Colgate, Shiny White Teeth... definitely

55 comments

... but what about their hat ?

From SEW

Colgate are pretty good at making your teeth shine but they aint too hot when it comes to hiding their spam. Excellent commentary at SEW with a *superb* line from Danny Sullivan.

Quote:
That's where I think it likely tips the scales into being a hidden link and against Google's guidelines. Expect them to be banned for a long period of time, anything from 48 to 96 hours.

When will major corporations learn that you should NEVER do dodgy SEO on an important, branded site. Spam away all day long on sites you are prepared to lose but never one that may get chucking in jail, if only for a day or 2!

Comments

This is a thread with

This is a thread with legs.... It's funny, no matter how often big brands get caught out being clueless on the WWW, they NEVER seem to learn. Who wants to bet on how long this takes to hit the mainstream media?

If I hits the mainstream

If I hits the mainstream (and it has every chance now Danny has commented) then I want to bet how much the shares will drop.

I say 2% drop over a one week period, followed by an upwards rally in week 2.

"Who cares. I am a massive

"Who cares. I am a massive brand that G will always let back in as if people search for me they expect to see me. If they did not show me people would say Google are shite, they cant even find me"

"I get a permanent Get out of jail card".

>> "I get a permanent Get

>> "I get a permanent Get out of jail card"

It's going to be a horrible shock for the first brand that this doesn't apply to though. Now that WILL be news...

Google's Mistake

Was letting BMW right back in ranked where they were.

BMW should've been a public flogging, an example for all the rest, instead of being a slap on the wrist and green light to everyone else playing those games that the upside is bigger than the risk.

Silly Google.

TT, i cant see a day. For

TT, i cant see a day. For the reason stated, when people dont see a massive brand when they search for them they will think G is CACK

They could though (with no active link), but I doubt that either:

Quote:
Site Banned for Wrong Doing
Colgate Palmolive - Trusted brands for Dental Care, Household ...
olgate Palmolive- Trusted brands for personal care, household cleaning and pet nutrition. Colgate Palmolive- Trusted brands for personal care
w*ww.colgate.com/edgescape/colgate.html

Is Google setting themselves up?

It's going to be a horrible shock for the first brand that this doesn't apply to though

Has Google been setting a precedence that could hurt them in the future? What happens when Google tries to set an example of a company that happens to be owned/run by a (name your protected class here)? Talk about your bad press.

@Bill

BMW should've been a public flogging, an example for all the rest...

Yeah, but what are they going to do? Remove BMW from the SE results for BMW searches? ukgimp is right on... they are simply not going to diminish their own relevance, especially since there are plenty of other sites they can (and do) "make an example of" without doing so.

Horrors

Quote:
Expect them to be banned for a long period of time, anything from 48 to 96 hours.

Is that sarcasm? There are sites that don't happen to be owned by F500 companies that get banned for six months or longer.

Ok, just read the thread. Never mind.

If it's their US site...

...then it's doubtful it will be banned or penalized. There's still a pile of spam from Fortune 500 companies that was outed ages ago by Robert Medford, which has been complete ignored by Google.

Google seems to be going after only sites outside the US for some reason. (Law suits maybe?)

Paging Matt Cutts

Paging Matt Cutts ... Paging Matt Cutts ... will Matt Cutts please pick up the nearest black hat courtesy phone ... there's a Fortune 500 corporate spammer who wants to speak to you ...

Is it really spam? They've

Is it really spam? They've got some content that's invisible until the user clicks a link. That's no problem. Within that content, they've got links that are formatted in such a way as to make them look like normal text until the user mouses over them. That's dumb, but it's not spam. And they've got a noscript element containing text that goes well beyond what it's replacing. That's not good, and I'd personally call it spam, but does anyone really believe it would get them banned?

new message to wall street and shareholders

That's what I see. Colgate-Palmolive is competing. That's good to see, because that indicates management is hungry.

