Greedy BBC Blocks External Links

  • 0
  • November 1, 2008

In an outrageous act of selfishness and greed the BBC has decided to stop giving real links to the websites featured in the “Related Internet Links” section on the right hand side of each news story.

Links from the BBC have, historically, been some of the most important links that a website can get and there can be no doubt that Google rates the BBC as one of the most trusted sites on the web.

The links used to be direct links but they are now passing through two redirect scripts using a 302 redirect which is highly unlikely to pass any PageRank.

The link takes the format below:

If your referrer is then you are taken directly to the site but if not then you are taken to this page:

The second page has a clean link but probably won’t pass any weight because anybody can create it like I did above. It has a meta redirect to the destination site.

Googlebot doesn’t send referrer information so it won’t be sent directly to the target site on the first redirect, it ends up at the interstitial page (which is already getting indexed in Google) and has to follow another link to get to the destination.

I can’t understand why the BBC would want to do this. They could track clicks on the links easily without using a redirect and all the links are editorially granted so there is no risk of them linking to a spam site by accident. Perhaps

The only piece of good news in this is that the changes have yet to be applied to existing news stories so if you already have a link from the BBC it still counts – for now.

How is Google supposed to run a link based algorithm if the most trusted sites stop linking to anybody?

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

  • vipey

    Yeh thats a shame
    Some of the football bloggers on the beeb are very good at linking out so hopefully this will remain as one of my football blogs has some nice links from BBC.

  • Patrick Altoft

    The blogs links will probably be OK but they don’t pass the same weight.

  • Zath

    You’ve got to wonder why they’re doing this, surely they aren’t leaking that much linkjuice? 😉

    I wonder if the other top sites on the Internet will start limiting links to other sites, like you say, it’s not gonna do Google’s ranking much good.

  • Keith Collantine

    What a pity. I wonder if Google can and might alter its algorithm to counteract this sort of thing?

  • Hobo

    Nice spot

  • Patrick Altoft

    Keith in theory Google could still count the links if they went through a simple 302 redirect. However because the BBC is looking at referer information and sending Googlebot to another page with a meta redirect they have made it impossible for the links to be counted.

  • Matboo

    bbc sucks, always has done always will. Jonathan ross is on an £18 million deal over 3 years, tax payers money, hes overpaid ! more than footballers

    its sick hes earning more than an average family would earn within several generations

  • Craig McGinty

    Failure to provide proper links to websites is one of the things that really annoys me about the BBC.

    Only recently they featured video content from a respectable site in their lead story across the whole site, wrote the actual website address in the piece but didn’t provide a link.

    And even though I read this yesterday I can’t see things changing:

  • Will –

    I remember when the beeb was forced to add those links in the first place, as people were (rightly) complaining that their position as a state funded body meant they didn’t have the same budget constraints as commercial organisations online and they were crushing the viability out of certain online segments (such as local news).

    Frankly, it’s very poor that they’ve now changed the links to not pass juice. We haven’t had a link of the beeb, so I’ve no vested interest here. I just think it’s really poor and another example of nofollow and nojuice on links making the world of seo harder and harder. For commercial organisations, you can understand it. From the bbc, there’s no real excuse..

  • Rob Lewis

    Damn I’d been hoping to get one of those in the future as I thought it would be great link juice.

  • Charles

    This is just crazy. You should try and get hold of someone at the BBC and ask them to justify it. We pay their wages, afterall.

  • Wayne Smallman

    To be honest, I’m really not surprised by this, even for an institution like the BBC.

    There’s just no need to do this, but given the blogging community is pretty strong, I have a suggestion: if the BBC do roll this strategy out across their whole network of web properties, why don’t we all stop linking to them?

    I’m sure we could muster some community backing and starve them of link equity until they change their policy…

  • Darren Waters

    Hi, i’m the tech editor at BBC News website. I’ll pass this on…

  • Darren Waters

    Oh – and saying we’re greedy isn’t a great way to encourage change! Just a tip!

  • Patrick Altoft

    Hi Darren, appreciate the comment.

