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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Odd Things Going On at Experts Exchange

My friend recently searched Google for php time end of day and ended up with a top results from Clicking on it, all he got was stuff like “View this solution now by starting your 30-day free trial.” Well, we’re used to this from Experts-Exchange, and scrolling way down to the bottom where no sane soul would scroll to usually fixes the problem, right? Well, not this time, not anymore... scrolling down only results in lots of blankness.

What happens if we check the Google cache of the same page? A different picture presents itself. This time, the top comments read “All comments and solutions are available to Premium Service Members only.” (For whatever reasons, that text is actually a background image, by the way.) Then, if you scroll down some more – past an umpteenth-items long navigation that in usability land probably suggests “you’ve reached the end of the page” – there will be more “expert comments,” this time actually showing the answers.

Specifically, if we search Google for a string contained in one of the answers – the string “OK here it is modified to use your example time” – we will hit the same Experts Exchange result in Google, but then that text (“OK here...”) will only be found in the source of the Google-cached version, and not in the HTML source of the actual target page when you click through.

The “Accepted Solution” as it shows in Google’s cache...

... and how it shows when I visit

What’s happening here, does anyone know? One thing that could theoretically be in cases like these is that the page in question actually changed between the time Google indexed it and now. The thing is, my friend Nikolai sent me this on July 3rd, and I can still reproduce this today even though the Google cache now disclaims that it shows “a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 11 Jul 2009 05:49:26 GMT”. In other words, if the page merely naturally changed, then the Google cache should by now also have the new hidden-answers version.

Google has officially been sanctioning partial results sneakery with something called “first click free” (which translates to “you may show something else to Google users & bot than what you show to people coming from elsewhere”). I’m not sure this type of stuff is OK with the Google webmaster guidelines, though. I could be wrong – what do you think?

[Thanks Nikolai!]

Update: Turns out my referrer was not sent – so apparently the only sneakery going on here is the one that’s officially sanctioned by Google, “first click free”. (Google allows sites to confuse people and show something else to users than is shown to Googlebot & Google users, and a way to implement this checks the referrer value, which you can turn off in the browser options.) Turning on the referrer, I can now see the Experts Exchange solution by scrolling way down to the bottom, as usual for the site. [Thanks JohnMu!]


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