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Can site with a meta refresh hurt our ranking?

google thinks another site has our same index content 8/26/04

     
7:48 am on Sep 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I have been doing A LOT of digging online by searching for our exact title (for index page). I found another site with the same title so out of curiosity I clicked on the result in google and it took me to a blank page and not even a fraction of a second later it redirected to our home page!

It took quite a few attempts of hitting my back button and "Esc" key to be able to stop the page before it redirected me - and found out it was doing a meta refresh

<html><head><meta http-equiv="Refresh" content="0; URL=http://www.[example domain].co.uk"></meta></head><body></body></html>
Nothing else than that - so I'm not sure how it was redirecting to our site as the domain they redirect to is NOT our domain - it's not even a .co.uk domain - this is VERY suspicious!

I then did some searching on google to locate the page where this site was linking to us and it turns out it is a page of other links (links page) for their site visitors to visit. Their linking structure to our site:

http://www.[THEIR domain].com/modules/mylinks/visit.php?lid=411

On their links page they show how many times people have visited those links... so I'm sure their "redirect" thing keeps track of their users going to other sites - but is this technique hurting us?

So, when a user clicks on our link it goes to http://www.[THEIR domain].com/modules/mylinks/visit.php?lid=411 and on that page is the meta refresh code I supplied above. The WEIRD thing is, is that it doesn't redirect to the URL specified in the HTML. It goes to our web page. I cut the URL out and pasted it into a browser and it takes me to a store in the uk.

I'm really concerned because Google's index shows that their "meta refresh" page has the SAME (100%) content as our index page!

Here is the other thing! Google last indexed their redirect page on August 26, 2004 which as many know is the approx. date that Many of people lost their rankings on google - I'm in this boat as our rankings/traffic fell to the ground around the same time (site wide). (not sure if this is related...just thought I would put that in there)

We still maintain our PR6 - but who knows when the next PR update will be made.

How should I handle this? Could this hurt us? I need advice.

[edited by: ciml at 4:36 pm (utc) on Sep. 7, 2004]
[edit reason] De-linked. [/edit]

6:39 pm on Sept 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

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April,

I recently posted a similar situation:

[webmasterworld.com...]

There are links posted in that thread which may help you out.

Good luck!

8:22 pm on Sept 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Good grief, not another one -- check around this site for lots of information.

When this happened to our site, our "real" listings dropped through the floor. The listings generated by the meta refresh tag were actually positioned higher in the SERPs than our listings were originally, and since the redirect worked, we got decent traffic off of it. What I did to correct the problem was request that the directory with the meta redirect remove the link from their site, which they did. A few weeks later when the bad listing in Google didn't go away I wrote Google and asked them to remove the bad link. A few weeks later the bad link disappeared. That's when our position in the SERPs started steadily dropping -- I'm still waiting to see the bottom.

12:17 am on Sept 8, 2004 (gmt 0)

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My sites had accidentally done this a few times. The links you are describing look like they are based on the same content management software that I use - xoops and e-xoops. I have since rewritten the software on my sites to do the redirects as 301 redirects which should solve the problem. Unfortunately, there have been a few sites that we hijacked - one of them appeared to be booted out of the index around the time our link showed up in place of theirs. I didn't think it was our link hijacking their site that caused them to get removed from Google, but at this point, I am beginning to think it did remove them. The scariest part is that their site had a markedly higher page rank than my site. I had always thought there wasn't much someone could do to harm your site. Hopefully, it was merely a coincidence that their site disappeared from Google at the same time our link took over their site...

I was surprised that the first time I had this happen, I immediately contacted Google, and it seemed like they didn't know what was going on. They just suggested I ban the link in my robots file, and that it should all be fixed in 4-6 weeks with the next spidering of the sites.

Unfortunately, this is a widely used content management system that appears to be doing this on a regular basis. Hopefully they will fix this soon.

I had been reluctant to post anything publicly about this until now for fear of malicious people using the software to get other people's sites booted out. At this point, though, I think public notification here may be the only way to get Google's attention - assuming they haven't already been aware of this bug.

3:32 am on Sept 8, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Well Rick_M - thank you for your honesty!

This really seems like it is a much larger issue that most people previously thought. The more posts I read online with similar descriptions seem to be more of a pattern than a coincidence.

I think this may be a big oversight by Google - but at this point I just want someone at Google to see what I'm talking about and bring my rankings back to life. This has hurt so bad that if my rankings are not back within the next 3-4 weeks, I will literally lose the site and servers and be unemployed. I'm spending every moment to do what I can to get things back to normal.

For those that have had responses from Google.... any recommendations on how to word an email to them about this issue? I'm sure they only read the subject and perhaps 1 or 2 lines of the email - so I need to make it to the point! Also, what is the best email address to contact?

Also, has anyone know if GoogleGuy is still around? I think this is an issue he would like to be aware of.