    In my experience the main reason other mainstream media websites have stopped linking is they don’t want to pass link weight to other sites. They expect to get links but are not prepared to give links in return.

    In fact the more links you give the more you get.

    My comment about the BBC being greedy is obviously over the top, I was being sensationalist to attract attention to the issue in the hope it might be fixed. :-)

  • Will –

    The link is interesting. It could mean that the change has happened not to stop passing link value, but to allow measurement of clicks. Whereas, of course, the link juice is just as valuable. Babies and bath water scenario, perhaps.

    Cool that beeb dropped by. Power to the people and all that.

  • Dio

    Having worked at BBC online for many years, it’s fair to say the when it comes to these sort of concerns, their actions aren’t purposeful, the people in charge just don’t have a clue about the importance of linking out properly. Yes they were told to link out more, and to prove they’re doing this is why they have these redirect scripts to log how many clicks they’re sending to external links. It’s been the same on the content side of the BBC for years.

    There are so many fingers in the pie when it comes to the organisation of the online BBC, the mistake you’re making is thinking that they think and act like a single SEO working on a massive site. It’s not the case, things like link juice, ranking, page rank sculpting or any of the stuff someone like Patrick would concern himself with is not on the agenda at BBCi. You just have to look at the way the whole of the millions of pages of great content in the various forums are kept out of the search engines with an ill conceived meta no-follow to see that they really don’t have a clue.

    In the five years I worked in online, the only SEO advice given was to use a good meta title and keywords. I say told, it was more of a suggestion than anything. We didn’t even use H tags until someone decided the sites needed to be more xhtml compliant. Up until then we were told to do headlines with bold tags. I didn’t work in news, this was the proper content sections, and if we didn’t have a clue, I can guarantee you the under pressure news people had even less of one.

  • Paul Bradshaw

    More likely to be stupidity and laziness than genuine greed. I’m curious though whether this redirect will also prevent the people linked to from knowing where the traffic is coming from – potentially denying the BBC further inbound links?

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  • Patrick Altoft

    They will know the traffic is coming from the BBC, it shouldn’t block the referer details at all.

  • Martin Belam

    The BBC website has been the subject of two reviews by the British government over the last five or so years. The first one criticised them heavily for not linking out enough. They therefore put in a system that allowed them to measure how many downstream clicks there were . The most recent report was specifically critical of the number of click-throughs:

    “We are disappointed to see that’s linking is not leading to more click-throughs. While BBC management’s submission to this review states that there were 6.7 million click-throughs to external sites in July 2007, this is a global figure, with 4.6 million click throughs originated in the UK”

    The recent that re-direct is there is entirely about measuring traffic in order to produce charts to show to the top management, and nothing about the wider web eco-system. You are what you measure – the BBC Trust isn’t interested in the BBC passing on PageRank, just in passing on traffic.

  • Patrick Altoft

    Martin surely if they can build something as good as iPlayer they can build a system of tracking clicks on links using AJAX, JavaScript and the onclick command? That way they pass PageRank and track clicks at the same time.

  • Martin Belam

    True Patrick – but nobody is measuring them for passing on PageRank. That is why they spent a lot of money on iPlayer, but the /go/ redirect links are done with a quick bit of mod_perl and Apache with no thought to search engine impact. Have a search on Google for and you’ll the see the system also causes them to have loads of content with duplicate URLs in Google and fritter away their own internal link juice. Not only that, but the fact that the links get indexed with the /go/ redirect component in Google means they are not even getting accurate click-through figures.

  • Andy Mabbett

    Well, it’s an improvement on the previous, dire, method, much derided on their blog, but I am still concerned about the accessibility implications, so have raised a thread in the issue on Accessify Forums.

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  • Martin Belam

    Patrick – isn’t there a small irony in the fact that you apply ‘nofollow’ to all the external links and user URLs in the comments on Blogstorm 😉

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  • teddy

    *cough* hypocrite *cough*

  • Patrick Altoft

    Teddy what is hypocritical about this? I use nofollow because the urls added in the comments are not editorially granted by me – most of them I’ve never even visited so why would I give a real link to them?

