FT.com Caught Selling Hidden Links

55 comments
Source Title:
FT.com Caught Selling Hidden Links
Story Text:

Ken McGaffin was doing some backlink analyis and found some hidden text links on FT.com if you want to see one of the pages in question here it is.

Dragging something like this out into the open isn't the nicest thing to do, but it will be interesting to see how the SE's deal with it. Will they get banned like one of us would, or will they get a slap on the wrist?

Hat tip to Aaron who picked this up first Hidden Links on Financial Times Website. WTF?

Comments

So, what you gonna do matt?

So, what you gonna do matt? Ban em', post on some public website about the dangers of this kind of thing? eh? eh?

Amusing stuff.....

Putting a *hit* on a Competitor

Here's a fun game:
Stage 1:
Cloak a website into the serps then redirect it to a competitor.

Stage 2: Talk it up on the blogs.

Stage 3: Send a love letter to Matt.

Business is a many splintered thing full of lovely ways to shoot down a competitor. You can't be certain who is who or who is doing what to who, either.

>Putting a *hit* on a

>Putting a *hit* on a Competitor

the article could have been wrote from a slightly different angle.

>You can't be certain who is who or who is doing what to who, either.

except that FT has hidden links. when in doubt, ban FT hehehe

More ho-hum...

...than amusing. With new outings of dodgy practices by major sites seeming to come weekly, I'm finding it hard to build up enough energy for a snicker.

I snickered

when I saw what the style was ...

Quote:
class="allWhiteNU"

:)

Heh, heh

Okay, that got one.

I think NFFC said it best.

I think NFFC said it best. When you see a fellow webmaster with his fly down, you give him a heads up. I'm just saying.

Watching sites being outed here and on other so called "respected" industry blogs makes me shake my head. Other than page views, whats the motivation?

I seem to remeber Nick

I seem to remeber Nick saying he found a very popular UK website with hidden links he wasn't making public, but had sent them an email, wonder if this was them?

Just a link to the domain name...

No anchor text... just a domain name link, and they don't have a hyphenated domain. The whole escapade is a miserable failure. :-)

Watching sites being outed

Quote:
Watching sites being outed here and on other so called "respected" industry blogs makes me shake my head. Other than page views, whats the motivation?

See, i find that just a little misguided. It's all well and good treating fellow webmasters with a bit of respect, in fact, it's just the done thing right? But, when it comes to an enormous institution such as the Financial TImes, it's not the same game at all...

They're big boys, and are almost certainly Search independent anyways. It's just not the same thing.

Check out Jeremy's reaction - Funny as fuck.

What motivates me in this is the interest in what Googe intend/will do about it. For years we've been carefully gamed by anonymous Search reps, bullshitted repeatedly and without any respect whatsoever. So much so in fact, that their is an entire body of webmasters terrified of getting banned for doing the most normal things in the world with their websites.

FT, email? Fuck 'em i say. They, can handle it, what's really interesting is how Google will handle it - What yer gonna do now it's not some little webmaster on a Search forum eh?

>>>>misguided

>>>>misguided

No, whats misguided is the fact that it's a spam report regardless of the gross revenue of the site that being tattled on. Same as the Stanford outing. Spam report.

it's who you know

moneysupermarket.com has a strange relationship with The Times as well (no hidden links afaik but lots of 'special cases' through the site), but if they've been asking for hidden links then that may put Yahoo in a difficult position as well. Business is business but at the very least that must deserve a fairly pissed off phone call on monday?

That's what I don't get

Why, why in the world would moneysupermarket ask for hidden links? Without anchor text, without the possibility of click throughs?

It smells. Time for a silly conspiracy theory.

Moneysupermarket is quoted in the source saying that one of its partners is FT. The only links from FT are the hidden ones, that except for two, are all in the news section.

What if FT doesn't know it has a 'ghost' partner?

Could be a rogue programmer..

..perish the thought, but has nobody even been "tempted" to put on a link or two like that :-)

I've seen a few things i

I've seen a few things i thought the client probably had no knowledge of...

Not been tempted myself, but back when i was doing work for clients i did like to put a backlink to the co. site on their work, provided they didn't object... lot's of debate of that in the last year or two..

btw, this was not the site i emailed, that was s .dk site, and i've not even bothtered to check if they've done anything about it, and they didnt reply to my emails. I just thought they were about to get outed, so a 'heads up' was in order...

Step away from the pitchfork

>>>except that FT has hidden links. when in doubt, ban FT hehehe

Sounds like you don't have a doubt. Certainly you may not have given it meaningful thought. So let's put away the pitchfork and think about this a second.

>>>But, when it comes to an enormous institution such as the Financial TImes, it's not the same game at all...

