Skip to content

Unavailable-After the Dirty Bastards are Gone

Last week Google revealed a new meta tag called “unavailable_after“. It provides webmasters with a means of telling Google in advance that a page of content will become irrelevant after some future date. When Google acknowledges unavailable_after, it schedules a removal of the page from the search results. The page is still indexed, according to Google, but it won’t be shown in any search results.

I haven’t deployed the unavailable_after robots meta tag yet, so I can’t test if a &filter=0 will reveal it or not in the SERPs, but I look forward to seeing if that will be the case.

I think everyone should take mental notes of how easily Google can cause a page to not appear in the SERPs, even though it is published and indexed. A simple flag and it’s gone. Lest you wondered how hard penalizing pages was over at the ‘plex.

Anyway there has been much debate about unavailable_after, and I am not referring to the seo attention whores arguing about who blogged the story first or who didn’t give whom credit for the reference. I’m talking about legitimate practical, competitive webmasters thinking out loud about what this meta tag might be good for, if anything.

Well, some time ago I wrote that to be competitive, you have to think like a Dirty Bastard. Well, I just heard from a Dirty Bastard SEO and he has a use for the unavailable_after meta tag. He uses it to screw his (former) clients.

He sets unavailable_after to read in a date via a dynamic script, from a central flag stored on the server. Each month he updates that central date flag to track his client’s account status. As soon as his client has ceased to maintain on his month-to-month SEO extortion program, the unavailable_after meta tag ceases to maintain, and becomes and expiration trigger for the web pages in the Google SERPs. Stop the SEO maintenance? You lose your traffic. Plain and simple.

Evil, yes? According to this Dirty bastard, if the client doesn’t know any better, they deserve to be removed from the SERPs. He says it was his service that put them into the SERPs, so it’s ok that a lack of his service will remove them from the SERP. They are free to get back in; no one’s stopping them. He feels he doesn’t do any harm, he just stops delivering the services he was being paid to deliver, because they stopped paying.

Wow. Attention SEO consultants – beware the unavailable_after meta tag. It’s the new “disallow /”, the new very-first-thing-to-check when doing an SEO site audit.


  1. IncrediBILL wrote:

    That Dirty Bastard should probably reconsider as programmers that once-upon-a-time did similar tricks with time bombs in software that failed after their services were discontinued got sued into oblivion.

    You can’t intentionally inflict serious damage on someone’s business and not expect to lose your house.

    Thursday, August 2, 2007 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  2. Todd Mintz wrote:

    Of course, it would be hard to find a court that would understand this concept and know how to award damages against a rouge SEO who did this…

    Thursday, August 2, 2007 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  3. Cal Evans wrote:


    I was going to say the same thing. I remember when this was a big issue in the mid ’80s-early ’90s. IIRC a Judge in NY set the precedent that time bombs like these are illegal.

    @Jon, thanks for this article. I had no idea that metatag existed. When used as designed, I can see that it would be a great asset.


    Thursday, August 2, 2007 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  4. Once again another thing tho be used as a weapon. I think this will only bring harm. another thing you could do is to create a domain name have it forwarded to their site as a 301 redirect, then build all your links to the domain you bought. then in time if you want to talk to another site about ranking you simple redirect the domain to the other site. thus giving all you links to the other site. These kind of things are not nice things to do. I would not do anything like this to somebody but I’ve heard of this being done before. this tag can be useful if used the way it was build for!

    Thursday, August 2, 2007 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
  5. SEOidiot wrote:

    I wouldnt really have much of a problem with that as a tactic – i may or may not have done similar link based things with clients in the past – if they didnt pay their bills then they became a node in my network

    Friday, August 3, 2007 at 6:14 am | Permalink
  6. Steaprok wrote:

    I agree , f’d up, but so genius in its simplicity! Nice

    Friday, August 3, 2007 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  7. ElDiablo wrote:

    Amazing that SEOIdiot admits to [unsubstantiated allegation edited]….

    And Todd your post is so off target its not funny…build all links to one site and then link that to a client…..

    I wish I had more competitors that thought that tactic would work,,,,unfortunately you forgot Google would see the links to your clients site, coming from the one website you bought, and give it a whopping PR1….

    More please…lol

    John Andrews comments: Eldiablo I’ll let Todd speak for himself if he sees this, but I understood the tactic to be a traffic tactic, not a PR tactic. The client sees traffic from the SEO efforts, which goes to another destination once the DirtyBastard is no longer being paid. Still done with framing FWIS.

    Friday, August 3, 2007 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  8. Jill wrote:

    Amazing how sleazy the human race is :(

    Sunday, August 5, 2007 at 8:22 am | Permalink
  9. It’s ideas like these that make people want to rush right out and hire an SEO :)

    Wednesday, August 8, 2007 at 5:47 am | Permalink
  10. TallTroll wrote:

    The day that either

    a) Google unveil the Rapid Reaction Spam Airborne Assault Division

    or b) a court of law makes SE performance a legal asset;

    … I’ll allow that possibly their opinions carry some actual weight.

    >> should probably reconsider as programmers that once-upon-a-time did similar tricks with time bombs in software that failed

    Different entirely though. Software is a product, whose performance can be measured, and whose code can even be legally protected under copyright. How, exactly, do you propose to shoehorn SE rankings under current IP law? If you blow up software, of course there are consequences, it’s tantamount to property (and Anglo-Saxon derived law is HOT on that subject)

    But traffic? People floating about in the Tubes of the Interwebs? Who the hell owns them?

    Besides, Google is a publically held, for-profit corporation, who supply various search related services. They can choose for any reason or for none to include you, or not, in their index. The second you try to apply any artificial notion of “fairness” to it (“Boo-hoo, that unavailable_after killed my site, it not FAIR”) it breaks. You either have to nationalise Google, and make them a publically owned utility, or take the kicks – pick one

    >> He says it was his service that put them into the SERPs, so it’s ok that a lack of his service will remove them from the SERP

    That is, in my opinion, an overly cynical way to look at it, but OTOH, how many eager SEOs have had a client drop them / refuse to pay / otherwise stitch them up? There are Dirty Clients too you know, neither side is innocent.

    The WWW is free… actually, really free. That means you are free to get cheated, as well as the other good stuff

    Monday, August 13, 2007 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. Tuf's on Saturday, August 4, 2007 at 9:12 am

    Référencement & Extorsion…

    “unavailable_after” est une nouvelle meta que le Google a annoncé sur son Blog très récemment. Voici sa syntaxe :

    Si vous ajoutez sur une page ce code, la……