I agree with Danny Sullivan that the initial review is not adequate to support a call of "spam", but I don't agree that he can imply intent for those extra, styled links he sees in the Google cache. They could be soooooo much more spammy than they are. An SEO really has to wonder if the effort was best placed (if there was any true SEO effort).

When Danny says

Quote:
Now notice how the links from descriptive words are hidden, a specific style change done so the words with links don't look like they are hyperlinks, while the product names that are links DO look like links. That's where I think it likely tips the scales into being a hidden link and against Google's guidelines.

he may be :

  • defining the use of the word "hidden" in the context of stylesheet changes that may be design-based. Just because they are not blue underlined text does not mean they are hidden, does it? The style highlights the links in red on hover...a glowing effect that really stands out IMHO and is not "hidden" to me. It's almost a call-to-action on hover. Gee...they aren't even hidden to the Google spider; you can see them as blue underline text in the cache (even the caching wasn't blocked!)
  • defining "link" on behalf of Google. When did we define a standard for what "look like links"? IMHO Danny is dangerously close to supporting Google's idea of a webmaster-guideline-defined www and perhaps more importantly, for reasons of merely defining what is and what is not "compliance" with Google's Webmaster Guidelines.
  • feeding the Google SPAM PR campaign. Google seems to want everyone talking about SE spam, what it is, and what it is not. From this thread we first learn that Danny's site has a policy to not out sites, but then we learn that there are exceptions when the site is a big one. Is that because it makes a really high-profile example? So what purpose does outing a big important site serve such that the activity is exceptional?

One of the reasons this is important to me is the fundamental logic of CSS styling and Google's competiting interests. The link is a link according to html codes that Google can read and understand (hence the proper cache).

The style is a style for the designer and the UI, and it defines the relationship between marketer and consumer. It is none of Google's business. That's the deal Google makes when it spiders our sites and caches our content and expreses it's opinion (in public) on the quality and associative nature of our content (I am addressing LINKS ONLY here).

It seems to me that the more Google influences content (directly, or indirectly via Danny Sullivan here) the more justification there is for gaming the system for competitive advantage. I'll save any further explanation of that for a class in business theory but someone once said "you can't have your cake and eat it, too". Wise words.

Not Spam

I don't consider that spam. I've done something similar on my sites for usability reasons that I don't care about ranking.

Who looks for tootpaste on the web anyway?

When's the last time you went hunting toothpaste on the web?

sebastian69, thats not the

sebastian69, thats not the point and you know it :-)

what if

Colgate said: find us on Yahoo!

co-branding?

It makes google look bad in the long run if you can't find a major brand.

The "and they don't take American Express" bit was a long running campaign that I assumed worked very well.

"And you won't find us on google" by a few big names and damage would be noticeable. Is anyone listening? It would work better than "the prospects are monkeys" deal.

Brand battles, Colgate wins, people have been putting that stuff in their mouths for decades, the mystery geeks just don't have that kind of crunch.

..yeah its brand battles hardball

..that was a shot across the bows of the SEO company who are working for Colgates paremnt company.

The people who have been in the SEO business for some time now are not naive geeeks - they have been dealing with major corporations for some years now - its only now that it has started to hit the news.

A bit of leverage against google and a.n.other. major corporation ain't going to do anyone in the SEO biz any real harm. There are checks and balances on all sorts of power in this world.

never said

seo's are geeks, more like lion tamers.

John...

Yes, in my book, the fact they are not underlined links makes them hidden. Why are some links underlined and some not? Why in one sentence do they link to the same place three times but only the first non-generic term gets to be called to the reader's attention? Why is the CSS style for these links called StealthLink? I think the answer is obvious. They want to hide that these are links, and they are hiding them because they are linking solely for search engine purposes. I'm glad you can see the color change when you hover -- but you're only hovering because you're looking for the links. A typical person's not going to hover over each word in a sentence to discover if they are links or not.

