Domains, power, the commons, credit, SEO, and some code implications

How to provide better credit on the web using the standard rel=“canonical” by looking at an example from the Open Learner Patchbook

A couple of weeks back, I noticed and began following Cassie Nooyen when I became aware of her at the Domains 2019 conference which I followed fairly closely online.

She was a presenter and wrote a couple of nice follow up pieces about her experiences on her website. I bookmarked one of them to read later, and then two days later I came across this tweet by Terry Green, who had also apparently noticed her post:

But I was surprised to see the link in the tweet points to a different post in the Open Learner Patchbook, which is an interesting site in and of itself.

This means that there are now at least two full copies of Cassie’s post online:

While I didn’t see a Creative Commons notice on Cassie’s original or any mention of permissions or even a link to the source of the original on the copy on the Open Patchbook, I don’t doubt that Terry asked Cassie for permission to post a copy of her work on his site. I’ll also suspect that it may have been the case that Cassie might not have wanted any attention drawn to herself or her post on her site and may have eschewed a link to it. I will note that the Open Patchbook did have a link to her Twitter presence as a means of credit. (I’ll still maintain that people should be preferring links to their own domain over Twitter for credits like these–take back your power!)

Even with these crediting caveats aside, there’s a subtle technical piece hiding here relating to search engines and search engine optimization that many in the Domain of One’s Own space may not realize exists, or if they do they may not be sure how to fix. This technical subtlety is that search engines attempt to assign proper credit too. As a result there’s a very high chance that Open Patchbook could rank higher in search for Cassie’s own post than Cassie’s original. As researchers and educators we’d obviously vastly prefer the original to get the credit. So what’s going on here?

Search engines use a web standard known as rel=“canonical”, a microformat which is most often found in the HTML <header> of a web page. If we view the current source of the copy on the Open Learner Patchbook, we’ll see the following:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://openlearnerpatchbook.org/technology/patch-twenty-five-my-domain-my-place-to-grow/" />

According to the Microformats wiki:

By adding rel=“canonical” to a hyperlink, a page indicates that the destination of that hyperlink should be considered the preferred or definitive version of the current page. This helps search engines avoid duplicate content, and is useful for deciding how to link to a page when citing it.

In the case of our example of Cassie’s post, search engines will treat the two pages as completely separate, but will suspect that one is a duplicate of the other. This could have dramatic consequences for one or the other sites in which search engines will choose one to prefer over the other, and, in some cases, search engines may penalize one site for having duplicate content and not stating that fact (in their metadata). Typically this would have more drastic and averse consequences for Cassie’s original in comparison with an institutional site. 

How do we fix the injustice of this metadata? 

There are a variety of ways, but I’ll focus on several in the WordPress space. 

WordPress core has built-in functionality that should set the permalink for a particular page as the canonical one. This is why the Open Patchbook page displays the incorrect canonical link. Since most people are likely to already have an SEO related plugin installed on their site and almost all of them have this capability, this is likely the quickest and easiest method for being able to change canonical links for pages and posts. Two popular choices for this are Yoast and All in One SEO which have simple settings for inputting and saving alternate canonical URLs. Yoast documents the steps pretty well, so I’ll provide an example using All in One SEO:

  • If not done already, click the checkbox for canonical URLs in the “General Settings” section for the plugin generally found at /wp-admin/admin.php?page=all-in-one-seo-pack%2Faioseop_class.php.
  • For the post (or page) in question, within the All in One SEO metabox in the admin interface (pictured) put the full URL of the original posts’ location.
  • (Re-)publish the post.

Screenshot of the AIOSEO metabox with the field for the Canonical URL outlined in red

If you’re using another SEO plugin, it likely handles canonical URLs similarly, so check their documentation.

For aggregation websites, like the Open Learner Patchbook, there’s also another solid option for not only setting the canonical URL, but for more quickly copying the original post as well. In these cases I love PressForward, a WordPress plugin from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media which was designed with the education space in mind. The plugin allows one to quickly gather, organize, and republish content from other places on the web. It does so in a smart and ethical way and provides ample opportunity for providing appropriate citations as well as, for our purposes, setting the original URL as the canonical one. Because PressForward is such a powerful and diverse tool (as well as a built-in feed reader for your WordPress website), I’ll refer users to their excellent documentations.

Another useful reason I’ll mention for using rel-canonical mark up is that I’ve seen cases in which using it will allow other web standards-based tools like Hypothes.is to match pages for highlights and annotations. I suspect that if the Open Patchwork page did have the canonical link specified that any annotations made on it with Hypothes.is should mirror properly on the original as well (and vice-versa). 

I also suspect that there are some valuable uses of this sort of small metadata-based mark up within the Open Educational Resources (OER) space.

In short, when copying and reposting content from an original source online, it’s both courteous and useful to mark the copy as such by putting a tag onto the URL of the original to provide it with the full credit as the canonical source.

