In the debate over whether or not URL shorteners are evil, one service in particular has been singled out: Digg’s new Diggbar. The Diggbar is more than just a URL shortener, but that is one of its main features. Unlike other shorteners, however, which redirect people back to the original link being abbreviated (often for Tweeting purposes), the Diggbar directs traffic back to a Digg.com.
The concern this raises is that if a lot of people start using the Diggbar and its special shortened URLs, Digg will effectively be stealing link juice from the original sites being linked to, which won’t get the proper credit they deserve from search engines. In technical terms, the Diggbar produces a 200 server code instead of a 301 redirect (Danny Sullivan explains the difference here), and on the surface that just does not seem kosher.
But in a post today, Digg VP of engineering John Quinn promises everyone that Digg is not trying to steal any link juice and has taken extra measures to make sure search engines and others credit the original links. He writes:
We launched a few additional updates early this week to address some lingering concerns in the SEO and publishing communities around the infamous (and sometimes mysterious) search engine ‘juice’. We always represent the source URL as the preferred version of the URL to search engines and use the meta noindex tag to keep DiggBar pages out of search indexes. For those of you interested in the technical details, we also include link rel=”canonical” information to indicate that the original URL is the real (canonical) version. Additional URL properties, like PageRank and related signals, are transferred as well.
So crisis averted: the link structure of the Web remains intact. Whew, now I can go back to using the Diggbar. And I won’t be alone. Quinn also notes that since the launch of the Diggbar, “We’ve seen a 20% lift in unique visitors and many content providers have experienced similar traffic bumps this past week.” If the Diggbar can do that consistently going forward, nobody is going to be complaining about it anymore—even if URL shorteners are still evil.
Update: Maybe the crisis hasn’t been averted. Some serious questions are still being raised, lots of people think that apart from the URL redirect issue framing Websites is evil in and of itself. John Gruber at Daring Fireball is so mad that he released this code to block the Diggbar from any site.