Of Apple, SEO & Why Google Thinks NeXT Is Still Alive


You’d think being head of SEO at Apple would be the easiest job in the world.

You have 1.4 Billion backlinks to work with. You have constantly refreshed content featuring the most desirable products in the world. Your every utterance about even the most arcane business nuance is pored over by the world’s media

(Quick disclaimer: I actually don’t own a single Apple product; I prefer a jolly green humanoid brand.)

Apple's backlink profile on ahrefs.com - jealous Yet?

Apple’s backlink profile on ahrefs.com — jealous yet?

And that’s why, I suspect, Apple doesn’t advertise that it even has a head of SEO.

But hopefully there’s one out there somewhere since I recently stumbled over a technical SEO problem that may sound very familiar to big brands the world over: the “legacy” brand.

Now, you may work somewhere that creates a new brand every other week to target a new audience segment; this is especially common in Pharma, Finance or Food (though it’s not uncommon in less salubrious sectors as well).

New brands mean new domains. New domains mean new headaches for the SEO group. And new brands are also unlikely to ever eclipse the parent brand these days.

So, if you’re trying to build out a new domain for a new brand launch with sky-high expectations for SEO performance from day one, then you know the challenge I’m alluding to here.

But what I found at Apple was the quirky flipside of that issue: the old brand that just won’t go away.

What Does The World’s Greatest CEO Do When He Loses His Job?

He builds a new company in the same sector and tries to eat your lunch with a better product. Step forward Steve Jobs and NeXT.

What happened next (pun intended, sorry) is the stuff of business legend. Steve won – NeXT was eventually bought out by his former employer, Apple, putting him in a position to ultimately become CEO of the company that once ousted him.

NeXT may no longer exist, but its legacy lingers on – in more ways than intended.

Recently, I was doing some research when I came across this:

NeXT.com is Alive!

NeXT.com is Alive!

Yep, NeXT is alive! Rumors of its 2006 demise (a.k.a. acquisition) are exaggerated, it seems.

So, let’s check if those URLs actually resolve.

301 Redirection is In Place

Alas, it appears as though 301 redirects are in place, though I notice a tracking parameter is appended. (In other words, going to next.com 301 redirects you to http://www.apple.com/?cid=oas-us-domains-next.com rather than just http://www.apple.com/.)

Is that URL parameter blocked anywhere? Robots.txt would trigger a snippet change in the SERP, but let’s take a look anyway.

Robots txt is Clean

Nope. How about meta robots?

No Robots Meta Info

Nothing there, either.

Of course, Apple may have used Google’s Webmaster Tools to filter out those parametered URLs and effect an equivalent to a robots exclusion.

So perhaps the 301 is recent and hasn’t taken effect yet. Let’s take a look at archive.org.

What’s happening in March? That’s a 301 redirect. (Note how the link features next.com in the URL, but then it is itself redirected: that’s how archive.org handles redirecting indexed pages.)

January? No redirection there, just Apple content pulled into the next.com domain. Messy. Duplicate content, pulled against one of the strongest domains in the world: that’s not going to work well! Looks like that’s being handled by the nameservers.

But wait a minute — looking at August, I now get a 302:

August 302 in Archive.org

August 302 in Archive.org

Digging into the previous years, I get a similar mix of server responses.

So what’s going on here? Why are we getting indexed pages from a domain apparently obsoleted in the late 90s?

Two reasons.

One: an inconsistent handling of the server migration. Up until earlier this year, NeXT.com was serving content identical to Apple. Then, it would inconsistently either 301 or 302 redirect to apple.com – likely based on server rules applied to both domains.

Two: NeXT.com itself has a healthy backlink profile to this day, encouraging Google to keep it indexed despite the presence of pretty consistent redirects since August this year.

NeXT's Backlink Profile in 2014

NeXT’s Backlink Profile in 2014

The Moral Of This (Christmas SEO) Story

Please take a seat by the imaginary fireside, and let me tell you Santa SEO’s key takeaway from this tale.

Never, ever, leave a URL out in the cold.

301 that poor fellow, and merge him and his lovely bag of backlinks into your main domain this festive time and spare a thought for the poor NeXT.com links that are still out in the wilderness of Google’s index this Yuletide break.

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