I can understand your viewpoint Nick, but it may not be the FT at all. As someone similarly suggested, it could be a low wage web monkey. This monkey could be in cahoots with debts.net (debtcounsellors.co.uk?) or moneysupermarket.co.uk or it might be someone who's friends with the original blogger who outed the FT.

You don't know who is fucking who
We are all experienced people here, so most of you should know that not everything is what you think it is. It's a bit much to go with the knee jerk and grab a pitchfork and start publicizing outed sites and THEN rationalizing it because it's a big institution.

This post did make me think about how not everything is black and white, and I posted some of my thoughts about it on my blog.

Nick, aside from the tabloid traffic related to publicizing the outing of websites, I really think you should rethink this kind of thing. A lot of people read Threadwatch, and I think with that kind of power comes some responsibility.

I get your point, but for

I get your point, but for what it's worth, i'd not have the balls, or the inclination to "out" any website big or small, but if it's news already, as it clearly is, it's a good thread for threadwatch...

Ahh.. you edited, naughty

Ahh.. you edited, naughty naughty heh...

Quote:
Nick, aside from the tabloid traffic related to publicizing the outing of websites, I really think you should rethink this kind of thing. A lot of people read Threadwatch, and I think with that kind of power comes some responsibility.

When FT.com are involved with something like this it's news. Not news we're breaking, but news nonetheless. When yahoo! search reps are talking about it i think it would be weird if we were not...

surely it's good to talk about this?

if the FT know then it may help the SE's to start treating large and small companies more equally and they will have been aware that it could be found (I mean it's not really that subtle either is it?)

If the FT don't know then it's a timely warning to other companies to keep an eye on what's happening with their websites, amongst other things.

Jeremy Zawodny

Sorry about the edits, old perfectionist habit.

That's a good point Nick and I concede that to you. But even Jeremy missed the point and is running with the pitchfork without thinking about it.

Jeremy is accusing the FT as profiting from this (we don't know that) and everyone is running with that point of view. What I am saying is that maybe we should step back and think about it for a second.

Doesn't it at least appear strange that a large institution would do something like that? Is it more plausible that someone within the institution did it? Do we KNOW the motivations of the individual doing that?

If we don't have those answers, how reasonable is it to publish something like this:
Are even respected media companies no longer able to resist the quick buck that shady SEOs offer?

That's complete rubbish and shows he didn't think about it much before he pushed the "publish" button.

Jeremy is a smart guy, and so are you Nick (maybe smarter, hehe), but I really think before we run with a story like this, everything should be considered, especially the motivations.

>>>If the FT don't know then it's a timely warning to other companies to keep an eye on what's happening with their websites, amongst other things.

Now that's a thoughtful comment. If Jeremy had thought it through, he may have posted something like that, too.

>>Doesn't it at least appear

>>Doesn't it at least appear strange that a large institution would do something like that?

I tend to agree. Logic would dictate that such an act would not provide enough ROI to be worthwhile to FT.com - even if they DID know about it, im guessing that will be the official line anyway...

The thing is, this is "blogs" we're dealing with. The news is FAST, and the opinion is for the most part not sat down and thought about for 3 days before posting. If it's news, it's posted.

Where we sit down and work out the real details is often in the comments, such as now. Jeremy is similar i suspect, he posted his gut reaction, who'd want to read about this a week from now, when it's all over?

actually I don't see

actually I don't see anything wrong on what Jeremy said - it was clearly an off the cuff reaction and he didn't accuse anyone of anything, he just commented and asked if there'd be an explanation. Lets face it all of his best posts involve some degree of exasperation and bitchiness. I bet he has great tantrums.

The chinese whisper blog problem is better illustrated if you look at the trackbacks - both of them start going off at right angles and this one has just managed to turn it around so that the FT are getting higher rankings.

To me the story is more that the link was brought by moneysupermarket - that's almost 99% sure (unless it's a very subtle plot to place a link and hope it gets found) and considering the legit links they have I wonder why and to what end.

The thing is, this is

Quote:
The thing is, this is "blogs" we're dealing with. The news is FAST, and the opinion is for the most part not sat down and thought about for 3 days before posting. If it's news, it's posted.

Nick is right, blogs are going to be much more stream of conciousness and not sit around waiting for the subject of the story to return calls with a comment or, forewarned, make up a spin campaign.

However, as much as I like to see self rightous search engines put on the spot, I still cannot say I'm comfortable with all this outing stuff, even if we are only repeating news bring broken on other sites.

You and me both brad, and

You and me both brad, and it'll almost certainly get worse...

The thing is, due to blogs, everyone is a Search commentator now, and 'news' flies really, really fast - there's much more of this than just some dumbarsed site selling hidden links, if you're politically interested at all, you'll know that the political blogs rule now - i mean really rule!

Geoff Gannon
Dan Rather
Miserable failure
etc etc...

Nuff said..

Normal behaviour

>>Doesn't it at least appear strange that a large institution would do something like that?

