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  1. #1
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    Big problem with SAS custom direct category links
    Long story short (I prefer not to go into certain details publicly), the custom link to the merchant's category (made in the SAS interface) I put up is turning up in the search results at MSN Live Search and is going directly to the merchant's page via the SAS URL, instead of to my page, and is returning the cookie information and a 200 server code when checking with an HTTP header checker.

    That has completely messed up my income for that page on my site, since that particular merchant does not convert for me at all, and another merchant on my site converts for that product line constantly - especially for the items on that page. I was wondering what happened when the sales from the other merchant stopped. So no commissions, no Adsense clicks - the searcher never gets to my page and the listing looks LOUSY in the SERPs.

    This is a technical issue; who do I contact, or do I have to just pull all of those custom links off the site indefinitely?

  2. #2
    Outsourced Program Manager paladin's Avatar
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    robots.txt might be able to solve that problem for you

  3. #3
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    I don't redirect , I use the links exactly as provided in the tool, so I don't have to use robots.txt since it isn't a problem on my end.

    The links on my pages are EXACTLY what's provided in the SAS interface for creating custom links to category pages,and they do go through SAS - but it's THAT SAS LINK that shows up indexed, simply because there's a wrong server header being returned by SAS - which is where it's a 200 page found, and then redirects from there to the merchant's site.

    Meantime I've been finding others and am losing the traffic to MY pages which are the ones that should be ranking, and consequently losing sales. The customers never get to see my pages - even with a #2 ranking. That brings the income for the site down to a flat zero.

    It happens with that "make a custom link" tool so unless the AM or merchants are willing to provide category links, which have a different format when created on their end, I'll be pulling every single one of those links, there's no choice if I want to recover in a few months. Or I might just as well dump the site, call it a loss and park the domain and make a few pennies.

  4. #4
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    OK, now I'm finding more and it's killing the site even more. This has NOTHING to do with robots.txt or my pages, why would I want my website excluded in robots.txt from indexing at search engines when that's where traffic comes from?

    I've found even more now! The SAS link verbatim should NOT be getting indexed at MSN/Live as is, it's a problem because of the server headers being returned by the SAS server. A link redirected through a network should return a 302 server header , NOT a "200 Page Found". That's the problem.

    I'm sure Geno will be just tickled pink when I tell him that I'm pulling all the links for two of his programs because the SAS links are messing up my search engine traffic.

    I don't get to give any sales pitch for the products or pre-sell for a merchant when a page comes up in the serps from a dorky looking title and URL and going direct to merchant when it may or may not be the right landing page. It's MY page folks should come to from the search engine if it's ranking for the keyword, so I can help convince them where to buy their stuff.

    It's a technical issue at SAS and it needs to be fixed because it's expensive for us to be losing that traffic.

    We NEED to have visitors come to OUR pages to tell them why to buy the products from a certain merchant. This is not direct to merchant PPC, it's a completely different thing - it's organic search, and these are sales pages that the visitors are not getting to.

    One of these merchants has TON of stuff that's got a USP that I can sell them on for niche products - but I'm not getting the chance to, and it adds up to a big fat $0 for both me and the merchant (and the OPM, and SAS) for those useful products that the people need and they will never know because I won't get a chance to tell them.
    Last edited by webworker; October 31st, 2007 at 05:28 AM.

  5. #5
    Member suniliu's Avatar
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    Hi Marcia
    I am no expert but you could try cloaking the links:

    custom text or image here

    0= no
    1=yes
    set width and height page to open.
    - Sunil

    [SIZE=1]The impossibility of today is a hint of what shall be...[/SIZE]

  6. #6
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    This is the listing that's now #2 for one search phrase, in this order:

    (a)--The title that appears on the search page for the listing
    (b)--The description that appears
    (c)--The URL (numbers substituted by 9's, afftrack substituted by n's)

    (a)--www.shareasale.com
    (b)--Search Phrase Appears Here
    (c)--www.shareasale.com/r.cfm?u=999999&b=99999&m=99999&afftrack=nnnnn&urllink=www.example.com... · Cached page

    suiliu, thank you for taking the time to reply and share the code. JS might work because crawlers won't follow and/or index the links, since they don't parse JS; but will they see the anchor text for the link?

