The Dilemma Over Deep Linking

One of our fine Bruce Clay Account Managers forwarded me an article he stumbled across today and it was like a gift from God. How did he know I needed a good laugh today? Our AMs are always so helpful!

The article is from FindLaw and begins by discussing a case involving a woman who was issued a cease and desist order by her police department for doing something really outrageous and crazy – linking to their Web site. Yes, I know, it’s dumb, but that’s not where this story ends. It gets worse.

Further down in the article the author starts talking about deep linking and the issues that it raises. Here are some reasons, according to author Anita Ramasastry, why deep linking can cause problems for Web sites and why it should be avoided:

  • It diverts traffic away from the home page where all the ads are.
  • It confuses visitors who suddenly find themselves “in the middle of a new site”
  • Deep links doesn’t always fall under “fair use” exception of copyright law.

If you hold real still you can probably feel your brain jerking against your skull while it undergoes some sort of fit from the dumb. Don’t worry, it’ll pass soon.

The article gets arguably worse once the author starts citing a number of US court cases where judges have actually agreed with this logic and made judgments in favor of crazy people. Last month there was a case with SFX Motor Sports where an injunction was granted because someone deep linked to some live audio casts of motorcycle racing events. SFX claimed they suffered great financial losses as a result of the link. Before that, Ticketmaster sued because they felt a deep link into their site confused customers who weren’t sure whom they were buying from or where they were.

The whole article is quite troubling on a number of levels. There are three main problems here, as I see them.

  1. People who don’t even know the kingdom exists are being given the keys: I find it somewhat outrageous that folks who obviously have very little understanding of the Internet and how it works are being given a public voice to speak out on it and make decisions. However you feel about our government, a judge is a powerful person in the court of public opinion. How are SEOs and search marketers supposed to educate people when rulings like the two above exist? Imagine it: There you are explaining to your SEO client how it’s okay for people to deep-link into their Web site and to not enter in from your home page and then they throw this reputable-looking ruling in your face. You’ve just found yourself in a 30 minute conversation that you may not even win.

    I know it’s not the search engines job to have their nose in every court case going on in America, but shouldn’t there be someone around to knock sense into people who make uninformed rulings? Or perhaps it’s the court’s responsibility to reach out when they don’t know what the heck they’re talking about? I don’t know, maybe not, but rulings like these just boggle my mind and do a great disservice to the search engine optimization industry, in my opinion. [In the Legal session at this year’s SES San Jose, Eric Goldman said that the real problem is the lawyers who don’t do a good job of educating the judges. If you are in a fracas, make sure your lawyer understands the industry and educates the court. Good advice. –Susan]

  2. People still don’t know how to set up their Web sites: How many cases have we seen now where organizations sue Google simply because the site administrator doesn’t know how to do proper site architecture? And how many of these court cases have we seen actually won? Oy.

    When are people going to start taking responsibility for the sites they create and stop blaming Google because they never took the time to learn about proper site architecture? If you don’t want people linking to certain parts of your Web site, restrict them from being able to do so. It’s that simple. There are plenty of server mechanisms that can be employed to prevent deep linking into areas of a site where you do not want people deep linking. Try using those. It’s cheaper than suing, is more effective, and will prevent you from looking like a colossal uninformed moron to the Internetz. It’s like when your child starts walking and you’d rather them not fall down the stairs so you put up a gate. Install a gate on your Web site.

  3. We still live in a world where the home page is king: Though all the bullet points up top make my brain hurt, it’s the second one that really gets me going. The idea that people are supposed to navigate through your site in some kind of order and the thought that it would even be possible or beneficial is crazy-making. By that logic, Google should only be indexing home pages so that visitors could land on the “right” first page and then traverse through a Web site in some tree-like fashion. Yes, an entire search index with nothing but home pages. How exciting! It’s like a throwback to the days of directories.

    Obviously it’s absurd on a lot of levels. For most people the goal of your Web site is to give users the information they want as quickly as you can in order to push them down the conversion path. Deep linking and getting interior pages indexed aids in this goal. It’s one of the reasons while siloing is so important. You don’t want only your home page to rank. You want those interior landing pages to climb the SERPs because it’s those pages that really answer a user’s query. You want your visitors to enter your site on the page most relevant to your query. And 9 times out of 10, that is not your home page. If you silo your site correctly, users won’t be “confused” when they land inside your site. Instead, they’ll be on the exact page they were looking for.

And that concludes my rant. Until tomorrow when I read about yet another clueless individual suing Google to compensate for their inadequacies as a site owner. Someone get me a cupcake. [Have a cookie. –Susan] Yum yum score!

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (3)
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3 Replies to “The Dilemma Over Deep Linking”

Yeah, why are the defendants in these cases not bringing in industry experts to give advice to the judge or jury?

I remember sitting in a meeting in 1998 where a lawyer offered the “no deep linking” clause for a TOS on our site. It was pretty foolish back then.
The real question is how even a judge could get so confused as to think that what I do on my on site has anything to do with someone else’s. It’s like putting a sign up in your own yard that says “Fred’s House is over there.”
And these are the people that interpret software patents.

I agree with most of this BUT I also think that in the SFX Motor Sports case if they were hosting a live event with adverts and somebody links directly to the audio or video feed without ads then that affects their business and their revenue – something different to linking to a normal web page.


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