5:50 am on Sept 8, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Hi,

I am having the same problem.

A P6 site (www.widget.com), since 4-years with the home-page in the top-5 of Google for our main topic and keywords, completely white site, no funny SEO stuff or nothing, travel related site with normally over 80,000 pages in Google index.

Since 3 a 4 days, our main index-page of www.widget.com has completely disappeared out of the Google index and so have all our other main sub-topic pages.

Instead, our above mentioned pages are now showing up in Google under another site (www.foo.com) and Google is spidering those pages on a regular base, even more frequently than the Google-bot visited the original pages.

Our pages now appear in Google as follows:
- www.foo.com/somekeyword/www-widget-com.html
- www.foo.com/somekeyword/www-widget-com-topic1.html
- www.foo.com/somekeyword/www-widget-com-topic2.html

The worst is that until today we were getting weekly new pages in the Google index, but since about 1-week we are daily loosing 1,000 to 5,000 pages a day from the Google index.

I did send an email to Google about this some days ago but until today still no reaction or responds from Google.

6:02 am on Sept 8, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Yep, this has been going on for a while....

Meta Refresh leads to ...
... Replacement of the target URL!
[webmasterworld.com...]

2:20 pm on Sept 8, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the link, Robert
... But it does not solve my problem
and still no answer from Google
3:29 pm on Sept 8, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Maybe this is a better spot for this post. anyway...

Okay,
Today I noticed that my site has been hijacked also. The results in the SERPs show my title and the rollover shows my text but the link goes to [widget.com...]

When I check the header at this address, I got HTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Wed, 08 Sep 2004 15:14:48 GMT Content-Type: text/html . The actual page shows nothing, blank except for a meta refresh to my page. No title, no nothing.

If you do a link:www.widget.com/out.cgi?id=618, it shows EXACTLY all my backlinks as if I did link:mydomain.com

I was able to remove the page through an editing tool (thank the stars).

Now when I checked the header I got HTTP/1.1 302 Moved Date: Wed, 08 Sep 2004 15:18:44 GMT Server: Apache/1.3.29 (Unix) location: [widget.com...] Connection: close Content-Type: text/plain

This clearly now shows a 302 to their main site.

Questions...

How long will it take to straighten this mess out?

Will deleting this link eventually put my page back in the SERPs (it is totally missing now)?

Do I report this to Google?

I have found several directories that are using this method of a meta refresh to my site. Should I report all of them?

Has anybody else gotten any satisfaction from Google on this?

Anyway, thanks for the responses...

5:41 am on Sept 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Is Google also hijacked?
Just found via my logs a site called:
"googlr.com" (notice the R instead of E)
Is this Google or a copy?
6:09 am on Sept 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

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webdude,

i can confirm the effect that you describe. that is, a meta refresh from a external site to your site causes the backlinks to your page to be credited by google to the external site. the link: command showed third party pages which linked to my site but were credited to the external site.

the investigation was done using a sniffer to examine the content and headers returned by the external site.

THIS IS SOMETHING THAT A COMPETITOR CAN USE TO HIGHJACK YOUR BACKLINKS,
THIS IS ONE OF THE *ALMOST NOTHINGS* THAT A COMPETITOR CAN USE TO BURN YOU

since google is in theory an index of pages, it is unseemly for them to be having so much difficulty with meta-refreshes, 302's and 301's. as an index of pages, there is no need to be concerned with links as the final url of any redirect should trump anything else in the chain. searchers are looking for pages, not links. as an analogy, searchers are looking for the house and not the roadmap. if the cab driver wants to use a roadmap, that's fine, but the passenger just wants to get there.

not exactly rocket science. but hey, buy enough PHD's and you can bugger up anything.

1:35 pm on Sept 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

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plumsauce,

I appreciate the reply and acknowledgement, but the questions remain the same.

Is my site hatched now? I have had these links removed, but they still remain in the SERPS. Now instead of refreshing to my site, they are using 302 redirects to their home pages (I found 2 of these). Meanwhile, my site returns nothing for my home page on any of my phrases (it does return some subpages). The home page is in the index, but I only find it when I search for the title.

I sent emails to the G of these refreshes and of course I am gettin no reply. The emails referenced this thread and gives a great deal of detail as to the URLs and history. What's worse is that I am not even getting any acknowledgement of the emails from Google.

And what really ticks me off is that these hijacked refreshes are returned in the SERPs at the same spots I USED TO OCCUPY! Granted, they weren't the best (50 to 150 for some phrases), but hey, give me a break.

What a way for a third party to take my site down :-{

Hey everybody, before exchanging links with anybody, check to make sure they are not using meta refreshes to link to sites. They are sapping your PR and eventually your site will be replaced.

