Sportslens.com took my bylines and gave them to someone else without changing the content — says it makes them look more trustworthy in Google search rankings.
Mr. SEO wants his links real high.Parody of a song ironically titled “Ironic.”
Took all my posts and changed the byline.
Says it makes his site inspire more trust.
And then watched his integrity,
Turn to dust.
And isn’t it ironic?
Don’t you think?
From 2008-09, I wrote for a site called “Soccerlens” (currently known as “Sportslens”), doing web features, blog posts, informative articles, and live match commentaries. It was a really fun job that allowed me to explore my love for, and deepen my understanding of, the beautiful game.
Essentially, I got paid to write about football/soccer. What could be better?
During my year-plus writing for that site, I amassed an archive of approximately 140 posts. As with many writers, I consider them to be of varying quality. Some were quite good. Others were okay. A few just paid the bills.
But they represented my body of work, and I was proud of my archive. On the whole, I look back at my time with the site with pride and good feelings. I still read some of my old posts from time to time and try to link to them here on my current blog as much as possible.
So I was stunned when I tried to link to my live blog of the 2009 FA Cup Final between Everton and Chelsea recently and found my byline had been replaced by someone else’s. The content is exactly the same. Nothing else has been changed.
I then looked up my other pieces and found that all of my bylines had been changed.
For instance, here’s a snapshot of my live blog from the 2009 UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Barcelona courtesy of Internet Archive compared to the page that’s currently on the site:
Here’s an archived version of my historical look at legendary goalkeepers compared to what’s there now. If you scroll down towards the bottom, it says “text by Victor Li,” so either they forgot to take my name completely off the piece or they didn’t realize it was there.
My former editor at the site sold it a couple of years ago, and told me he didn’t know about what was happening. I emailed several editors at Sportslens and my messages all got bounced back (seems like a red flag — a journalistic outlet that has invalid contact information for several of its editors).
Finally, I emailed people at Sportslens’ parent company, UK-based digital marketing company Finixio, and got an answer. The person who had replaced me on the byline, Charlie Rhodes, was very understanding and referred me to Lee Ashley, the site’s head of news.
Lee, however, told me that they weren’t changing the bylines back. That’s not all he said:
Google’s algorithm has changed with the development of AI. We now need to have authors of all posts with filled out bios, active social media accounts so Google will see us as a trustworthy source. Therefore all bylines were changed to current writers for historical content.Lee Astley email, June 5, 2023
I guess they were happy pulling a Milli Vanilli and taking credit for other people’s work — all for the sake of traffic. Sure, traffic is king on the internet, but the idea that a publication would need to change a byline to credit someone who had no part in the creation or execution of a particular post so that they’ll seem more trustworthy seems like an oxymoron. It’s especially ironic, considering the site’s posted editorial policy says: “Our information is highly accurate and factual, and is reliable, on par with the latest in sports news.” (Emphasis mine)
“Highly accurate and factual” — you know, except when it comes to who actually wrote certain things on the site.
I asked various tech folks who understand this stuff better than I do, and the consensus is that while there might be a slight boost to SEO, it’s not worth the institutional damage a journalistic outlet would experience by doing this. For instance, ALM still has my old stories online with my byline intact. I don’t think they’ve thought about assigning them to someone else. Even switching to a generic “written by staff” byline would have been better than attributing it to someone who didn’t write it.
One person told me that Google is moving towards boosting established experts who have demonstrable experience in specific subjects. However, I would think that taking posts an author didn’t write and artificially inflating their total to make them seem more knowledgeable and experienced than they are is not sustainable in the long-run. Certainly, it’s something Google would probably address if more sites start doing this as a way to trick or game the algorithm.
But I guess Sportslens has decided that a bump in traffic is worth any potential harm to its credibility. It’s too bad. I used to be proud to have written for that site. Not anymore.
Then again, it’s not like I have much of a presence at that site these days. I guess I’ll have to rejoin the staff if I want to get my bylines back. Who know? Maybe I’ll also pick up thousands of others that don’t belong to me.