 links to What They Play from external sites already, thanks to Tom's incredible work on the press side, so we should be getting a decent ranking. What's up? Long story short, it's a Google issue - the specifics of which I understand in theory, but not in practice. It seems that Google interprets the CSS style="display: none" tag as something that's trying to "cloak" links. We were using it in a widget in the right rail of the page that had three tabs in it. You clicked on a tab, and it refreshed a bunch of navigation links without having to reload the page. Really simple little thing. Apparently though, some sites have been using it as a trick to cloak links and stuff the system - so Google now penalizes against it... hence the pr0. So today we made the decision to kill the widget for the time being, while we look at an alternative. There are still plenty of ways to navigate the site, so it doesn't bork anything in a big way - it's just a pain in the ass. Hopefully when the bots come back we'll jump back onto the appropriate radar.

What I was really pleased with though, was that we went from identifying a problem, to executing on a plan of action in less than 12 hours. It would have been shorter still if we hadn't have learned about this late last night. In my previous life, our engineers discovering something like this and then being able to do something about it would have taken aaaages to execute on.
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