  7. #7
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    Marcia - I know what you're talking about I am seeing this more and more with MSN search. But some of these links aren't custom but the ones straight from the Make A Page tool. It shows exactly like you describe in the MSN search result and the user never sees my website. Not sure what to do about that.

  8. #8
    What's the word? Rhia7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by msladybug
    Marcia - I know what you're talking about I am seeing this more and more with MSN search. But some of these links aren't custom but the ones straight from the Make A Page tool. It shows exactly like you describe in the MSN search result and the user never sees my website. Not sure what to do about that.
    I've noticed that too
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  9. #9
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    In addition to Marcia's header diagnosis, the problem is compounded by the fact that MSN Live seems to be rather severely broken right now (in the way many sites are being indexed, not necessarily all sites). This is being discussed on other webmaster forums and unfortunately, no one sees any public evidence that MS is doing anything to fix it, so this may be a long haul.

  10. #10
    Member suniliu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marcia
    This is the listing that's now #2 for one search phrase, in this order:

    (a)--The title that appears on the search page for the listing
    (b)--The description that appears
    (c)--The URL (numbers substituted by 9's, afftrack substituted by n's)

    (a)--www.shareasale.com
    (b)--Search Phrase Appears Here
    (c)--www.shareasale.com/r.cfm?u=999999&b=99999&m=99999&afftrack=nnnnn&urllink=www.example.com... · Cached page

    suiliu, thank you for taking the time to reply and share the code. JS might work because crawlers won't follow and/or index the links, since they don't parse JS; but will they see the anchor text for the link?

    Marcia, there could be several reasons why this happens, recently I had uploaded a new data text file and had renamed the old file name_old.txt, and dint delete it. few days later in a google search I came accross the old text file listed within the first ten listings, the title showed the first line of the file..the link was the text file link.
    On update I would suggest test each link that they open to the required page. then check again after few days after search engine updates. if you still have the same problem then there could be a script problem...
    - Sunil

    [SIZE=1]The impossibility of today is a hint of what shall be...[/SIZE]

  11. #11
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    Thank you Sunil, the links on the pages all go to the merchant as they should, but it's the "interim" click path that's getting picked up by the search engine's crawler.

    Marcia - I know what you're talking about I am seeing this more and more with MSN search. But some of these links aren't custom but the ones straight from the Make A Page tool. It shows exactly like you describe in the MSN search result and the user never sees my website. Not sure what to do about that.
    msladybug, there's nothing we can do on our end except to pull the links or put scripting on our own sites to handle each and every one of our links differently (hundreds? thousands?) - and then we still can't be sure what MSN will do with it.

    And yes, it's happening with all of them now - not just custom links. I just found a "regular" link to IBS listed that way at MSN. The click registered with SAS tracking, but that's irrelevant - it's OUR pages that should be listed in the SERPs.

    The problem is that MSN isn't handling 302's properly, for one thing. I checked the server header for the IBS link and that's what it returns. Google (and Yahoo) solved it a long time ago, now MSN needs to fix the issue. Not sure how to get word to them on it.

    The other thing is that on the SAS end, the directory or URL that the redirects run through should NOT be crawlable by search engines at all. That's the first thing SAS needs to fix, and could possibly solve the whole thing.