As for me defining things on behalf of Google, please. You want to know what Google thinks is a hidden link, go look at Google. They don't spell it out, of course, so we're back to defining it ourselves, if we want to avoid problems with Google. Not everyone wants to avoid those problem, but some do, so some will want some guidance. In this case, I would say that a link that doesn't readily appear to be a link to a human viewer is indeed hidden, especially when you see these other fingerprints.

I'm feeding the Google spam PR campaign. Please again. I didn't say in the post that Google should wipe them from the face of the planet for this. Actually, I said at most they'd get a wrist slap, out in like 48-96 hours. That's not exactly telling the world they need to be frightened, I'd say.

You or anyone can link to whatever you want. I don't give a toss. I'm not the link police. It's Google who cares. And if you are big fat brand doing something against their guidelines, then you can expect people are going to notice and go screaming "google, google, come look at what brand x did, whah whah whah." Then the question after that happens remains, are you are big enough that Google has to back off from really hurting you. If you feel big enough, link as you want to. If you aren't big enough, maybe we're talking 48 to 96 weeks rather than hours. But go ahead, do whatever you want. You don't have to live in a world dominated by Google fear. I'm not saying you have to do that. However, it remains a fact that if you want traffic from Google, then their rules pretty much apply whether you agree with them or not. You can push against the rules, but if they decide they don't like it, out you go. Join the Kinderstart lawsuit if you think that's wrong, but don't expect you'll get anywhere.

As for our forums having a no spam reporting policy, we developed that with our community there ages ago. And we do make exceptions if something becomes widely discussed or a major brand is involved. Why for major brands? I suppose because such things are going to get noticed. So if someone wants to discuss that, does it make more sense for us to pull a thread, then wait until they post it elsewhere (say on Matt's blog or on Threadwatch), then be able to talk about it? But if you want to discuss that policy more and perhaps changing it, I'd be happy to. Just start a thread over in our forums.

What purpose does looking at Colgate serve at all?

1) It highlights once again a big brand being clueless about potential SEO problems. That's important because other people will see this and may assume since Colgate is doing it, it must be OK. If you're as big as Colgate, maybe you'll get away with it. If you aren't, getting banned and then screaming in the comments on Matt's blog "But Colgate is allowed to do it" ain't going to help you, sorry.

2) It highlights once again the problem Google and search engines have with trying to enforce guidelines not everyone complies with or agrees. We see once again that some people think guidelines dicating styles is silly. I agree with a lot of that. I'm much more about what's the intent of what someone's doing rather than the technicality (which is one reason why I've long NOT jumped on the cloaking is evil bandwagon, which again doesn't make me numero uno on the Google Spam PR campaign).

Yes, in my book, the fact

Quote:
Yes, in my book, the fact they are not underlined links makes them hidden. Why are some links underlined and some not? Why in one sentence do they link to the same place three times but only the first non-generic term gets to be called to the reader's attention? Why is the CSS style for these links called StealthLink? I think the answer is obvious.

That's all true, but in my book it's one step short of what I'd call "hidden". If a page has text that's only visible when the user mouses over some element (say an image file), that's not hidden text; it's design. I'd say this is somewhere between the two. Obviously, it's deceptive, but a real "stealth" link would never demonstrate that it's a link except in the source code. It wouldn't change its appearance on hover or click, and the mouse indicator wouldn't even change to a hand. That's easy to do, and I've even seen it on the sites of SEOs.

I agree with you almost completely here, but it seems to me that if one's going to choose examples of spammy practices, there's a range out there, and this is far from the worst. The fact that this is a big company doesn't really help to educate people because it's simply not going to get them into big trouble.

I think that if Colgate had gone all out with cloaking and doorway pages, then it would be worth discussing, even if it didn't lead to a long-term ban. But short of that, I just don't think there's that much of a lesson here beyond the getting off with a slap on the wrist if you're big enough lesson.

There are truly egregious, utterly deceptive examples out there that I think would be much better examples of what not to do if that's what people want.

Of course, when Matt was outing mom and pop sites, people complained that he'd never do it to major sites, so it's sort of a no-win situation. I think that if it's about teaching people what not to do, showing a snippet of code that doesn't actually identify the site, and being clear about how serious a particular case is, is going to accomplish a lot more.