    The BBC links are useful links given by editors who think that readers might link them. This layer of editorial choice means nofollow isn’t required.

  • MJ Ray

    Can anyone remind me why the BBC website contains anything other than news and programme/station info? Most of the rest looks like duplicating other broadcasters but funded by obligatory payments collected by TV Licensing non-halloween ghouls.

    Time for a “We paid the BBC £110 million for this website last year and all we got was this lousy interstitial link page” t-shirt at their next web event?

  • swags2804

    “Oh – and saying we’re greedy isn’t a great way to encourage change! Just a tip!”

    @Darren Waters: Nice to see the arrogance of a publicly funded institution is alive and well.

    The fact that we’re the ones paying for the BBC leaves your company open to being called out by us, the public, when and where we see fit. If one of your actions is perceived as being ‘greedy’, then we’re well within our rights to say. This should have no bearing on whether a change is made or not.

    You are – and will remain so long as there is a license fee – answerable to the public.

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  • GP

    Swags, you’re reading a little too much into that comment me thinks. At least Darren’s a man of his word.

  • rishil

    The problem with big institutions such as the Beeb, very often accountability internally takes precedence over any other observations – however its surprising that their SEO team wouldnt have considered the fact that many bloggers and sit owners would be unhappy with the development.

    As Patrick rightly points out, tracking could have been implemented without affecting link juice movement.

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  • malcolm coles

    They aren’t the only ones. Earlier this year I started a list of sites with annoying external link policies. But as it ended up being all mainstream UK news sites, I gave up on it fairly quickly!

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  • Michael McGimpsey

    Mainstream media just does not understand the internet. This is just another example.

  • Malcolm Slade

    I wonder how this will affect current ranking algorithms. Personally when explaining Trust Rank etc. I always discuss potential seeds and why the BBC would be a good choice. I guess it’s time to update those slides.

  • Chris Lake

    Great analysis Patrick, and you’re right to flag it up.

    Whatever happened to the BBC’s in-text links scheme? It was announced as a trial but I have yet to see it on any page I visit, apart from the one it provided as an example of the programme in action, via–text-links.html

    I mean, none of this, done in the usual manner, would remotely hurt the Beeb would it?

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  • John Lilburne

    I think it’s terrible that the BBC won’t use licence payers’ money to enhance your business. String ’em up, it’s the only language they understand.

  • Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet Blog)

    John O’Donovan has now blogged about this here on the BBC Internet blog:

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • MJ Ray

    So it’s a mixture of history and stupidity that produces the BBC-hoards-all-the-SEO-points-it-can effect? But who cares? Why not fix it instead of excusing it?

    Heck, the BBC can’t even run blog comments any more, requiring licence fee payers to register their email address, date of birth, first school, before telling them “Unfortunately, we have a technical problem Please come back later. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

  • Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet Blog)

    If you read John’s post MJ you will see we are fixing it.

    As for blogs hopefully most of the bugs in them were fixed in the upgrade in April. See this:

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • MJ Ray

    Maybe I missed it, but John’s post doesn’t seem to describe a working accessible fix, with comments about Javascript and so on. The obvious way of using it would seem to defeat the original aim of click-tracking, so I thought I misunderstood what’s going to happen.

    The blog upgrade post was dated in April. I saw that obnoxious email, date, first school and oops “technical problem” problem yesterday (I tried registering yesterday, to make sure the problem hadn’t been fixed yet). I’m guessing that the BBC site expects Internet Explorer with very low security and privacy settings, but doesn’t document its requirements.

  • Martin Belam

    MJ Ray – the BBC’s browser support standards are published on the site. It is very unlikely that they would put up a form that only worked in IE – more likely it would have been a server-side problem at their end.

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  • MJ Ray

    Martin Belam – that BBC’s browser support standards link says “This site is no longer being updated” so I’m not sure if that’s current. The Future Media Standards link very slowly served me a page that looked like a bit of a mess, with lines crashing into each other and so on, so maybe they’re not ready yet. I finished writing this comment while waiting for the next FMS page to load.

