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New York Times Third Best At “Sex”?

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If you were, by some chance, to search for “sex” on Google, what sort of sites would you expect to see?  Perhaps we shouldn’t give explicit examples, but a lot of users were surprised when internal archive search results from the New York Times ranked just behind Wikipedia and Salon.

New York Times Third Best At Sex?
New York Times Third Best At “Sex”?

That’s seems good, right?  At least for the New York Times.  But a number of people have pointed out some problems with the tactics that landed this paper at number three, and the first of them was johnon.com’s John Andrews.

“The King of Content is now dominating the Google SERPs across a wide swath of the keyword space, via the re-published, re-purposed, New York Times Archives,” he wrote.  “Each ‘article’ is re-purposed on a clean, CSS-driven text page, clearly dated TODAY and not-co-clearly labeled as ‘originally published’ back in 1997, 1998, or whatever all the way back to 1981.  Of course cross-referenced, categorized, sub-categorized, ad-infinitum.

“You can check for yourself on your own ‘current events’ topics of interest,” Andrews continued.  “Look for query.nytimes.com (search results) and topics.nytimes.com (archives) showing up in the #1 spot for search phrases, as if the re-published content was ‘fresh news’.  Via Google referral, many of them are full articles.  Via the New York Times archive search pages, my tests mostly returned pay-per-article results sets.  Yes, there are ads on the pages.”

You probably won’t, however, have much luck at duplicating Andrews’s results at this point – it seems that someone at Google has gone in and “fixed” the problem.  (The New York Times is no longer the number three result for “sex,” for example.)  Yet some experts have argued that this wasn’t a problem – or any sort of disreputable trick – at all.

Danny Sullivan is one of those individuals (Sullivan also managed to captured a screenshot of the odd-looking “sex” results).  “Back in March, Google warned that allowing your internal search results to be listed in Google might be considered spamming,” he began.

But, in reference to the New York Times’s doings, Sullivan added, “[I]t’s common for sites to have category pages for stories they’ve written.  It’s GOOD for them to have these, in most cases.  As for the [TODAY] header, it’s also common that sites don’t provide last modified dates or that they reports the current date as the document’s authored date.”

And so, “[t]hat’s why search engines typically depend on their own internal comparison processes to determine if a document has changed or other means to assign actual dates to them.  The visible date shown to human often means little.”

The debate over the New York Times’s tactics is sure to continue, however, perhaps with reference to an old cloaking uproar.

New York Times Third Best At “Sex”?
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