What’s in a URL name? Apparently a potential way to increase click throughs.

When posting on Facebook, several content mills use multiple domains for the same article. Regardless of the URL structure, these domains then reroute to the publisher’s website. The publishers who use this tactic claim they are A/B testing URL names. But most sources suggested that URL names have no effect on user engagement and that using multiple domains can come off like an algorithm trick.

“Unless a Facebook representative has explicitly told you that this an A/B or a different URL is OK, I would be very careful,” said Marc Goldberg, CEO of measurement firm Trust Metrics. “Because they will treat you as a spammer even if you have good intentions.”

Publishers such as Providr, Diply and Rumorly push multiple domains through Facebook that redirect users to their website. For example, Providr published an article about a mother who murdered her young son, but many Facebook posts related to the article initially sent users to domains such as www.providr-news.com and www.providr-now.com rather than sending them directly to www.providr.com. But regardless of which domain users are initially sent to, the javascript reroutes everyone to www.providr.com.

The left photo below shows a user being rerouted through www.provider-now.com while the right photo shows the reroute occurring through www.provider-news.com.

providr-nowprovidr-news

“It seems like they noticed their reach get substantially diminished in the newsfeed under their company’s original URLs, so they came up with these redirects to trick Facebook into thinking it’s another site that hasn’t been reduced in visibility,” a publishing exec requesting anonymity told Digiday. “They also use this method to post their content multiple times on multiple pages with Facebook aggregating them into one update in the news feed. Since they are all on fake URLs, Facebook thinks each one is a distinct company, and dedicates individual newsfeed updates.”

Providr CEO Gary Lipovetsky denied that the alternative domain tactic is used to game Facebook’s algorithm. He said that Facebook told his company that as long as the domains aren’t misleading to users and the Providr brand is related to the domains, then the tactic would not violate Facebook policy. Facebook declined an interview request for this story.

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“This is not something we are trying to hide from Facebook,” he said. “There is no intention to manipulate anything.”

Providr can easily push multiple domains for the same article because it works with other Facebook pages to share its links. This allows the company to choose which domains a particular page will share. Lipovetsky confirmed that Providr has agreements with celebrity pages, but he declined to share names or financial terms. A quick browse shows that celebrities such as Katt Williams and Marlon Wayans push Providr links, which isn’t an uncommon tactic among Facebook-thirsty publishers.

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Lipovetsky said that Providr is using multiple domains because it is doing A/B testing to see if adding a descriptive words such as “news” or “report” into the url will affect click-through rates. The company has tested this tactic for about three weeks with inconclusive results, he said.

Although the A/B testing rationale sounds sensible, multiple sources told Digiday that users are indifferent to url names and that A/B testing them would be a futile exercise.

But to Providr’s credit, as far as content mills using false domains goes, its posts are the most transparent. Diply has used more obscure words in its redirects, like www.diply-smize.com, and it also sends people to both www.diply.com and www.diply.net. Bestcelebshots.com sends users to Rumorly.com, which for all intents and purposes, looks like the exact same website. If you click on the post below, you’ll notice the rapper Nelly redirecting people to another site as he shills for “Baywatch” bods.

Mark Westlake, CEO of Gearbrain, said it’s theoretically possible that using multiple domains for the same article could make it easier to measure where traffic came from. Although this practice is frowned upon in search advertising where duplicative content is often penalized, social platforms don’t have the same level of regulation, so websites like Providr, Diply and Rumorly aren’t necessarily running afoul of existing rules, he said.

But Westlake also noted that due to the spammy nature of content mills, advertisers will be skeptical that url restructuring is anything more an attempt to sneak by platform algorithms. He said: “There is nothing that surprises me with these guys. … All of them are trying to trick the system into getting users to click on stuff.”

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