  12. #12
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    Merchant and aff numbers changed to 9999 and 999999:

    http://www.rexswain.com/httpview.html

    (Right click to copy the target URL at the search page, to check headers)
    ---------------------------------------------

    Sending request:

    HEAD /r.cfm?b=41705&u=999999&m=9999&urllink=&afftrack=valgfts HTTP/1.1
    Host: www.shareasale.com
    User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.9) Gecko/20071025 Firefox/2.0.0.9
    Connection: close

    • Finding host IP address...
    • Host IP address = 161.58.191.254
    • Finding TCP protocol...
    • Binding to local socket...
    • Connecting to host...
    • Sending request...
    • Waiting for response...
    ------------------------------------

    HTTP/1.1·302·Moved·Temporarily(CR)(LF)
    Server:·Microsoft-IIS/5.0(CR)(LF)
    Date:·Mon,·05·Nov·2007·17:01:16·GMT(CR)(LF)
    P3P:·policyref="/w3c/p3p.xml",·CP="NON·DSP·COR·CUR·ADMi·TAIi·PSAi·IVAi·OUR·STP·NAV"(CR)(LF)
    Connection:·close(CR)(LF)
    location:·http://www.shareasale.com/notactive.html?999999(CR)(LF)
    Content-Type:·text/html;·charset=UTF-8(CR)(LF)
    ----------------------------------------

    Location 2
    Parameters:
    URL = http://www.shareasale.com/notactive.html?999999
    UAG = Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.9) Gecko/20071025 Firefox/2.0.0.9
    AEN =
    REQ = HEAD ; VER = 1.1 ; FMT = AUTO
    Sending request:

    HEAD /notactive.html?999999 HTTP/1.1
    Host: www.shareasale.com
    User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.9) Gecko/20071025 Firefox/2.0.0.9
    Connection: close

    • Finding host IP address...
    • Host IP address = 161.58.191.254
    • Finding TCP protocol...
    • Binding to local socket...
    • Connecting to host...
    • Sending request...
    • Waiting for response...
    --------------------------------------

    Receiving Header:
    HTTP/1.1·200·OK(CR)(LF)
    Server:·Microsoft-IIS/5.0(CR)(LF)
    P3P:·policyref="/w3c/p3p.xml",·CP="NON·DSP·COR·CUR·ADMi·TAIi·PSAi·IVAi·OUR·STP·NAV"(CR)(LF)
    Connection:·close(CR)(LF)
    Date:·Mon,·05·Nov·2007·17:01:16·GMT(CR)(LF)
    Content-Type:·text/html(CR)(LF)
    Accept-Ranges:·bytes(CR)(LF)
    Last-Modified:·Thu,·09·Oct·2003·20:05:28·GMT(CR)(LF)
    ETag:·"76a428afa08ec31:945"(CR)(LF)
    Content-Length:·1172(CR)(LF)
    (CR)(LF)
    --------------------------------------------

    Notactive? What's that supposed to mean?

  13. #13
    Believe knight01's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marcia
    Notactive? What's that supposed to mean?
    You're getting the notactive page because of this u=999999&m=9999 in the url. There is no such affiliate and no such merchant.
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  14. #14
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    No, Knight01 - that's the exact page that the HTTP header checker got when it followed the REAL link just as it appears at the search engine.

    I only changed it to 999's when I posted here, to obfuscate the real identity.

  15. #15
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    This is a very serious issue. I realize that it's an issue primarily on MSN's end, but they don't need that lost $ - we do!
    Last edited by webworker; November 8th, 2007 at 10:51 AM.

  16. #16
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    This is serious enough so that the site dropped out of the MSN index completely altogether. And it's not the only one- it's the second one, with the same thing happening. It's dead serious, because the sites are both now DEAD for any traffic from them, and they were making the $$ from MSN traffic - both of them..

    It's on the SAS side that any URL that's involved with the affiliate links needs to be barred from indexing by search engines in robots.txt as well as implementing proper server header codes.

    On Apache this could be handled with mod_rewrite or another Apache module to remap and exclude or obfuscate, but IIS is a different beast.

    Those URLs need to be bots excluded completely. It doesn't do anyone any good when sites get banned for technical issues exactly timed when it looks like they're doing sneaky redirect and affiliate URLs getting indexed..

    Time to get more domains and just do MFA sites maybe.