A bummed and confused WebDude

5:27 pm on Sept 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

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So, I've contacted Google (no response yet) and contacted the offending company linking to us (no response yet) - is this pretty much all I can do? If anyone has made it out of this death trap - we'd love to hear from you.
4:51 am on Sept 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Could someone please advice me what is the (best) email-address of Google to use to report the Hijacking of my pages, I did send an email 1-week ago to "webmaster at google.com" but am not getting any reply.

Thanks

5:14 am on Sept 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

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They took over a week to answer my first email. I sent it to webmaster@google.com and the replies were coming from help@google.com. I tried a different address for them and the reply still came from help@google.com. I implored them to please refer my questions to somebody higher up and put ATTN:Googleguy in the message title. I started getting responses from googlebot@google.com.

I can tell you that the responses make me want to laugh, cry, and scream at the same time.

In the meantime, my hijacked index page has moved up from number seven to number three in the SERPS even though they did remove the redirect and the link now goes to a 404 error page.

7:36 am on Sept 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Marcello,

I contacted Google at that same email address about a week ago as well. I've read some posts where people waited Months for a response...and some received a response within a couple of days.

I found this link on Google for reporting spam and they have checkboxes for reporting cloaking, deceptive redirects...etc.
[google.com...]
Has anyone here ever used this submission tool? It may just be me, but that form makes me feel like it could somehow accidently penalize our site as well as the offending site if I don't explain it properly. I just mean because the offending site comes up in the results they ask for as well as ours. It seems more for general users who come across a "questionable" site while searching and more than one site may be penalized depending on how the person reading the data interprets the problem.

I've already filled it out (haven't sent yet) - just wanted to see if anyone else has previous experience using it.

9:04 am on Sept 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Just send it
... but add the URL of this threath, this will save You a lot of writing and make Google understand the Big-Picture of this spam and hijacking that is going on.

Also do not for get to add the keywords: Googleguy and webmasterworld, at the top of your Spam-report.

Seems GoogleGuy sometimes scans incoming Spam-Reports for those words.

9:19 am on Sept 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I am happy to say that a page that have been used those dirty tricks to thousands of other pages and mine as well has been or hijacked or due to legal actions has been down,thanks God.
2:09 pm on Sept 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

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This is some scary sh!t.

Now that Google is a public company, the best way to get their attention on serious issues like these is to have an article or two written about this issue in the WSJ, NYT, WPost, USA Today, CNet, etc.

7:58 pm on Sept 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Anyone have any ideas of ways of turning the trick back on the trickster, say by meta-refreshing the page which is doing the meta-refreshing...?
Also, since this is obviously nearly a criminal act, is it maybe time for the moderators to lift the restrictions on posting names and domains of the criminals and point out exactly who the offending parties are to make it easier for those afflicted to combine forces? I think we have one doing it to us with the initials r------p----.com
I also believe I've seen the problem, or at least the same pages but without the ranking, showing up on Y! as well. They are not necessarily ranking the same, but they are replacing the other pages in the index there.
7:30 pm on Sept 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

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There have been suggestions about doing another redirect to the offending site or simply providing a "404" when sites use a meta refresh to link to your site.

I'm not sure this tactic would work in your favor for quite a few reasons. For one, if you show a 404 for google when it follows your link, it is going to think that that page does not exist and it may not be visited again for quite some time. Another thought was doing a redirect of the offending sites redirect - this could backfire as the offending site could actually put content on the linking page - and who knows, at that point Google may think your page is about pink elephants instead of widgets. I'm sure I could think of quite a few other examples.

I know the suggestion was made that it won't hurt much to try since our rankings are nothing right now anyway... but why make the mess even more ugly. If you have contacted Google about this matter and then you put in some sort of "fix" on your end to redirect to their site, etc - Google (employee) may get very confused and throw your request out, or worse, end up penalizing you as well.

I've contacted Google, filled out their spam report form online. Still no response. I think I may file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notification with Google. Does anyone have any experience with such a request? Or is this issue not fitting?

ALSO! I went through Google trying to find a reference where GoogleGuy was involved with any posts relating to meta refreshes. I could not find any. Has anyone heard from GoogleGuy about this issue? I have stickymailed him with no response. Let me know if anyone has found any posts from GoogleGuy about this - if not I will create a new post titled something like "Attn: GoogleGuy - Meta Refresh Ruining Online Companies". Any better suggestions and I'll start a thread. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame GoogleGuy for not responding. He may not have read any of the dozen of new threads regarding meta refresh. I think a thread to his attention may help....Worth A Shot!

7:40 pm on Sept 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

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THIS IS SOMETHING THAT A COMPETITOR CAN USE TO HIGHJACK YOUR BACKLINKS,
THIS IS ONE OF THE *ALMOST NOTHINGS* THAT A COMPETITOR CAN USE TO BURN YOU

Well, I put some thought into this and I'm sure I'm not the only one who tried to do it to a major site. I picked Google.co.uk, Yahoo.co.uk and MSN.com

Results after four months of using every meta-refresh trick, javascript forwarder and so on is that .... well, I don't think I have to tell you do I? I DIDN'T REPLACE GOOGLE IN THE RESULTS.

