WordPress threaded comments and SEO

Today my buddy Sander pointed out that he suddenly had pages showing as noindex,nofollow when he ran a spider across a site. A bit more researching learned us that WordPress automatically adds a noindex, nofollow robots meta tag to each URL that has ?replytocom in it. At first I (wrongly) thought this was new to WordPress 3.5, but it turns out to be the default behavior for quite a while already. All the more reason to tell you about it:

What are these ?replytocom links?

Most blogs these days have threaded commenting enabled, which means that you can reply to every comment by clicking on that comments reply link. This is very neat to keep the conversations together and a feature I deeply love. This feature normally works with javascript, but because of accessibility, there is also a fallback option. If you don’t have javascript enabled, or, if you’re a bot, you’re not capable of handling it, you’ll see links that look as follows:

http://www.example.com/example-post/?replytocom=1

This would force reload the page and give you the option to reply to the comment with ID 1. I absolutely hate that fallback link. On a site like this one, with often over a hundred comments on a post, it means there are 100 links pointing to that same article, causing a lot of crawling that’s totally unneeded. For this reason I added the option in my SEO plugin to remove it, which you’ll find under SEO → Permalinks:

remove replytocom variables option in WordPress SEO

So what does this noindex,nofollow do?

Unfortunately, the robots meta tag WordPress adds essentially makes every URL with
?replytocom in it a dead end street. Because of the nofollow bit of the robots meta tag it adds, if say, Mashable would link to a URL with replytocom in it, my site wouldn’t actually benefit from that link. Doing nothing is much better: the rel="canonical" link element on the page, that points to the clean version, would tell search engines to use that clean version.

This is the reason why, when I found out, I immediately released version 1.3.3 of my WordPress SEO plugin that removes that noindex,nofollow line. I’ve also opened a trac ticket, we’ll see what happens with that. For now, my advice is: upgrade to 1.3.3 and check that remove replytocom variables box, unless you really need the non-javascript version to work.

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39 Responses

  1. Ben MilleareBy Ben Milleare on 12 December, 2012

    Anyone that’s browsing without JS enabled is probably used to bad UX across the web so this is a total no-brainer.

  2. Syed BalkhiBy Syed Balkhi on 12 December, 2012

    Great find Yoast. I just enabled that setting on the site :)

  3. menachemBy menachem on 12 December, 2012

    you amaze me every time, the way you stay on top of so many details.

  4. Fabio RochaBy Fabio Rocha on 12 December, 2012

    Hi, I am with a problem anda maybe u can help here: since I changed my WP theme to Neuro ( http://cyberchimps.com/neuro/ ), all the page and post titles are wrong, repeating the name of the site in the beggining of every title. I tryed to turn on the Overwrite titles option but id doesn´t helped. Any tips? Thanks!

    • Jose ManuelBy Jose Manuel on 6 January, 2013

      Hi, same thing happened to me while using the Warp Framework from YOOtheme. I am not sure it is the same problem, but I fixed it by modifying the head.php file. Try looking for something like

       <?php bloginfo(\'name\'); ?> <?php wp_title(); ?>

      and delete de “name” part. That might fix it.

  5. TJ GreeneBy TJ Greene on 12 December, 2012

    Nice catch! I went and enabled it on the site and I will send an alert out to all of our clients.

  6. OkaztleBy Okaztle on 13 December, 2012

    Thanks for this update! Will definitely upgrade.

  7. Ashlee A.By Ashlee A. on 14 December, 2012

    Sounds like a great way to keeps comments nice and neat as well as a lot more manageable.

  8. Rajesh NamaseBy Rajesh Namase on 15 December, 2012

    You always rocks! Already using that option, I just love your SEO plugin, thanks a lot.

  9. zaveraBy zavera on 16 December, 2012

    This is so much informative, i will upgrade to new version though i am still a bit confussed with replytocom behaviour for non-javascript!

  10. Naziman AzlyeBy Naziman Azlye on 17 December, 2012

    I’m still a bit confused about replytocom but i have check remove ?replytocom variable and update your plugin.

  11. Wayne CochranBy Wayne Cochran on 17 December, 2012

    Thanks Joost! Once again, thoroughly explaining a feature in your plugin that I needed to activate. I am finding a lot of issues with other plugins that aren’t creating nofollows when they really should, although one generates links on my login page that are getting followed. Wondering if I should just no-index my login page…

  12. ConstantinBy Constantin on 18 December, 2012

    I will try your SEO plugin, thanks a lot.
    off topic: What happened to GD Star Rating 2.0 ?

  13. PrashantBy Prashant on 18 December, 2012

    I need to check if this is the case with my websites. Thanks for this update.

  14. JustinBy Justin on 19 December, 2012

    I just switched over from ALL in One SEO to your plugin and I am loving it. I am going to go back to some of my older posts and update the SEO data.

    I just made the switch that you recommended in this post too.

    Take Care. :)

  15. LucyBy Lucy on 22 December, 2012

    Thanks for sharing such an important information. I did not know Word press does this. I have to check my website and will definitely upgrade. Thanks again.

  16. AndrésBy Andrés on 23 December, 2012

    I honestly did not understand and overwhelms me because I have no follow tags fucked for me link building strategy, if there are other related article which extend my information … I thank you.

