The Australian Financial Review and SEO

You would have thought that inaction would be the top SEO sin, but apparently not – just have a look at what the Australian Financial Review has done.

Chris Thomas

By Chris Thomas

I took a few SEO pot-shots at the Commonwealth Bank last year. Now is the Australian Financial Review’s turn.

One of the guys here at work (Anthony) visited The Australian Financial Review website. Anthony was reading one of their articles and, as is his want, was highlighting the page copy as he was reading.

He noticed the page text was “switching out” every second character. It’s probably best explained with some screenshots (I love screen shots). Here’s the normal version of the site.


Australian Financial Review bad SEO 1



The next screen shot shows what happens if you swipe the text (to try and copy it):

Australian Financial Review bad SEO 2


Try it yourself by reading some of their content here (open one of the stories to see it in action).

This is a html form of digital rights management. For the more technically minded, basically what AFR has done is use two floating div tags each containing every second character, which, when overlaid, make the text read normally. It’s only when you swipe the text that the system comes into play, because you’re just swiping one layer.

It potentially creates a strain on your server as it’s working hard putting the whole thing together each time a page is called. It could also send your bandwidth through the roof!

It certainly has its SEO cons, so let’s go through the implications if you decide to protect your content with this system.


1. It’s a SEO catastrophe

If we take a sneak peak at the source code, there’s no way a search engine’s going to index this page effectively.


Here’s an example of the source code (I really don’t think Google will like this…):
Australian Financial Review bad SEO 3


Of course, all this fuss and bother is to try and stop people stealing content and (I imagine) posting it on their own website. But I think having your web page content rank highly on search engines is much more important than worrying about a bunch of plagiarising low-lifes.

Other large online newspapers haven’t felt the need use an AFR system of content protection. And I’m glad the fine people at don’t either!

And when it comes to web rankings, I think AFR needs to understand how Google handles duplicate content. Google gives first “dibs” to the web page where the Googlebot first found unique content and ignores any other page with the same or highly similar content.

So even if someone stole AFR’s content, their page would never rank for it because (presumably) Google’s robots would have already found and indexed AFR’s content first.

To make sure your content gets indexed first, set up an xml sitemap in Google webmaster tools, and make sure that when you publish something new, Google knows about it seconds after it’s gone live.

Besides… it’s easy to steal content. Ever heard of a “screengrab”? (see above!).


2. This is an accessibility disaster. Not everyone online can see.

Beth (a colleague) also chipped in… What happens when someone with a screen reader comes through? They get this:

A s r l a n N w e l n B n i g r u f u m x d h m r e b f r C r s m s i h s r t g p e e t t o p o l i i g h t h b n ‘s s a b s n s w u d r w o 0 e c n o p o i s n i e e r . F o 7 e c n t d y. e t e e a n m j r c u s t o o t e o i o a d o e x s i g u i e s s o l e e b s l .


Finally, one of our clever developers spent 10 minutes successfully creating a script that renders the whole AFR digital rights “thing” useless.

Sorry, we won’t be offering that for download!



Chris Thomas heads Reseo a search engine optimisation company which specialises in setting up and maintaining Google AdWords campaigns, Affiliate Programs and Search Engine Optimisation campaigns for a range of corporate clients.

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Belinda writes: The AFR’s entire attempt at protecting its IP is laughable. Media monitoring services aren’t allowed to clip whole articles, nor can anyone reproduce their articles, even by purchasing copyright. It is the only news outlet to do this, and it makes it appear secretive, mean and out of touch with the openness of the internet. How are they supposed to set their journalists up as leading commentators, when they can’t be found or referenced online? It is ridiculous.

Barry Smyth writes: Good post Chris. I wonder if anyone at AFR bothered to look at the accessibility rulings with W3C when pursuing this absurd idea. Didn’t SOCOG get sued over a similar issue back in 1998 due to a blind reader not being able to access the Sydney Olympics site?

Peter Crowe writes: If you believe the gossip, Fairfax will be changing this policy – not because of the atrocious SEO and usability implications but because few people are paying to access the AFR’s content online.



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