>> I think that if Colgate

>> I think that if Colgate had gone all out with cloaking and doorway pages, then it would be worth discussing,

That was done with BMW. I think this is a worth discussing because of the possible doubt over whether they are spammers or merely deeply incompetent. For the record, I think they are spammers, but incompetent at that too ;)

IF, as has been suggested they get away with this with nothing, surely that sends the message that you merely have to introduce enough doubt as to whether you "meant" to spam or not to get away with pretty much whatever you want.

No, I don't think so.

No, I don't think so. Because they're such a large company, then getting away with this can easily be attributed to the fact that a search for "colgate" that doesn't return Colgate makes G look useless, so they can't seriously penalize the site.

Seeing a small site get away with this would make the doubt argument a lot stronger, I'd say.

terminology

those links aren't hidden they are camouflaged, which has been a tactic for years. However naming them "stealthlink" borders on clueless and or incompetent. At least when someone like Prada does it they use something as intentionally vague as ".link-1" although what good a 6 pixel font with a display set to none is is anybody's guess.

Danny

Hmm.. "stealth" is an interesting term. It does not mean invisible- we could all see the Stealth Bomber very clearly ... that was even painted black. But stealth was expected to be undetected by the "competition" (a.k.a. enemy radar) at the time. Same here? Hidden links? Not. Stealthy links? Nice turn of a phrase.

In this case Google was not the competiton (there were anchor tags for all those links, so they weren't hidden from Google). It was, as I suggested, a company-consumer relationship management technique. Google was welcome as an impartial observer to index, follow, rank, cache, associate, etc. That's what Google wants to do, right? No evil, organize the world's information, etc?

Now are you suggesting that Stealth Tactics are spam? Is that the next step for the G machine after a successful campaign to brand "black hat" methods, define SEO as "spam", and move closer towards a homogenized Google-driven web in the name of profits (I think we all would agree that such a homogenized web would fail).

When you said

Quote:
and if you are big fat brand doing something against their guidelines, then you can expect people are going to notice and go screaming "google, google, come look at what brand x did, whah whah whah." Then the question after that happens remains, are you are big enough that Google has to back off from really hurting you.

I thought to myself, no, I don't expect people to start "whah whah whah'ing" to Google. But then maybe I spend too much time outside the forums.

The part about being big enough that Google has to back off... I don't believe this is ever the case. I believe business is always about compromise, with plausible deniability enabling diversions exercised quiety and obfuscated via spin (marketing). The more whah whah whah there is, the more fuel the big boys have for finding their way to a successful compromise. More power to Colgate's management (if they knew) and their SEO people (if they knew) for walking tall along the edge of the Google gray line. Somebody has to do it, and IMHO it's most effective when that someone is in the Fortune 100.

I did appreciate your clarifying your view about the spamminess when you said

Quote:
Why in one sentence do they link to the same place three times but only the first non-generic term gets to be called to the reader's attention?

I would not have taken issue with that had you highlighted it in the first place, although I still would suggest such questions be directed to the designers. After all, we appear to agree it was a design decision.

When the cell phone company says "free phone" but the fine print says "2 year service contract required", it is, according to your example, obviously deceptive. Clearly by moving those minor details to the fine print at the bottom of the page, the designers were being "stealthy" about that little 2 year contract requirement, right? Business as usual, loosly regulated in this country by the FTC (not Google) via your local democratic representation and consumer advocates. Sometimes competition is the only consumer advocate, and I even note here that your own decision to break your own rules about outing sites comes from a competitive pressure... why let ThreadWatch or Matt scoop the story?

My whole point was based on recognition of something you seem to agree with

Quote:
You want to know what Google thinks is a hidden link, go look at Google. They don't spell it out, of course, so we're back to defining it ourselves, if we want to avoid problems with Google. Not everyone wants to avoid those problem, but some do, so some will want some guidance.