  17. FidianBy Fidian on 23 December, 2012

    Hi master, I am a beginner blogger, I think the tips that you give very useful, but if the tips above is 100% SEO??? Thank you …

  18. Gautam DoddamaniBy Gautam Doddamani on 23 December, 2012

    i knew about the replytocom links leading to bad seo so i had already blocked those kind of urls in my robots file…additionally you can also use google webmaster tools to exclude replytocom links via the url parameters option!

  19. CliffordBy Clifford on 24 December, 2012

    Why not block all query string URLs with robots.txt (assuming you have pretty permalinks)?

    Disallow: /*?$ # disallow any URL that ends in a ? (more specifically, it will block any URL that begins with your domain name, followed by a string, followed by a ?, with no characters after the ?).
    Disallow: /*? # block any URL that includes a ? (more specifically, it will block any URL that begins with your domain name, followed by any string, followed by a question mark, followed by any string).

  20. Premium CoderBy Premium Coder on 25 December, 2012

    didn\’t understand the thing about ?replytocom in the plugin. so came back here and enabled it.

  21. KobeBy Kobe on 25 December, 2012

    Hello Joost, thanks for the tips but…
    i checked the \”Remove the ?replytocom variables\” and i\’m getting duplicate contents. (Duplicate meta descriptions and title tags-more than 100 urls in each…and counting) see a screenshot here
    What could be causing that? i guess i would have to uncheck it asap, just waiting for your reply on this.
    The second issue is that, google analytics is also causing duplicate contents. check it out in the screenshot. Any quick solution?

  22. RobertBy Robert on 29 December, 2012

    This mistake has always been on my site for a while. I have removed now and thanks to your detailed posts :) I would install Yoast plugin on other sites of mine to prevent them from getting the same error.

  23. John LymanBy John Lyman on 1 January, 2013

    Still somewhat confused about this aspect of the plugin. Can someone shed some light. In creating a post I\’m offered the box \”What is the main keyword or key phrase this page should be found for?\” What should I put in there? Keywords separated by commas or the title of the post?

    Thanks and any help would be extremely helpful

  24. VebhavBy Vebhav on 2 January, 2013

    Dear I\’m using WordPress SEO by Yoast, And its simply amazing.. It helps me alot in Search engine optimisation. I really recommand this plugin. Thanks a lot for this feature :)

  25. JohnsonBy Johnson on 2 January, 2013

    Still a bit confused with replytocom behavior with no javascript. But I will upgrade the plugin anyway. Thanks.

  26. DaranaBy Darana on 2 January, 2013

    Thanks for sharing such an important information :D

  27. JoeBy Joe on 3 January, 2013

    Thank you Joost for pointing this out. I believe there are more effective ways to avoid these type of queries being indexed. You could simply create a robot.txt file.

     User-Agent: Googlebot
    Disallow: /*%
    Disallow: /*&
    Disallow: /*?
    Disallow: /*@
    Disallow: /*=
    Allow: /

    Correct me if I am wrong about this.

  28. Mark LewisBy Mark Lewis on 3 January, 2013

    I haven\’t experienced this yet with my site, but I really believe it has to do with what theme and design your wordpress website is in. Every theme is unique to its developer and will be coded differently, so this may or may not apply to everybody.

    Great post and nice follow up comments here nonetheless.

  29. JerardBy Jerard on 4 January, 2013

    Thanks for the tip, Joost.

  30. MartinBy Martin on 4 January, 2013

    Anyone else noticing that nested comment replies do not work anymore? I can\’t really say if it is caused by this plugin or not but I only installed it for a couple of days and a couple of my readers were pinging me about it.
    I tested it by myself with JS active and could not reply to a specific user either.

  31. WillemBy Willem on 6 January, 2013
  32. Melissa CleaverBy Melissa Cleaver on 8 January, 2013

    I agree, I don’t want to lose nested comments functionality just to get rid of this error. Isn’t there a better way?

  33. seo company pakistanBy seo company pakistan on 8 January, 2013

    Great job Yoast. I just enabled that setting on the site. now i’m ready for jump high ;)

  34. Hector MotaBy Hector Mota on 8 January, 2013

    I found these “Reply to comment” on my web hosting account as NEW urls. I simply deleted them thinking they were some part of spam. In your opinion should I let them be and add them as new urls to my site map or continue to delete them? Thanks for helping us out by pointing these things out by the way.

  35. Mateo EatonBy Mateo Eaton on 10 January, 2013

    I am not familiar with reply to com. I only reply to whatever discussion that I am interested in personal blogs. Maybe I should try this plug-in to see if it will be convenient for me to use. I am aware of noindex and nofollow but I haven’t tried applying it. Thanks for the interesting suggestions, which I could try later on.

  36. SteveBy Steve on 10 January, 2013

    Nice post, I have upgraded. The problem I am having now however is, every 4 days or so my slider links turn to 404 errors. I go into WP and click permalink postname which is already set on and it fixes the issue but just temporarily. Strange issue. Any info would be appreciated.

  37. Hugh GriggBy Hugh Grigg on 11 January, 2013

    Totally agree with Ben Milleare, above – it’s a small minority of web users who don’t have Javascript / have it disabled. The ones that do have probably done so by choice, so they’re going to be expecting UI issues.

    For example, I use the NoScript plugin for Firefox for security, and I totally expect it to break websites until I allow them to run script. So it seems like there’s almost no cost to disabling these replytocom links.

  38. WpXtrmBy WpXtrm on 12 January, 2013

    Great find @Joost…. I just enabled that setting :) Thanks for sharing..