👓 The 7 Characteristics That Can Make A Link “Bad” For SEO | Search Engine Land

Read The 7 Characteristics That Can Make A Link "Bad" For SEO (Search Engine Land)
Search Engine Land is the leading industry source for daily, must-read news and in-depth analysis about search engine technology.

👓 Optimizing for Accessibility + SEO: Formatting & Link Overlaps | Moz

Read Optimizing for Accessibility + SEO: Formatting &amp; Link Overlaps (Moz)
Do you know the overlaps between SEO and accessibility? If you’re optimizing for search engines, you’re also affecting how people using assistive technologies experience your site. Let's examine the effects and best practices for keyword usage, text formatting, and links.

📺 The Future of SEO is on the SERP | Rand Fishkin | BrightonSEO 2018 | YouTube

Watched The Future of SEO is on the SERP | BrightonSEO 2018 by Rand Fishkin from YouTube

The good news is: the number of searches on Google keeps growing. The bad news is: decreasing clickthrough rates on organic results ( especially in mobile), fewer big companies dominating the world’s Google search results and more results answered entirely in Google’s SERPs.

As Google answers a higher and higher percent of queries in the results themselves and refers out less traffic to websites, we’re all gonna have to think about how we influence search audiences through what Google shows rather than just focusing on driving traffic to our own sites.

A big part of SEO’s future will be on the SERP rather than driving traffic to websites.

Rand Fishkin is the founder of SparkToro - https://sparktoro.com/-and was previously co-founder of Moz and Inbound.org. He’s dedicated his professional life to helping people do better marketing through the Whiteboard Friday video series, his blog, and his book, Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World.

About BrightonSEO
BrightonSEO – is a major search marketing event in the UK. One of our favourite events of the year, This is a superb conference for search marketing professionals, novice or expert. BrightonSEO - https://www.brightonseo.com/ - is a chance to learn from some of the best minds in search, and then rub shoulders with them at one of the friendliest, and largest, gatherings of Digital Marketers in Europe.

Some interesting perspective on the future of the internet from an SEO-related perspective.

While a lot of the net is going to mobile first and the rise of the assistants (Google Home and Amazon Alexa) are taking a lot of eyeballs, I’m curious if the move toward immediate answers is more for the “I don’t have time for more in-depth search because I just want a quick answer” versus buyers and people looking for more depth that are going to prefer desktop or sit-back experiences where they’ll spend some time browsing and/or reading. Are the numbers in this presentation specific to this phenomenon or indicative of something much worse as is predicted in the video?

#1. It’s never been harder to earn organic traffic from the web’s major players.  

#2. It’s never been more important to make your website (and email list)–rather than someone else’s property–the center of your campaigns.  

The second slide point is directly from the video with the “rather than someone else’s property” part quoted and inserted from the audio portion. I love that this is a direct incarnation of the IndieWeb philosophy for business use cases. Earlier this morning I actually heard a radio advertisement use the phrase, “or find us on our socials” with word socials being indicative of a generic term for ubiquitous social media platforms which would presumably include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Perhaps the fact that companies aren’t directly differentiating social silos in their advertising anymore means that some better social readers would portend a more IndieWeb-first approach? Eventually companies are going to find that maintaining dozens of presences on multiple sites isn’t as cost-effective as just maintaining their one site and perhaps the market drops back to a more distributed web approach?

👓 Google, the Social Silos and the Web Traffic Future | Brad Enslen

Read a post by Brad EnslenBrad Enslen (Brad Enslen)
The video below is of interest to SEO’s, webmaster’s trying to create their own informational websites, and the Indieweb.  The video, featuring Rand Fishkin, is 32 minutes long but packs a lot of current information.  I agree with Rand through the first 2/3rds of the video where he is making h...

Some interesting things to think about here with respect to the future of the web.

👓 Welcome to Voldemorting, the Ultimate SEO Dis | Wired

Read Welcome to Voldemorting, the Ultimate SEO Dis by Gretchen McCulloch (WIRED)
When writers swap Trump for Cheeto and 45, it's not just a put-down. Removing a keyword is the anti-SEO—transforming your subject into a slippery, ungraspable, swarm.

Surprised she didn’t mention the phenomena of subtweeting, snitch tagging, or dunking which are also closely related to voldemorting.

To my experience, the phrase “bird site” was generally used as a derogatory phrase on Mastodon (represented by a Mastodon character instead of a bird), by people who were fed up by Twitter and the interactions they found there. I recall instances of it as early as April 2017.

In addition to potential SEO implications, this phenomenon is also interesting for its information theoretic implications.

I particularly like the reference in the van der Nagle paper

[…] screenshotting, or making content visible without sending its website traffic – to demonstrate users’ understandings of the algorithms that seek to connect individuals to other people, platforms, content and advertisers, and their efforts to wrest back control.