  17. #17
    What's the word? Rhia7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marcia
    It's on the SAS side that any URL that's involved with the affiliate links needs to be barred from indexing by search engines in robots.txt as well as implementing proper server header codes.
    Is there anything the individual webmaster can do to alleviate this problem?
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  18. #18
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    1) Rhia, once a site is out of MSN Search, from all I've seen it's out permanently.

    2) We would have to go through all our pages and cloak/redirect each and every one of the links, exclude the file they're redirecting through from being crawled in robots.txt, and then do some some fancy footwork with mod_rewrite.

    But those links are hijacking our sites, and it can be fixed on the SAS end if they make sure the links don't get crawled.

    http://shareasale.com/robots.txt - 404 not found

    http://www.shareasale.com/robots.txt - 404 not found

  19. #19
    Life is Supposed to be Fun! Rexanne's Avatar
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    Marcia,

    this happens with my SAS links a lot, too. It also happens with other merchant links, not just SAS.

    I have no idea what the tech issues are but if it's knocking my pages out of the search, it's certainly not good. I see some sales from these rogue links in MSN but as you said, I'd much rather have the visitor land on my page.
    Peace,

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  20. #20
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    Marcia -- Did you post the explanation about your situation, and the suggested solution, to the "Things we need to fix... " thread, which is almost always near the top of the main board page? I checked back a couple months but did not see it, so perhaps including it there also may help raise the red flag for SAS admin.

    .

  21. #21
    ABW Ambassador simcat's Avatar
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    Wow, from logs I knew msn did'nt like my sites, but I didn't realize how much until checking again after looking at this thread. Most are banned, unindexed, etc.

    The serps in general seem to have deteriorated even more IMO. Can't even return the proper homepage for this search (instead a SAS redirect).
    http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q...arch&form=QBRE
    added .com, no help.

    I never worried much about MSN, never brought much traffic even on high ranked sites for me...

  22. #22
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    Aphiliac, it's a combination of things. First off, something like this was once happening with GoldenCan, with Google following the JS links - and the solution that I was told at that time was that any URLs that are used for a redirect for affiliate links on the "provider's" site (network, etc). need to be excluded from being crawled in robots.txt So do redirect pages on our sites if we're cloaking/redirecting links need to be excluded.

    Google are very quick to fix anything related to crawling (years of expeirience fighting exploits and spammers - LOL), but with MSN it's a little different story. It's been happening at MSN with some CJ links also - not many, but some; and that may be a different issue, it may be something deliberate.

    They completely re-did and re-launched their search about a month or two ago. I don't recall the URL offhand, but oilman did a big, well-publicized blog post live from the big confab they had at launch time. That seems to be about when this started happening; it wasn't happening before.

    I've made a few attempts, in different ways, to try to get word through, because it's a serious bug, including a very long, very detailed bug report using their feedback form. I don't know if anything got through, but I do know that my links that were fouled up are gone - but so are two of my sites - recently; they lost another one of mine a couple years ago, so I just put up another site. They lose sites if the site is down and the host does a 302 redirect, I've had that happen.

    Unfortunately, it's up to webmasters (and affiliate networks) to protect themselves from the shortcomings, bugs and errors of search engines, because sh!t does happen with them.

    My most recent site that got killed with this problem, no doubt about it, still has 3 pages indexed. So Rhia7, what I've done to see if it'll light a fire under their butts, is put their "Advanced" search box on the index pages of a couple of /subdirectories/ and submitted them.

    The first site to go when this started has only the index page indexed (they do that), and the crawler hasn't been back since Nov. 4th so that's more serious and looks like a ban. And that's the site that was making all the $$ over the summer.

    I never worried much about MSN, never brought much traffic even on high ranked sites for me...
    simcat, it all depends on the particular niche and the demographic being targeted. For some niches (not all), MSN has always been very good, sending very targeted, motivated traffic. Sometimes it isn't so much about how much traffic, but about how targeted that traffic is, what the demographic is, and how much they buy.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by simcat
    Wow, from logs I knew msn did'nt like my sites, but I didn't realize how much until checking again after looking at this thread. Most are banned, unindexed, etc.