You, Danny Sullivan, play a role vacated (deliberately?) by Google : defining exactly what is against their TOS in the gray areas. Colgate's site was not penalized. Had I not read your re-definition of spamminess I would have assumed it was ok by Google's TOS. Where was the problem? But now that we have been whah whah whahing, we need to wait a few days to see how these big boys find plausible deniability, scapegoat their SEO firm, or otherwise reach some compromise. Take Home Exercise for the reader: list 3 ways that this whole scenario, from "innocent" outing through analysis by DS and argument over at ThreadWatch, might have been a competitive tactic employed by someone in the markeplace.

My god John. You can't 'alf

My god John. You can't 'alf post! :D

Subterfuge

'Stealth' implies subterfuge. That term all but admits their intent and they deserve all that they get which unfortunately will be nothing if BMW is the yardstick. The silence from Mr. Cutts, who has occasionally in the past been vociferous on matters similar to this, is deafening.

John Part 2

> Now are you suggesting that Stealth Tactics are spam?

Spam is whatever a search engine decides spam will be. Doing stealthy hidden things are likely to land you into spam territory. That might not get you banned, but it's something to be aware of. Plenty will disagree that search engines should operate this way, myself included in some aspects. But that won't necessarily keep you in the index if you do so.

> When the cell phone company says "free phone" but the fine print says "2 year service contract required", it is, according to your example, obviously deceptive.

No, John, I'm not playing in metaphors. Google has guidelines; Colgate appears to have gone against those.

> I even note here that your own decision to break your own rules about outing sites comes from a competitive pressure... why let ThreadWatch or Matt scoop the story?

Being scooped wasn't the issue. The issue was we have a policy on when we discuss specific spam sightings, one that was drafted with our members, and this fit into it. The only question in the thread really was do we pull the specific reference or not. In this case, our policy said we didn't have to. We didn't break any of our own rules at all.

> You, Danny Sullivan, play a role vacated (deliberately?) by Google : defining exactly what is against their TOS in the gray areas.

Sure, I understand the rules are ill-defined, and definitely on purpose in some case. See my Spam Rules article below, which is only one of many long examinations of the issue I've done over the years.

But so what if I offer an opinion? It's not like anyone has to believe my interpretation. To me, I'd consider those hidden links, and I'd advise anyone thinking of doing what Colgate did, in the way they did it, not to if they are concerned about perhaps being banned on Google. That's my own personal opinion, based on my experience with Google and SEO in general. Someone else might have an entirely different opinion, and the advice seeker might want to follow that advice. Ultimately, it falls down to how Google itself decides to react. Google lets plenty of stuff that's "technically" spam slide, and there are good reasons for allowing that. But in lieu of that, people are going to seek guidance from outside Google, in order to ultimately make their own informed decisions.

Let's cut to the chase, John. You seem to have two big beefs.

First, your "home exercise" suggestion is simply saying look at how easy it is to out a competitor via our forums. Yeah, that's a valid concern. That's why we have a policy we drafted with our members ages ago, and I'm comfortable with it. We routinely pull spam reports because that's not really our job, to be the spam police for the search engines. But in this case, it fits with our policy to discuss the Colgate situation, and I think it's worth discussing for many different reasons: what big brands get away with; how stupid the spam rules can be; how stupid a big brand can be and so on.

Second, your concern that I'm buying into Google FUD on spam and helping perpetuate it. Since I'm enemy number one over at IHY for my alleged happy endorsement of spam, spammers and all things spamlike, I find that kind of bemusing. Guess I'm in the middle.

For the record, I throw you back to my Spam Rules Require Effective Spam Police article, http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/3344581, where I said:

"When it comes to spam, the search engines are the lawmakers. You operate within their borders and are subject to whatever rules they may or may not publish. Break the rules, and you can get tossed out of the country. So learn the rules, as much as you can -- assuming you want to avoid trouble."

