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BMW given Google ‘death penalty’

BBC NEWS – BMW given Google ‘death penalty’ This story has been making the rounds of SEO/SEM forums and newsletters for the past couple of days, since Matt Cutts posted about it in his SEO blog on February 4th. At first there was little international press (and none in the US) on the issue, but the BBC story has started a landslide of news and commentary on search engine spam by major corporations. It is also likely to brand SEO’s universally as bad guy Black Hat SEO’s and ignore the good guy White Hats. Legitimate techniques and resulting ranking improvements rarely gain the attention given the bad guys.

I’ve reported major Fortune 500 corporations for spamming through the Google spam reporting link a half dozen times over the past year and am happy to see actions being taken against the worst offenders.

BMW Germany targeting the term “Used Cars” on it’s new car site using javascript redirects is a blatant abuse of doorway pages and cloaking for inappropriate search phrases.

Cutts shows screen captures of the BMW offense, but mentions only peripherally that would be banned as well, then sends a direct message to a separate US automaker at the end of his spamming post, telling them that they’ll be re-included following a 30 day ban for similar offenses they’ve apparently cleaned up from their European site.

Search engine spamming is certainly not limited to Europe, although one of my complaints to the Google spam reporting link is for a European company site, which 5 months after reporting, STILL ranks #1 for a highly competitive phrase in US results by using different search engine spamming techniques employing invisible code full of links, H1 tags and keyword phrases which are intended for surfers with javascript turned off – the < noscript> tag. Search engines see this invisible text, while surfers don’t as it is buried in the HTML code.

The home page of one site I reported for spamming is made up entirely of images and has no hope of ranking well for any search phrase from the home page due to complete lack of text, so they may feel justified in using < noscript> tags to rank for an admittedly appropriate search phrase, by using a technique recognized as search engine spamming. When any large corporation sees fit to use spamming techniques, it encourages EVERYONE to do the same, simply because they feel justified for whatever reason suits them, ethical or not.

This lesser known technique, filling < noscript> tags with H1, tags, keyword phrase hypertext links, and invisible text within tags, is effective and is used by many spammers. I believe that smaller offenders would be instantly banned if this were discovered in use on their site, even if they were using appropriate keyword phrases for their topic or site subject. The big boys should be penalized as well.

I’ll feel better when ALL search engine spamming techniques are penalized equally, regardless of the technique used or terms targeted, or any rationalized justifications. When that happens universally, then spammers will stop spamming the search engines. But not until then.

This BMW case has become high profile for a major offense and is likely to gain attention in hurriedly called meetings in boardrooms of major corporations, with webmasters and marketing departments in attendance. “Are we doing this!” CEO’s will rage at befuddled webmasters or in-house SEO’s. But until ALL methods of search spam are penalized publicly, those lesser offenses will continue at all levels – especially large companies with more to gain (when they get away with spamming) and/or lose (when they get caught and exposed).