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Movable Type's Comment URL Redirection is the Wrong Solution

Date:  22nd May, 2004


Six Apart added a new feature to Movable Type with their v2.66 release and it's really beginning to annoy and frustrate me.

The growing problem of "comment spam" led to the introduction of URL redirects...

Comment Spam

The reason why spammers post into weblog comments is simple, their aim is to increase the Google PageRank of their website and to increase its ranking for the word(s) used in the link. Many spam comments will therefore contain links like: Buy Cheap Viagra.

Google's indexing software, Googlebot, scans the spammed page and follows the link to the spammer's website, taking note of the link text as it goes. The net result is that the spammer's website boasts one more inbound link (boosting PageRank) and is associated with the words "buy", "cheap" and "viagra".


Movable Type's redirection feature is designed to defeat this. The link is still active and its target is still the spammer's website but, the link itself is routed through a Movable Type "gateway". The gateway hinders Google indexing in three ways:

  • employs "noindex" and "nofollow" indexing exclusion directives
  • has a CGI-type URL - which the Googlebot dislikes
  • eliminates the link's text

The Wrong Solution

I believe Six Apart's solution to this problem is totally wrong and here's why, it is an obstacle for the user!

There are three major failings with this implementation:

The browser's status bar no longer displays the link target. This is a significant degradation in usability. The user can no longer see where a link is going to take him, all he sees is the meaningless and cryptic address of the redirection gateway.

Referrer information is corrupted. As a webmaster, I rely on my referrer logs to keep track of links in to this website. Redirected links diffuse the referrer information considerably - I can no longer easily go to the pages that link to me, all I have is the top-level domain name.

However, these failings pale into insignificance when we look at the next fault, the browser's "back" button is broken! Six Apart have committed one of the deadly sins of anti-usability. As Jakob Nielsen famously wrote, "the 'back' button is the lifeline of the Web user and the second-most used navigation feature (after following hypertext links). Users happily know that they can try anything on the Web and always be saved by a click or two on 'back' to return them to familiar territory."

Now don't misunderstand me, it's commendable that Six Apart have recognised that there is a problem and that they have invested the effort to produce a solution. But, if that solution is flawed, it should be discarded and a better alternative sought.


Many popular websites are built on top of Movable Type. It's a terrible shame that these websites have had such a backward step forced upon them.

I am totally fed up with the failings of the Movable Type's redirection. I hate not being able to identify the target of links, I am sick of having to hammer the "back" button just to get back to where I want to be and I really mourn the loss of useful referrer information in my access logs.

I urge Six Apart to discard this scheme as quickly as possible. There are other ways of preventing comment spam, Jay Allen's MT-Blacklist, Captchas and even subtlety. Try one of those, but please, please, stop acting as a barrier to my web-browsing.