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Trolling for rankings - the URL game.

Apr 07, 2008 - 0 comments

As many of you know -and as all should be aware- the Medhelp Terms of Use cite the posting of URL's (web site addresses) as a violation of terms. Posts containing them are subject to deletion. Elsewhere, such as PM's -not problem.

It is easy to understand why Medhelp is sensitive about this -some web sites are simply places that sell something or carry a special agenda. And, sad to say, forums and blogs that are not moderated rather quickly turn into bulletin boards for porn, special personal needs, and other sordid expressions of the human condition. And so, from the point of view of those who enforce the Terms of Use, because it is not possible to filter web sites through some kind of automation (like the software that detects dirty words and email addresses) they would rather make an exception for those URL's that are OK both as to their own content and as to the context in which they are cited on Medhelp.

But wait, there's MORE. What many people might not know is how the popularity and broad distribution of website URL's across the 'net tends to make such sites rank higher in website listings by "search engines," the automation that Google, Yahoo and others use to "go fetch" when you put in a search term. Although filtering and ranking are technologies which are under constant revision by the search engine developers, one good indicator that a site is both popular and RELEVANT to the terms being searched is how often and in how many RELATED places the web site appears as a link -or just appears at all. Web site developers have pretty well run out of tricks to force their sites to the top of searches by the design of the site itself, so the strategy has been to get others (folks like you and me) to do the job for them. And so, web sites are designed to appeal to a particular kind of person, who will pass the word to others through emails, blogs, forums and notes on the laundromat bulletin boards, for that matter.

You see this at work here on the forum every now and then; someone speaks well of a site that treats panic or sells herbal remedies, for example; that is, they endorse it. More often then not, we do so innocently because if someone told us to do their advertising for them, we'd decline the offer. We tend to trust each other here, so we willingly go there to check out the site. And I should mention that there are plenty of forums, discussion groups and blogs that have no prohibition whatsoever on mentioning web sites -in fact, they will even convert the address into a clickable link! Medhelp's focus, however, is pretty tightly concentrated on the subject matter of it's forums, so it does NOT permit the practice ON THE FORUMS, which would sort of be like billboards earning thousands of "impressions" because so many people are exposed. PM's are different -that's a private communication and Medhelp has no problem with URL's appearing there.

And so, when you see a URL that appears to be completely innocuous, chances are that it IS innocuous -maybe even helpful. The issue here is not so much the CONtent or INtent of the other site, as it is the forum's potential role in boosting the search engine rankings for it. You can appreciate how, in time (and this does happen) people are encouraged to come to blogs and forums simply to "spread the word." Medhelp is many things, but it is not a forum for other web sites.

Obviously, there are a zillion OTHER reasons to be cautious about allowing URL's to be placed. But the search engine strategy exists in the background as one which is not at all obvious to most people -which is why it works. No need for umbrage or outrage here, folks; the "search engine optimization" (SEO) game is just a part of life, is here to stay, and I have NOT YET seen any post which has suggested to me that anyone is here on a strictly commercial venture. Medhelp is simply doing what it can to stay out of that game -and keep the attention and activity within the boundaries of their mission. The end result is pretty much what people here have come to expect -this is the real deal, and what you see is what you get.

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