Search engines have guidelines for those wishing to optimise their sites for search engine spider findability. But as BMW discovered recently, go outside those guidelines and the consequences can be brutal and potentially costly.
Topic: Search engine marketing
Who: BMW and Google
Where: The UK
When: February 2006
BMW's German website was reportedly blacklisted by Google for allegedly contravening Google's search engine optimisation ("SEO") guidelines.
BMW moved quickly to rectify the alleged discrepancies and its website has returned to Google's index, but the case highlights the need to take extreme care when designing websites to make them as attractive as possible to search spiders.
The SEO agency who worked on the BMW website that caused the problem was Netbooster.
They were quoted by New Media Age as saying that the gateway pages that they had created for BMW's site were necessary because the site was in Java, making it otherwise invisible to search engines. In the circumstances Netbooster denied that there was any attempt to "pack" key words onto these pages and confirmed that BMW was re-indexed in 24hrs. Netbooster said the they tried to follow search engine guidelines but sometimes the way that sites were set up did not allow them to stick to them 100%.
Each search engine has its own guidelines for SEO. For example, Google offers advice such as every page should be "reachable from at least one static text link" and "create a useful, information-rich site and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content".
More generally Media Week recently advised that the "don'ts" of SEO included using hidden text or hidden links, creating pages that show one set of content to a search engine and different content again to the public and "stuffing" pages with the relevant words.
Why this matters:
As with all new marketing techniques, legal and ethical issues will inevitably arise the more successful the technique is.
With hidden trademark links apparently beginning to recede as an issue, although not all search engines are as yet actively discouraging trade mark bidding and clickfraud now possibly more under control, perhaps alleged overstuffing with keywords will be the new compliance hobby horse.
At present the debate appears to be at the level of "ethical" and "unethical" SEO practices. However, the blacklisting of a website by a search engine for alleged breach of its guidelines could result in significant losses to site owners.
Marketinglaw's prediction is that it is only a matter of time before the blacklisting of a website for these reasons is challenged before the courts. In such circumstances we foresee anti trust and "free speech" issues arising, although in the absence of any contractual relationship between a search engine and website owner, the search engine may be well placed to defend successfully any such challenge.