Wordpress Democracy Plugin: Warning! SEO Nightmare

September 17, 2006 – 6:43 am

by Darren

If you have the excellent Democracy Plugin for Wordpress, you may have a certain SEO disaster on your hand. I’ll explain, so you understand what’s happening. In order to make the plugin work, the author appends strings on the end of the url. The trouble with these strings are that they create duplicate content in the search engines, because they refer to the exact same page as the one without the poll.

How will this affect my website’s SEO?

The way it works, it multiplies the same pages a number of times, and by my estimates, there are already millions of pages of duplicate content in Google that have been created by this plugin. Each page is an exact copy of the original, intended page, so Google will see this as an exact duplicate copy of the original. To compound it, if the plugin is used in your Sidebar nav, the problem becomes immense.

To illustrate what I mean, please see the site command for Absolutely.Fa-Bulo.us. All’s well until we get to the 131-132 results:

In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 132 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.

This is the dreaded statement you get when the rest of your website is considered to be “duplicate content” by Google. The reason? Check out the URLs. You’ll see ones like

absolutely.fa-bulo.us/read-tom-cruises-tell-all-book-about
-his-sex-life/?jal_no_js=true&poll_id=11

Uh oh! This is NOT GOOD. Why? The site really does have 131 or so pages, at least it did on the day it was indexed. Now it shows a total of 323 pages! Uh, that’s a 2-1 overestimation of the page count, and the site is so new (started on 8/30/2006). Now we get to do some math, to see just how bad the problem is.

The author is appending “?jal_no_js=true&poll_id=” to the end of each URL, where poll_id is equal to the number of the poll. So each poll now has created the number of pages in your website times the poll_id all as duplicate content! Let me say that clearly.

When you make a post, the url would be /keywords/. Now if you run the Wordpress Poll in your sidebar, the appended URL for Poll 11 ?jal_no_js=true&poll_id=11 would be added to every single page on your website! This is what happened to me.

The big problem with this is, The server that runs Wordpress responds with a “200 OK” either way the URL is accessed by Google. That has you linking to multiple incidents of the same page, calling it by different URLs, confusing Google and splitting your PR. Before the long, the accumulated errors will result in your domain getting The Google Ick, which you may or may not recover from.

How does it get so out of hand?

If you have 200 pages on your website and add Poll 12, you have 200 duplicate pages. When you post number 201 and Poll 13, it creates 201 more pages! Post 202 and Poll 14 would give you 202 more. As you can see, the duplicate content you’re creating is exponential, and I almost guarantee you a brutal death in Google.

How serious is the problem?

Check out this inurl command in Google using one variation of the string. It shows 1/2 half a million pages already indexed. I can imagine the number is in the millions already and rising rapidly.

How can this be solved?

The fix should be simple enough, but I warn you if you have this plugin running, make sure to check your site command in Google. You want to stop this problem before it starts.

All the author should have to do is add a / before the “?jal_no_js=true&poll_id=11″ to fix it, so the script refers to the root path rather than appending the string to the end of the URL. I also suggested he add rel no follow and then a robots.txt exclusion. Without these modifications this plugin is UNSAFE for SEO.

I’ve already removed it, although it is a great Plugin.

  1. 32 Responses to “Wordpress Democracy Plugin: Warning! SEO Nightmare”

  2. It will be fixed in the next version of Democracy coming out in a couple days.

    By Jalenack on Sep 17, 2006

  3. Also, I would have appreciated an email regarding this problem. The only reason I found out about this post was that someone else sent me a link.

    One more thing, adding ‘/’ to the url string is not a good solution. It would take users back to the root of their entire site. A lot of people use url structures like ‘http://mysite.com/blog/’ … Also, this way allows you to stay on the same page when you vote. It doesn’t make sense to be taken back to the home page if you want to interact with the poll.

    Shouldn’t nofollow be enough?

    Anyways, thanks for the heads up. A new version will be out in a couple of days, rewritten from the ground up. If you’d like a private beta so we can verify these problems are fixed, send me an email.

    -Andrew

    By Jalenack on Sep 17, 2006

  4. Darren,

    Firstly I believe you can remove these duplicate from google by editing your robots.txt file. Add the following

    User-agent: *
    Disallow: /*poll_id*

    Which should block all urls with “poll_id” in them. Just incase you or others did not know ;)
    I HATE duplicate content, Darren, remember when my HDTV site dropped down? it came back up trumps for a month, then two days ago dropped to about 10% of what it was :/.
    http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/3085485.htm

    I think it’s because I added meta keywords and descriptions that were very similar for each and every page, which i *think* lead google to think it was all duplicate content / spam site :(.

    Im hoping and praying for the next update to be soon!

    By Matt on Sep 18, 2006

  5. Hey, I’ve got a testing version ready. If you to make sure this problem is fixed, please send me an email. I’d appreciate answers to my questions above. I’m not an SEO expert, so it’s important that I get these answers. I would’ve sent you an email, but I can’t find any contact links.

    Thanks,
    Andrew

    By Jalenack on Sep 18, 2006

  6. All of the above has happened to my site. Google shows 3000 pages and I only have 700 posts. Is there a way to contact Google and make this right? They have just done an update and I would rather get this resolved ASAP then to wait for the next one. In the mean time I will amend the robot.txt file and look for word of a Democracy update here.

    By Joe Banner on Sep 18, 2006

  7. Has anyone heard of a similar issue with WP’s “Translator” plug-ins?

    By webgirl on Sep 19, 2006

  8. Joe, I don’t think there is anything we can do right now :/.. Just fix things and wait for the next update. They seem to be fairly monthly now.

    I’m going to have to wait.

    Just fix things the best you can, they will drop out of the google index in time if you tell google to not go there.

    By Matt on Sep 19, 2006

  9. Private betas of Democracy 2.0 have been sent out. Shouldn’t be much time now…Darren, you there?

    By Jalenack on Sep 19, 2006

  10. Andrew, thanks for the update and I’m glad to hear you fixed it.

    I can’t participate in a beta, I just don’t have the time.

    By Darren on Sep 21, 2006

  11. Democracy 2.0 is in public beta.

    By Joe Banner on Sep 23, 2006

  12. I have removed this plugin although it was a pretty good and did the job well. I employed the robots.txt and excluded the anything with poll_id…

    My only problem now is that the old urls are still live.. for example, the following is still a live page

    http://www.tingog.com/technology/an-interview-with-philippine-gamer-mitzie-eusebio.html?jal_no_js=true&poll_id=2

    This isn’t a problem for me, but what if the site has a lot of posts. the “poll” urls are not removed even when the plugin is deactivated.

    I wonder if the robots.txt file will also ward off other robots such as the ones used for msn search and yahoo search bots.

    By Nick on Nov 15, 2006

  13. Nick, add this line to robots.txt “Disallow: /?”

    That tells Googlebot to dissallow any dynamic content (anything with ? in it).

    I did this, and the URLs dropped out of Google a few weeks later.

    By Darren on Nov 16, 2006

  14. Thanks Darren, I put matt’s fix, and suddenly all my indexed pages dropped leaving me with just my main page (tingog.com) as indexed. I think i’ll try your fix.

    I’ll have your blog soon on my blogroll, thank you

    By Nick on Nov 18, 2006

  15. No problem, Nick. The command I gave you is straight from Google.

    Check out this example of my one site and how the site: command looks now.

    It’s very clean.

    By Darren on Nov 19, 2006

  16. Thanks for the info.

    There are a lot of bloggers who are out there like myself who use plug ins to make themselves SEO friendly only to shoot themselves in the foot with something like this.

    By atlanta SEO on Sep 14, 2007

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