    The link given is depressingly browser-centric instead of based on vendor-independent standards. It’s the equivalent of saying “you will buy a TV receiver from X, Y or Z” instead of “we’re broadcasting 625-line PAL … ” and so on. But then, the BBC has been telling iPlayer viewers to use Adobe, Apple, … products and even “ordinary” TV is no longer safe: as part of freeview and freesat, the BBC have been getting very near doing that (instead of saying they broadcast in DVB-S with MHEG and so on…) so maybe this is all part of a wider capture of the BBC by vendors.

  • Martin Belam

    My bad with the link – the up-to-date version is here. Not sure what browser rendering issues there are with it – worked fine for me on FF2 on a Mac.

    The link given is depressingly browser-centric instead of based on vendor-independent standards.

    I’m fairly unsure how you could list which browsers you supported, without being browser-centric. I suppose the BBC could say we produce exactly standards complaint code, and if it doesn’t work for the majority of our audience who use ‘vendor’ supplied browsers, then tough cookies, but that doesn’t really support universal access, does it?

    I’m interested that you think the BBC has been so ‘captured’ by vendors. I wondered if you could point to another public body in the UK that openly publishes their ‘vendor’ driven browser support guidelines AND their CCS standards, semantic mark-up and approach to XHTML ingerity?

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  • MJ Ray

    Rendering fine now on FF3(equiv) on Linux. Might have been related to the BBC site going slow then timing out when I last looked.

    I suppose the BBC could say we produce exactly standards complaint code, and if it doesn’t work for the majority of our audience who use ‘vendor’ supplied browsers, then tough cookies, but that doesn’t really support universal access, does it?

    Yes, it would! (ITYM compliant) Would anyone argue against the BBC saying we produce standards compliant broadcasts and if that doesn’t work for a minority of our audience, then you need to get your TV fixed?

    I wrote that the BBC may be being captured, in a wider way than just browsers. Feel free to argue either way – at this point, I don’t understand which takes precedence: their XHTML and CSS standards, or their browser support standard.

  • Wayne Stallwood

    Well actually I would like to thank the BBC for disregarding users of platforms other than Windows. Without their lack of support the momentum behind projects such as get_iplayer would not be as great and I wouldn’t have the ability to download content (that my licence fee paid for) and watch it when I want and not within some silly expiry window. Did you know that you can even set up get_iplayer as a sort of retrospective PVR does the “official” BBC Windows only software support that ?

  • Ian Betteridge

    “You are – and will remain so long as there is a license fee – answerable to the public.”

    Being answerable doesn’t give the public a right to abuse you and accuse you of anything you like.

    Try and remember that people who work for the BBC are people like everyone else. What’s more, the kind of people who will respond to you are trying to engage with you on a human level. Coming across like you’re accusing them of something isn’t like to encourage engagement.

  • Wayne Stallwood

    “Being answerable doesn’t give the public a right to abuse you and accuse you of anything you like.”

    No we can’t go around throwing random accusations and certainly there is no right for anyone to be abusive to the many good people working for the BBC, but when you are funded by an enforced payment the public have the right to question your actions in much the same way as they would a political party or the police.

    There is no opt out here, if I don’t like how the BBC behave I can’t watch someone else’s content and not pay the BBC, well not over conventional broadcast standards anyway. In fact not paying them when you don’t even have a TV can be quite difficult.

  • Lee


    Teddy what is hypocritical about this? I use nofollow because the urls added in the comments are not editorially granted by me – most of them I’ve never even visited so why would I give a real link to them?

    The BBC links are useful links given by editors who think that readers might link them. This layer of editorial choice means nofollow isn’t required.”

    In what way is this different to the nofollow on your Gravatar link? It looks like the same principals, only on a different scale.

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  • qaq

    Crikey, this this a real deal. I got here because I couldn’t get my links previously found on the BBC programmes synopsis page.

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