Nerdy fun with URLs

February 3rd, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 12 Comments »

Heh, er, so obviously I’m delighted that my grown up humour slipped unnoticed into the Guardian’s Media Monkey today, but “Utter Cock As Usual” was not the web address of the Express’s recent storyDanger from just 7 cups of coffee a day“. It’s just the web address I cheekily gave it on my blog post two weeks ago. I thought this was fairly well known, but for those who haven’t joined in the lolz, the websites of Express and the Telegraph, at least, let you substitute whatever text you want at the end of their web addresses.

For example:

The Daily Mail website, meanwhile, will accept alternative text in a URL to load the page, but then replaces it afterwards.

And you can build a lolz URL for any website you like using ? and +

I trust this information will be put to good use.

I also think it’s interesting that within about one millisecond of the inaccurate story about the dodgy URL appearing in Media Monkey, the Express’s article was taken down, but they were entirely unfazed by my entirely accurate column two weeks ago demonstrating that their news story was, indeed, utter cock as usual. Priorities.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

12 Responses

  1. S said,

    February 3, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    They’ve realised the error of their ways…

    Monkey update: It turns out the unfortunate URL of the story may not have been written in Express Towers after all. As Monkey’s Uncle has written to point out, anyone can add anything they like to URLs and the server still displays the story. So, possibly the work of an Express fan with too much time on their hands … and after too many cups of coffee.

  2. TonyKennick said,

    February 3, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Looks like the Mail have spotted this, your link is now throwing a 404.

  3. Morten said,

    February 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Fun indeed

    You need to add an ‘l’ to the url of the mail.

    Anyway, you can always pull this by adding a # to the url and then your text of choice:

  4. hat_eater said,

    February 3, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Further proof they’ve got the Bad Science page firmly in their sights, while “ignoring” it.

  5. The Biologista said,

    February 3, 2009 at 6:37 pm


    Not quite. It suggests they’re reading Media Monkey but skipping the BS. A shame really.

  6. thepoisongarden said,

    February 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm


    That’s a mistake in the link. Add an ‘l’ at the end and it still works.

  7. monish said,

    February 3, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Looks like they’ve added superflous text to the link to get a good Google ranking, as Google puts high importance on
    the text of the URL.

    As a corollary you could easily google bomb them

  8. Teek said,

    February 4, 2009 at 9:36 am

    🙂 lol indeed…!

  9. plentyofants said,

    February 4, 2009 at 11:44 am

    of course, it’s better when these url changes have an effect on the page too:

  10. HowardW said,

    February 4, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Just to be clear – the text within a URL will only have an influence on Google search rankings for that page when the URL appears as a link somewhere, so Ben’s cheeky-but-accurate “utter cock as usual” link to the article will mean the page is seen as a bit more relevant than it previously was (in relation to the term “utter cock”). However, the link text probably has a slightly greater effect – in Ben’s case, the link text was “Danger from just 7 cups of coffee a day”.

    BUT – these effects are both pretty small, especially if it’s only one link. With many links along these lines, it starts to become useful.

    Googlebombs are pretty much impossible to achieve these days – Google added specific algorithms to deal with them some while back. However, the key is to use minor variations of a phrase in the link text, rather than identical clones of the same text.

    So variations on a theme of “utter cock”, pointing to a specific page, might start to have a useful effect…


  11. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 4, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    See also the viral marketing for Charlie Brooker’s zombie series Dead Set:

    Hint: try putting something like “climax” as your name.

    You used to be able to put in more than one word, of slightly longer length, but I think they noticed and spoilt our fun. Things like “teabag myself” worked very well.


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