Media Morph: Google’s Death Penalty

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Every week MediaWorks’ Media Morph looks at how emerging technology is changing the way consumers get their information and media companies and advertisers present their messages. This week: Google’s Death Penalty.

What it is: When a company is “blacklisted” -- removed from Google’s index so that user searches do not yield links to the company’s Web site -- as punishment for manipulating search results in a way inconsistent with Google’s rules.

Who's been blacklisted: Ricoh’s German Web sites and BMW’s German Web site.

What they did: Ricoh and BMW violated Google’s guidelines by presenting different content to search engines than they displayed to users. The companies enhanced their ranking in search results using optimization techniques such as “doorway” pages (pages crammed with hidden keywords that misrepresent a Web site’s content) and JavaScript redirection, which shuttles users to a URL different from the one identified by the search.

According to Matt Cutts, a blogger and Google software engineer who first broke the news of BMW’s blacklisting, when Google-users searched for BMW and used cars, the highest-ranked search result was BMW Germany’s new car page.

Is it permanent? No. Owners of blacklisted sites can submit reinstatement requests to Google after removing the offending pages and scripts. Companies must assure Google of their future compliance with guidelines. Both Ricoh and BMW’s sites have been restored to the search engine index.

What Google says: "We cannot tolerate Web sites trying to manipulate search results as we aim to provide users with relevant and objective search results,” a Google spokesperson told the online edition of London’s The Times.

Why should you care? The consequences of blacklisting are apparent -- you need your clients to be able to find you through Google. Unfortunately, you might not even know that your site is at risk. If you have hired a search engine optimizer (SEO) to enhance the ranking of your site, be sure their techniques are legal. A Web site’s owner is responsible for any nefarious manipulations of search engine results undertaken by an SEO on their behalf. Be wary of any SEO that guarantees a No. 1 ranking or does not reveal its methodology.

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