On the other point, I didn't actually show up with their titles and descriptions in Google - I was just a URL. So there must be something else to this rather than a Google-wide bug otherwise it would work for all sites, wouldn't it?

8:17 pm on Sept 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

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internetheaven -
Well, they site that is hurting us has thousands of links on their links pages. I checked a few others that were not related to what we sell and for those sites they DO NOT do a meta refresh. With other sites they open the links in a new window.

For other sites like ours, they do a meta refresh. It took me quite a while to figure out why - but I was able to find a site in the UK that they are a part of or own that sells the same products we do. Now, if that doesn't sound like they did it on purpose, then I don't know what does.

I did notice another thing. [Follow me here...as this gets harry]. Sometimes they just do a single redirect with a meta refresh to our site. Other times they do a meta refresh to their site in the UK (sells same products) - but "how clever of them" it brings up our site! Ya, you figure that one out! I have a feeling that the site in the UK uses php and before it sends out ANY headers it checks to see what the referring URL was - and if it came from that particular meta refresh page - instead of showing their site, it redirects to ours.

At first I thought I should be able to see the headers for this, but with a double redirect, I think it is only possible to see the first redirect. If I knew of a way to fake a referring URL string, I would do it so I could see the 2nd redirect to know what type of redirect they are using.

7:53 am on Sept 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

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this is a public invitation for those who have had pages highjacked with a redirect to send a private message containing the following two pieces of information:

1) the url of the highjacked page
2) the url of the page doing the redirect

the reason for this request is to gather enough information for comparison to a case that i am familiar with. i promise not to bug respondents for more information than they first send me.

the particular line of reasoning i am following is a programming bug arising from misinterpretation of the rfc for http, i forget the exact number right now, combined with sending of a slightly misleading header by the offending site. the word misleading is used because the header is compliant with the relevant rfc although it is inconsistent with the expected meaning.

if this behaviour can be consistently observed across unrelated pairs of urls as requested above, then a good case can be made that it is a programming bug, that is why the request is being made to readers at large.

the current situation is that i can pretty well figure out what the bug is, but can't confirm it without additional observation points.

please help.

thanks,

plumsauce

6:23 am on Sept 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Well, it looks like Google has removed the requested offending link from their index. When I perform the same query, they no longer come up. It may be back tomorrow...but I would like to think that Google actually removed that link from their index. If so, it took a week for them to do so. Response? No, I never received a resposne to the emails I sent.

About rankings, so far I cannot bring out site up under any queries. However, traffic has increased "some" - but when I use the referring URL from the users google search - I don't see our site AT ALL... does this mean that one of the indexes is reflecting the updates and our rankings are going to come back google-wide? Anyone have any current links for doing searches from specific Google servers in th U.S.?

12:47 am on Sept 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Something very odd happened. I updated my CMS software (e-xoops) to do a 301 redirect for all links that get redirected through the script. Today I got an email from someone asking me to remove their link.

I checked, and sure enough, my site has hijacked their site. I checked the server headers, and it is showing as a 301 redirect. Now I'm totally baffled.

I'm going to replace the entire link indexing section of my sites to avoid anymore of this nonsense, but I'm completely at a loss of what to do if a 301 redirect can hijack a site.

1:53 am on Sept 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Rick what kind of page are you administrate?its a hobby page?is a toy page? its a %&$( page? its a game boy?you ruin peoples hard work can you tell us please your industry and why you are using that c...p software,does your page has something to offer to the enduser or is a kind of astalavista page
2:19 am on Sept 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Does it really matter what industry my web sites are?

I assure you, I am not out to mess with people's hard work. Xoops and e-xoops are both very widely used software (based on php-nuke, which may do the same thing for all I know). I have gone through the trouble of revising the software to do the redirects as 301 redirects figuring that would avoid this problem.

I have been using this software for years without any problems, and my sites are very established. I am now looking at going through a huge amount of work to port all of my link data to a new script, which I'll have to install and configure, etc - not something I look forward to doing, but I really don't want this to happen to anyone else because of one of my sites.

Now that I think about it - many of the categories within my link directory are dynamically generated and have obtained links from other sites. I'll have to contact all of the sites that link to me and hope they will change their links - and hope that the PR gets transferred, etc. I doubt many other site owners would go through the trouble.

At this time, all sites that have gotten "hijacked" by my sites were links that people had asked to be included in my link directory. I can only imagine how angry someone could have been if I had added the link without them knowing...

8:11 pm on Sept 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

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This is obviously not Rick's fault in the least but rather a SE problem which the powers-that-be need to address and fix.