[uf-discuss] Re: Precise Expansion Patterns

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis bhawkeslewis at googlemail.com
Sun Dec 16 10:01:34 PST 2007

Martin McEvoy wrote:

> The crux of what I am trying to explain is that at the moment empty
> anchor text links mean nothing as far as SEO is concerned, bots will
> either ignore or simply erase them from there index.
> If we as a respected community say that empty anchor text DO mean
> something, then bots and other applications that crawl the web will have
> to take this into account in order to correctly represent their indexes.
> Black Hat SEO's will undoubtedly exploit this to their own means
> rel="nofollow" is a classic example of where a microformat has been
> exploited by SEO's to do something its not meant for and thus may be
> regarded as an Anti design pattern.
> I do not wish (although the intentions are good) to be responsible for
> opening the floodgates on any such behavior, and as a community we have
> a responsibility to steer well clear of hacks, and half hearted
> solutions that may end up causing more damage than good.

Let me go through Martin's argument, as I understand it, to explain why 
I don't find it persuasive. My comments are in parentheses.

1. Search engines currently "ignore" TITLE on non-linking A. (Does 
anyone has any clear evidence to confirm this? Does that evidence hold 
for all major engines, or only for Google? I can't find anything solid.)

2. If microformats made use of TITLE on non-linking A for 
machine-readable data, search engines would want to use it. (This seems 

3. Black hat SEOs would then keyword-stuff TITLE on non-linking A. 
(Given the above premises, this seems plausible).

4. Search engines would not be able to distinguish keyword-stuffed TITLE 
attributes on non-linking A from microformat data. (rel="nofollow" is a 
standalone pattern and it would be difficult to tell correct from 
incorrect use without human inspection. But these data-hiding patterns 
are intended for use within super-patterns like hAudio that tell parsers 
what to expect. Distinguishing data-hiding patterns of this sort from 
keyword stuffing sounds like a trivial programming task, so I think 
search engines surely would be able to distinguish between them.)

5. This problem only occurs with non-linking A. (But by its very nature, 
markup that hides content from most users, most of the time — and that 
includes /all/ patterns that hide data in TITLE attributes — is 
susceptible to keyword stuffing. Indeed, I would bet that each and every 
one of these patterns is already being abused by black-hat SEOs, 
effectually or not.)

NB: This email isn't intended as a general endorsement of TITLE on 
non-linking A. I'm deeply sceptical about misusing the TITLE attribute 
for human-unfriendly data, especially on anything other than an empty 
SPAN. I'm just saying I don't buy Martin's SEO-based argument against 
non-linking A in particular.

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis

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