You can do whatever you want. You can ignore FUD, from Google or others, if you like. There's plenty of it, nor is it even some new thing. I've watched FUD be put out for nearly 10 years now. You can argue whether things like cloaking are even deceptive (in many cases, I say no, such as here: http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/050322-072005, http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/article.php/2165231 and http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/3437471). But in the end, if you are worried about staying in a search engine, you'll probably want to know what people think about some techniques. That means discussing whether something like these links might be spam (which seems to irritate you) as much as it means discussing and IP delivery tool (which can irritate IHYers who feel it just helps spammers).

It's a slippery slope when you decide to define "intent"

Which is why I think Google deliberately leaves this up to interpretation.

Many moons ago, I was doing contract work for an SEO who asked me why I had styled the links in the work I did without underlines (though they were defined with "strong")there were a number of reasons (including continuity & a style sheet with so many link definitions that I started to pull my hair out, trying to figure them all out - lol) in the end he decided as Danny that he didn't want to do anything that might be "percieved" as spam. I can honestly think of many reasons why a designer and/or SEO would do this that do not include spam. So, in the end the whether it is spam or not depends on the intent of the designer and or SEO.

And no one's gonna know the intent of the designer and/or seo unless ya ask them. I gotta agree with GrayWolf that "naming them 'stealthlink' borders on clueless and or incompetent." And that their "intent" may be a little dicey here. BUT, what if they had defined this as "Definition", would you still have considered that spam, Danny?

When I looked at this example, I thought it was a great workaround to having too many confusing links on a page. I can imagine a senario where if I didn't know the definition of a word and go to copy/paste the term and then saw that it was a link, I'd be glad that they saved me time from going back to a search engine to find the definition - I'd also be happy they they didn't confuse me by having those words as underlined liks as well. Now since the links all go to the same page, I guess they'd have to have the definitions on that page... I'll leave you all to consider that one since the intent can be twofold, no?

And as John says, I can now think of many PR reasons why a major brand would employ questionable tactics (especially with a let's say, new product domain)... especially since they'll be back in the index in no time....

where's the beef?

Thanks Danny for the reply. It clarifies.

As for my own "beefs" it was fun to read how I came across to you as having two. As for any real beefs I may have...it might be just one. And that is "being played".

Business is a game, and SEO is the ultimate word game. EVERYONE in the game is playing, and NO ONE has a right to tell anyone how their play might be "unfair". The sole referee of the SEO game is the SERP.

  • It's not a guideline, because if everyone followed the guideline they'd have to change it.
  • It's not Google, because... well because I still make a lot of money off Yahoo and MSN with Google-banned sites.
  • It's not Danny Sullivan; I don't follow your site/forums much and you clearly admit you have your opinion.
  • It's not Law, because there is no independent judiciary for SEO. Until there is, there can be no rule of law (nor enforcement of same). It might be interesting to discuss independent judiciary in the context of SEO someday...I'm not sure it is even possible.

In the game of competitive business (and SEO is a competitive business) the only rule is the SERP. Dislike that as much as you might dislike how corporations are driven to profit at the expense of everything else, or how the "new math" may have sacrificed a generation of young minds in order to enact change. Whatever. The fact is, true SEO will never be "incorporated". By its very definition, as soon as SE(O) is standardized, a new SE(O) opportunity is born.

If we are to compete seriously, we can't let ourselves be played by the Google PR machine. We can't let ourselves be played by our fellow TW competitors or WMW "senior mods" or the whah whah whah'ers on your forum. Forgive me if I hold an opinion different from yours, or an opinion more deeply rooted in the practice of SEO than the art or business of talking about SEO.

As for this:

Quote:
First, your "home exercise" suggestion is simply saying look at how easy it is to out a competitor via our forums.

Not really. It's easier to do that directly on Matt Cutt's FAQ. I suggested that for homework you find 3 ways this might have been an activity of a competitor in the marketplace. There are more than three of course (I just wanted to make it easy). One of those is indeed, outing a site on a forum. Natasha seems to have seen a few juicy ones related to PR (she is That Girl from Marketing, after all). If anyone needs help with that homework I'd be happy to assist via PM ;-)

Business is a game, and SEO

Business is a game, and SEO is the ultimate word game. EVERYONE in the game is playing, and NO ONE has a right to tell anyone how their play might be "unfair". The sole referee of the SEO game is the SERP.