    The serps in general seem to have deteriorated even more IMO. Can't even return the proper homepage for this search (instead a SAS redirect).
    http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q...arch&form=QBRE
    added .com, no help.

    I never worried much about MSN, never brought much traffic even on high ranked sites for me...
    Exactly. It ends up with the sites getting dropped altogether, which is not a light matter. It means having to start all over again with a brand new site and domain. If MSN kicks a site out, you can kiss your sweet ass goodbye, the site is done for permanently.

    MSN Live Search has been directly and specifically notified and is definitely aware of this issue, with examples, and it will be worked on by the crawl team. But it'll be too late for repairing the damage that's already been incurred. There's no reason why intermediate tracking URLs should ever be allowed to be crawled, under any circumstances and for any reason. It's a simple matter to exclude them from bots.

    Aside from which, there could potentially be security issues. There are some seriously evil people out there, and they scrape search engine results sniffing for just this kind of exposure.

    If allowing simple PHP includes for plain vanilla, small site navigation to be visible creates holes and is a security risk, according to web hosts and programmers (I have been hacked, and was told that the simple includes used were the hole that allowed the exploit, unless obfuscated) - then just think of the difference in magnitude.

    Replace with any keyword or phrase whatsoever:

    gifts

    personalized

    discount

    outdoor

    Lather, rinse repeat. For every one of those, it's an affiliate link (and/or page and/or site) that's trashed. And those are just single words. It'll happen with any keyword, any keyword phrase. Any link/page that happens to is a goner, and once there are enough of them, there goes the site. Poof!
    Last edited by webworker; December 1st, 2007 at 08:40 PM.

  24. #24
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    I never worried much about MSN, never brought much traffic even on high ranked sites for me...
    MSN Search can be pure gold if you know your demographics.

    I had around $7-8K worth of sales for a SAS merchant within a 60 day period off one page on a site. And a few from a couple of other pages for another SAS merchant. Totally white hat site. And the site is now toast.

    And another site had multiple conversions every month for CJ merchants - also messed up from this, with no time to swap out all the links in time to recover for holiday shopping. Another site is progressively losing pages to my favorite SAS merchant, and there isn't time enough in the day to put PHP redirects on those links, and even that might not work. Merry Christmas, and to all a good night!

    So what do you do if you dump the site(s) and start all over again from scratch with a new one(s)? Wait for the same thing to happen?

    What if it were the only site some person had and they lost it altogether? What should they do? Wait 'til they get (spam, buy, manipulate) 1-2K backlinks for Google traffic, or live in a cardboard box under a bridge?

    All the engines have had problems with 302's and redirected links - all of them, including deliberate hijackings with Google. But it isn't their responsibility to fix all the sites out on the internet; they just do what they can to compensate for all the mess-ups and deficiencies out there.
    Last edited by webworker; December 1st, 2007 at 09:11 PM.

  25. #25
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    All the engines have had problems with 302's and redirected links
    Marcia, I am continually impressed with the depth of your knowledge, but this particular problem goes beyond 302's and redirects. I have 3 sites that are just straight whitehat HTML (no 302s, no redirects) that USED to get tremendous indexing and position from MSN, but since their screwup a few months ago, those sites are down to just 1 page in the index and only a tiny fraction of the traffic. That blow came out of the blue and hit me the same way it hit so many other people -- for NO explainable reason.

    I agree that it's not their responsibility to fix all the sites on the internet, but it's not asking too much for them to fix themself. The crummier a job that they do, the more market share that Google grabs -- at the rate they are going, it won't be long before Ask will seem more important. And I say that with regret, as I had high hopes for MSN in the beginning. Now, I'm not sure what to think about them, other than disappointment at how poorly they are reacting to this current mess.

    .

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