Not at all. I'm sure we've all seen "reputable" traditional news sites that are selling text links like it is going out of fashion.

To be fair to the participants in this case, the insurance companies and the newspapers are prime bedfellows and in that industry it seems a legit tactic to be competitive - the only difference is that these ones were hidden.

However, we all have enough experience to know how little that matters to SEs, had it not been made a cause celebre...

It's news now

It wasnt an outing when linkingmatters.com posted, if it was left at that it probably would never have seen the light of day. It only became news when it was posted here and at aarons. I am willing to bet Jeremy picked it up from TW.

Lots of times we come across examples of poorly executed seo techniques or dodgy tactics at big sites. We talk about them via IM and have a good chuckle, but we would never think about posting the examples on a board that is known to be frequented by the big bad wolves.

I'm not trying to slam TW in particular, but rather the shift in attitude that once saw the reporting of sites using aggresive seo techniques to be completely taboo, to something that we see on a regular basis for all kinds of different motivations, eyeballs being one of them.

When you see a fellow webmaster with his fly down...

Is the fly down by accident, or is the fly down to flash people? That's precisely why publicizing stuff like this is the right thing to do, but also why it is wrong to leap to the worst conclusion possible.

The main point though is discussing issues like this in the light of day is constructive, while whispering in backrooms, where a lot of people wish to hide anything like this, is more likely to be harmful to those whose fly is down by accident, and much more helpful to the flasher whose fly is down on purpose.

OK, now im uncomfy

OK, now im uncomfy hehe...

Ssite would it be fair to say that you'd be comfortable outing any website for doing anything against Search engine TOS?

I wouldn't be, and i hope everyone knows that. It's a weird debate, and i tip my metaphoracal hat to those that feel strongly about this for arguing the case in a most persuasive and, above all, unemotional way, but at the end of the day, i'd no sooner out a little guy than i would stick me knob in a blender.

It's the Financial Times....

Let's say you're walking to

Let's say you're walking to work and you pass a guy selling fake rolex watches, is that news? Now imagine instead of some random person selling fake watches it's Arnold Schwarzenegger, is that news?

Shit GW, where ya been? That

Shit GW, where ya been?

That says it so much better than i could...

"Outing" is a useless term

People "out" themselves as soon as they make an action public on their own, which applies to any non-password protected website.

It would be fair to say that anything that can be seen on the Internet is something that could be talked about. But it sure isn't "news" in most cases. Yahoo putting in hidden text "sergey is a crossdressing weenie" would be news, and it would be pretty crazy to not treat it as such. It's not news that joe blow puts "viagra" in hidden text a thousand times.

But that's just talking about stuff as news. If people are ashamed of anything they do, they shouldn't put it on the Internet for other people to see and tell their friends about. Those are different discussions.

It's the Financial

It's the Financial Times....

Right, it's a spam report on the financial times.

But that's just talking

Quote:
But that's just talking about stuff as news. If people are ashamed of anything they do, they shouldn't put it on the Internet for other people to see and tell their friends about. Those are different discussions.

That's one of the most sensible takes I've seen on this. Im not saying everyone is subject to TW scrutiny becuase they publish, but man, that really hits home a little bit ya know?

Things are changing, you can

Things are changing, you can do what you like on your small(ish) websites, but on FT.com, wordpress, syndic8 etc, you just cant expect someone not to notice, and post about it, and when it's news, it's news.,....

running the story

I just want to defend Nick on this one, when its out its news and its worthy of running here, even if the whole "outing" thing is a worry. And credit where due, at least the people doing the outing here kept it pretty factual, unlike a lot of the more recent outings by sites such as Waxy.org which appear to be nothing more than a witch hunt.

I dont think there is a

I dont think there is a clearly defined line ukgimp.

But for example: If someone was "outing" some small independent site, or even some large but not "household name" site then I personally wouldn't want to run the story.

If the same thing happens and it *is* some large, household name (as in this case, a real media giant) then i think it's fair game to comment...

>> When you see a fellow

>> When you see a fellow webmaster with his fly down, you give him a heads up. I'm just saying.

Paul, I know exactly what you are saying, but...

>> fellow webmaster

Since WHEN have FT.com been "fellow webmasters"? A one man / SME site doing naughty things may well be utterly unaware of the potential negative consequences of their actions, but a site like ft.com, with a turnover measured in the millions ought to be a little careful of their brand, and their domain.

If they haven't the sense to hire in, or pay for consultants to point out any little foibles like this, I have less than no sympathy for them - they have the resources to do better, unlike the majority of us, and it is right, IMO, to hold them to the highest standards. If THEY screw up, I would have no compunction in kicking them squar in the nuts for it. Otherwise the message is NEVER going to penetrate to the senior levels of management that they need to have people who UNDERSTAND the online world making decisions about the site.