Business is not a game to me. I wish I had that luxury.

The only reason I'm posting is to ask a question. It seemed to me in this thread http://www.threadwatch.org/node/6200 that the consciences of opinion was that if a SE (Google) did not ban a site then they were not guilty of spam.

Now in this thread it seems like the consciences of opinion is that Colgate is spamming even though they have not been banned at this point.

By consciences I mean the majority.

Maybe I misunderstood both threads. If I understand them correctly it has to be one way or the other.

You can't excuse (or defend) spam on one site and then speak out against it on another if you want to be consistent. At least not IMHO.

Connie

You seem to think that TW is of one opinion or something? (Or should be?)

You seem to think that TW is

You seem to think that TW is of one opinion or something? (Or should be?)

Well it seems that way to me. Which is fine. However, the message is mixed INO in this thread http://www.threadwatch.org/node/6200 and the currant thread

It seems to me like this blog has different standards for different folks (sites).

You did read the threads, right?

It's pretty clear to me that there's a wide range of opinion in both of the threads, Connie. I honestly don't see a consensus, which, by the way, is not the same thing as a majority. For there to be a consensus here, there would have to be a general opinion that everyone (or just about everyone) accepted, whether they fully agreed with it or not. That's not the case.

I haven't put together a spreadsheet, and there may well be a majority opinion on the matter, but it's no consensus.

not possible

As DaveN pointed out, if everything not already banned is to be considered ok, then that means there is no spam in the index. Obviously that is not the case. However if a site is outed and open for review, and remains unadjusted, then by definition it is permitted. Some here want to argue that even though it suffers no hardship and remains in the index and the SERPs, it is still SPAM.

Hence some of the disagreement.

TW is of one opinion ?

TW never has been (well rarely) of one opinion on anything, nor does it set out to be. We are a reasonably diverse set of views, and happily most contributors are allowed to post what they want without risk of censorship or banning.

I suspect that many readers would be disappointed if there was one opinion. The fun is in the debate. We are a forum of conflicting views, unlike IHY..

..where Connie moderates :-)

It seems to me like this

It seems to me like this blog has different standards for different folks (sites).

Yeah, that tends to happen. I have seen it elsewhere - for example ;

Framing a sites content without permission is WRONG (if you are searchguild)
Framing a sites content without permission is OK (if you are Yahoo, Google etc)

Can't think where it was though...

spam spam spam spam

Start singing to the tune of Monty Python!

> In the game of competitive business (and SEO is a competitive business) the only rule is the SERP.

Basically, that to me is the same as saying that the only rules are whatever the search engines define, since they ultimately rule the SERPs. Honestly, I think we're in agreement.

Search engines give guidelines about spam which in some cases are clear enough. Put text in the same color as the background color of a page, most people will agree that's hidden text, and they say not to do this.

Skip the issue of whether they SHOULD be able to say this. That's what they say, that's the guideline, we know it.

Despite what they say, they definitely will let some sites they review stay in the index despite this spam technique, if they decide the technique isn't hurting relevancy.

Similarly, cloaking is bad, bad, bad. Can't do it, never should, burn in hell if you do. Unless, of course, you're a publisher that Google has decided to partner with to get your content behind a password wall into the index, or NPR wanting to send the spider a transcript of a radio show to the spider but not let people who come to the transcript page see it. Instead, they get an offer to buy. Suddenly, cloaking's not bad. Cloaking's only bad when you disapprove of it.

So yep, the SERP is the ultimate referee. And stuff that may be spam gets through. And stuff that is spam after this instant replay is allowed to continue, while other stuff gets yanked soon or down the road after an algorithm change.