This seems like an awesome way to skirt around algorithms in social sites as well as not rewarding negative sites with clicks.

👓 An Open Letter To Derek Powazek On The Value Of SEO | Search Engine Land

Read An Open Letter To Derek Powazek On The Value Of SEO by Danny Sullivan (Search Engine Land )
Derek Powazek launched an attack on SEO yesterday that really said nothing that others haven’t ranted about before. I’ve responded to many of these attacks over the years in hopes of educating people about mistaken assumptions. I’ve largely given up. But I figured this time I’d give it another go with some personal illustrations I’ve encountered recently.

There’s an interesting debate here involving technical knowledge and how one is either heard or not heard. In the end, one should just be able to create solid content and that should be enough, but the way the system is built and gamed can create a massive difference between the haves and the have nots.

A similar thing is happening on social media and reach there. By handing your data over to social silos, you may gain a broader audience you don’t or shouldn’t necessarily have (keep in mind a lot of this content is drivel in the grand scheme). Should we allow the silos to create massive audience for drivel just because it drives clicks? Is corporate social siloing creating the world we would otherwise see if SEO black hats could have their way? Put another way, should cat videos have the outsized influence on society that they might not otherwise have without the effect of run away click collecting algorithms? Where is the happy medium?

👓 Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists | powazek.com

Read Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists by Derek Powazek (Derek Powazek)
Search Engine Optimization is not a legitimate form of marketing. It should not be undertaken by people with brains or souls. If someone charges you money for SEO, they are running a scam.

To AMP, or Not To AMP, That is the Question: Whether ’tis Nobler in the Mind to Bookmarklet

“Hi. My name is Chris and I’m a web browser bookmarklet junkie.”

Accelerated Mobile Pages

I’ve been following most of the (Google) Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) discussion (most would say debate) through episodes of This Week in Google where Leo Laporte plays an interesting foil to Jeff Jarvis over the issue. The other day I came across a bookmark from Jeremy Keith entitled Need to Catch Up on the AMP Debate? which is a good catch up by CSS-Tricks. It got me thinking about creating a bookmarklet to strip out the canonical URL for AMP pages (the spec requires them to exist in markup) to make them easier to bookmark and share across social media. In addition to social sites wrapping their URLs with short URLs (which often die or disappear as the result of linkrot) or needing to physically exit platforms (I’m looking at you Facebook with your three extra life-sucking clicks meant to protect your walled garden) to properly bookmark canonical URLs for later consumption, I’ve run across several Google prepended URLs which I’d rather not share in lieu of the real ones.

Apparently I wasn’t the first to think of such a thing, nor am I the second. Last night I came across a bit of research and genius by Kevin Marks who referenced a bookmarklet by Alan Storm back in January for switching to an AMP’d version of a web page (in an effort to cut down on the large JavaScript and advertising payloads that come along with most modern web pages). Naturally there was also a bookmarklet to switch back to the canonical (and non-Google) URL included for those who want to share an original.

Clean and Simple URLs

Kevin then took it a step further and included a JavaScript bookmarklet that shortens URLs down to their pure essence.

As an example, his canonical bookmarklet will take something ugly like
http://mashable.com/2017/03/26/dog-chasing-hockey-puck-joy/?utm_cid=mash-com-Tw-main-link#xvCRlgf_vsqY
and strip it down to its most basic
http://mashable.com/2017/03/26/dog-chasing-hockey-puck-joy
so that if you want to share it, it will remove all of the tracking cruft that comes along for the ride.

Even worse offenders like
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/opinion/sunday/chinas-communists-embrace-religion.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=0
suddenly become cleaner and clearer
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/opinion/sunday/chinas-communists-embrace-religion.html

These examples almost remind me of the days of forwarding chain letter emails where friends couldn’t be bothered to cut out the 10 pages of all the blockquoted portions of forwards or the annoying

>  > >>  >>
>  > >>  >>
>  > >>  >>

nonesense before they sent it to you… The only person who gets a pass on this anymore is Grandpa, and even he’s skating on thin ice.

Remember, friends don’t let friends share ridiculous URLs…

So in that spirit, here are the three bookmarklets that you can easily drag and drop into the bookmark bar on your browser:

🔲 To AMP

🔳 Not to AMP

✁ Base URL

The code for the three follow respectively for those who prefer to view the code prior to use, or who wish to fashion their own bookmarklets:

As a bonus tip, Kevin Marks’ post briefly describes how one can use their Chrome browser on mobile to utilize these synced bookmarklets more readily.

Alternatives

Of course, if you want the AMP version of pages just for their clean appearance, then perhaps you may appreciate the Mercury Reader for Chrome. There isn’t a bookmarklet for it (yet?), but it’ll do roughly the same job, but without the mobile view sizing on desktop. And then while looking that link up, I also notice Mercury also has a one line of code AMP solution too, though I recommend you brush up on what AMP is, what it does, and do you really want it before adding it.