Thomas Crampton

Social Media in China and across Asia

Search Expert Danny Sullivan on IHT.com Deletion

May 10, 2009

Below is a compressed version of an exchange I had with Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land about the implications of the NY Times deleting IHT.com and all links to it.

Although slightly technical, this explanation would interest anyone as obsessed as me about what happened when the NY Times deleted iht.com and what it could mean going forward.

Danny Sullivan:

The mess of the IHT came up a few weeks ago when it first happened, of course. The person who oversees SEO for the NYT, Marshall Simmonds, is extremely savvy, and I was very surprised that things went this way.

I’ve been meaning to check with Marshall to get more of the backstory of what’s happening since I’d have expected things to be solved by now. I’m sure your article will probably put some pressure on them. But it probably isn’t just that they’re all complete idiots.

Thomas Crampton:

Yes, I was so surprised by the move when it happened that I waited almost a full month before posting about it, presuming the NY Times would resolve it quickly.

The NYT is filled with some of the smartest and hardest working people you will meet, which is why I was amazed the situation arose in the first place. Some whom I speak to inside the NYT and IHT say there is little being done to resolve the situation beyond promises that it will be fixed one day. (But perhaps I am not speaking to the right people.)

Hopefully my publicizing – and personalizing – the situation will help empower those inside the NYT who fully grasp the stakes. Part of my frustration is that I very much want the NYT and IHT to succeed on the web.

Danny Sullivan:

Trust me, if any paper is going to make it online, it’s the New York Times. Marshall is one of the smartest people out there and has hugely driven the paper’s traffic, this is what I wrote about him.

Other papers would be lucky to have him. I can’t think of any other major paper with someone who has that much experience running SEO for a web site. There’s absolutely no way he’d have recommended doing what happened.

WHAT MAY HAVE HAPPENED

My guess is there was a fast push that may have happened and then for some odd reason, he can’t get the support to fix it. Part of that might be due to the NYT making use of the first click free system — they might need to literally get these stories put into whatever publishing system that the NYT site uses. And the import might not be going well, or there might be a number of other issues happening.

I’m not sure who you are talking with inside the NYT, but they might not be on the tech side. Then again, they might be assessing the situation correctly.

Certainly, something odd happened.

If you close a site, normally you would build in smart redirects.

Anyway, I have not seen them comment publicly about the situation which, as I said, did come out at the end of March in Gawker.

TECHNICAL ASSESSMENT

In terms of links to the IHT, this search on Google tells me there are over 12,000 articles that link to pages in the iht.com domain

But Google doesn’t report near the number of links that it knows about, on purpose, as they feel this promotes spamming.

So you have to use this search using Yahoo’s tool which shows nearly 4 million links.

As for the amount of Google Juice, well, it’s not easy to say.

Absolutely, some potential traffic and reputation is being lost, but some of the IHT stories were also duplicates of the NYT stories — I did this often when I wanted to link to something that was behind the NYT registration wall.

Some of the stories might be short briefs from the wire services (and wire service stories going down is another frustration — read this).

Some stories might be so specific that they were generating little traffic at all.

LOSS OF LINKS MAY BE TEMPORARY

It’s a loss, no doubt. But it’s also a temporary one.

Try this test:

Click on Rex Swain’s HTTP viewer and fill in this link:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2002/05/07/t1_24.php

Untick auto-follow, and you get a 302 redirect that is temporary.

That tells the search engines not to use the new location (Full explanation here) and that someone probably really is working to figure out how to get the articles over and links from the old place to the new ones.

If they wanted to permanently break the link, they’d do 301 permanent redirects, which could tell the search engines that all is good (and they’d transfer the PageRank/ link credit to the pages out there now, the search page).

On links over from Wikipedia, this search on Yahoo tells me there are 31,700 links to iht.com

I’d really encourage you to tell Wikipedia NOT to start changing things this week. You’ve made a big splash with your post. Give things a week more, at least. If you set them off looking for new articles, first they’re not going to find all the same information. More important, in a week maybe all those articles will be restored — and then a lot of people have wasted a lot of time.

cheers,
danny

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Danny Sullivan
Editor-In-Chief, Search Engine Land
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