Besides, how hard do you think the FT is going to find it to get reindexed, assuming hat anything happens to them at all? Precisely 30 seconds after they remove the offending links, they are going to have SE reps on the phone, dictating their reinclusion request emails, assuming that they even have to make a rquest, and the SEs' don't just slot them back in off their own bat.... Big sites like that get a lot of "help" that the rest of us wouldn't.

The bottom line imho is that

The bottom line imho is that the FT can do what the frig they like. Cos they are such an uber site / brand they will NEVER get removed from google.

That is the real issue, does Google and other search engines apply their TOS in an egalitarian manner, or when you cross some imaginary line are you exempt?

do they actually remove sites for that anyway?

I can't say I follow the self colour text debate with any degree of excitement - but given the amount out there do they actually remove any sites for one hidden link on some pages?

It is news in terms of who's doing it and why, but the 'offence' isn't actually that big a deal, lets face it.

That is the real issue, does

Quote:
That is the real issue, does Google and other search engines apply their TOS in an egalitarian manner, or when you cross some imaginary line are you exempt?

This is a perfect example of (web) social class at work: anything bigger, meaner, more influential than Google they leave alone or suck up too. Anything smaller than Google and not immediately useful to them is a serf and survives only at Google's whim.

FT now shows the link

Some time today the FT has made that link visible - make what you may of that.

http://news.ft.com/yourmoney

so

it is meant to be there then...

with the size of FT and the

with the size of FT and the other high profile links pointing into that moneysupermarket site it did not appear as though the link was the work of an SEO hitman. I mean, there are far far cheaper and easier ways to do it.

Class Change

If you view source you'll notice the class changed from (class="allWhiteNU") to (class="footer"). All of the items above that are (class="allWide"). Additionally they are inside of a table whereas the otherone isn't.

Witch Hunt and English Teacher's

Now of course this could be nothing more than a simple programming error. However if it were a legitemate link, it surely would have cost a considerable bit of change. And if you were buying that link you certainly would want to see it, and would definitely know about the penalty of having hidden links. If you were to try and convince me this was on the up and up from the begining, and simply an error, I'd give you the same look that your eigth grade english teacher gave you when you told her you didn't bring in your book report because your little sister ripped it up then your dog ate it, and was promptly abducted by a UFO.

That said, now that it's visible it's much more of just aggresive link buying, and has the potential of becoming a witch hunt. So I'll put down my pitchfork.

has the potential of becoming a witch hunt

The difference between a witch hunt and this thread is we don't actually put the pitch fork into the victim, we just line the victims up...

I also think NFFC said it best

.

Does FT still pass pagerank (after this)? Did they ever??

I remember reading a plausible theory about that, here.

I think

it is a good thing to discuss and bring into the light subjects like this.

Why did the FT do this in the first place, money, error or spite does it really matter? The fact is they did it and they got caught. Now someone at the FT is in trouble for this (I hope), and the FT is a little (very little) red faced over this. So the chances of this happening has diminished, somewhat.

"sergey is a crossdressing weenie"

Nobody is supposed to know... your going to get your sites all banned for making it public... ;-)

Silicon.com report

If I interpret this correctly Silicon.com tried to speak with someone at FT.com about it, got no response, but the link was fixed shortly after

At the time of writing the FT had been made aware of the linking but had not made a response.

Update: Shortly after silicon.com spoke to the FT press office the previously-invisible links appeared on the page, in their original locations.

hmmmmm

somewhat suspiciously on the undergoos site we linked to a pic of Sergey in a nice dress. That's now dissapeared entirely (although his rather fetching Speedos pic is still online)

Co-incidence? I think not ;-)

Spamarazzi: A derogatory

Spamarazzi: A derogatory term for netizens who make candid remarks of websites, usually by relentlessly shadowing them in public and private activities. The term can also be extended to cover those who pursue subjects who aren't public figures but have become newsworthy due to tragedy or other current events.

Urbandictionary...

Maybe you should submit that - LOL

Advertiser's Perspective

As an advertiser, I don't buy too much into the "don't out other sites" mantra held by some. If I was shelling out some serious caysh for FT eyeballs, I'd be more than a little concerned that there were practices in place that would affect a major source of traffic (like search engines) that was presented on the rate card.

Now it's visible...

FWIW, the link is now visible... awkwardly placed a few lines down from the others, as before, but with the color now black.

The link is now visible!

Lots of interesting comments here - so thought it was worth mentioning that the link is now visible and the class has apparently changed from:

class="allWhiteNU"

to

class="allWide"

So I guess that means that all the conspiracy theories against the FT are out the window, and FT must have known what was going on!

And it's just plain stupid to say this wouldn't benefit moneysupermarket - yes, other strategies would be more effective but I would love the FT to link to my websites with or without anchor text, with a visible or an invisible link!

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