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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