Flip back to when WordPress got banned. Geez. Suddenly a wave of people starting saying Oh No, those crappy doorway pages and hidden links aren't spam, because they aren't in your email box, getting in your way, yada yada. Excuses were trotted out because Matt has lots of support, and plenty of people were looking for a way to say he wasn't involved with spamming a search engine. But then Google and Yahoo trot onto the scene, pull WordPress -- there's your ruling. Yeah, it was spam. And it knocked them out of the index for all of like 48 hours.

So back to Colgate, I don't know if what they are doing is spam or not. The drop down text, I say no, it's fine. Others might disagree. But those particular links we're talking about, the ones made not to be obvious as links when in the same sentence others are? To me, that's hidden link territory. It's not something I'd advise someone to do if they were being conservative and wanted to avoid spamming issues. But I could totally be wrong. A search engine might review it (heck, does anyone think Matt hasn't looked at this point) and say no big deal.

It's a judgement call, something we make in SEO all the time. At our conferences, you endless get people worried about cross linking their sites. I have five sites -- can I link them together. Yeah, because first of all, if it makes sense for your visitors, you totally should do it. Secondly, five sites is hardly a sign of your link farm empire. But then you get asked, I've got 50 sites, all of which are AdSense only sites on different topic, each of them are on keyword-rich subdomains, and I'd like to have links from each site to the other ones. OK? Maybe, but you're tipping the scales toward perhaps being seen as spamming the search engines. There's no way to know -- we can only add up all the various factors and try to predict as best we each can if a review is triggered.

Natasha, you raise a good point. I noted in the SEW Forums thread that our navigational links in our left-hand column aren't underlined. They don't look like "normal" butt ugly links, so I guess we're spamming. Fire up the alarm bells!

But what's the intent? If someone reviewed our pages for potential spam issues, do you think they would believe we've hidden these links? I think they are pretty obvious as links you'd like on, one by one in a row. In contrast, putting links into words within text, where people aren't likely to be thinking hmm, should I click, that's a different intent. It would make you wonder why it was done this way.

Could be perfectly innocent, so then you back up for other fingerprints. Well further down, we get Colgate Motion battery-powered toothbrush. Colgate Motion are a visible link, then battery-powered toothbrush are non-immediately visible links (how's that for diplomacy). Why is this? Basically, that entire line is a link to the same place, but only the product name was allowed to be visible. Intent? I still say to help search engines think you're relevant for those terms.

What's wrong with that? Nothing, necessarily. Search engines tell you to link with descriptive words. So gray area again. If they weren't NIVL (not immediately visible) links, it would be a non-issue.

On the scale of potential spam violations, this is near to a non-event. But it remains a useful event to look at, for all the reasons I've said before -- the difficulty of knowing what might get you into trouble, should we as designers have to freak out about all this stuff (one of the main reasons I started SEW was to help designers worried about these things). As the web continues to evolve, the issues only get trickier. That's why I tend to come back to intent rather than technique. Who cares if you used alternative text to make up for your Flash content. Was a user mislead? So BMW had hidden text. Who disagrees that BMW's own page for used BMWs ought to be ranking well in Google for something like "used BMWs."

These issues have never been easy, always make for debate and aren't going to disappear any time soon. The only truisms I know are (1) search engines ultimately continue to be the final arbiters and (2) we ultimately make our own decisions about whether we feel what we are doing might be risky or not.

This Colgate thing is a

This Colgate thing is a great example to illustrate that search engine spam isn't always black and white, mostly because you (and the engines) can't always determine intent.

I remember being asked the question about 3 years ago in one of my SES sessions about whether you could put links within your body text but not underline them, and quite frankly, I didn't know how to answer it. I said that it would certainly be bad for usability as people wouldn't know the link was there. The guy said that was pretty much the idea, but would the search engines mind? All I could say was that I doubt they'd catch it and if they did, I really wasn't sure if they would mind or not.

The example Danny gave above, of them hiding the fact that "battery-powered toothbrush" was a link illustrates to me a lack of understanding on Colgates part that they would somehow find it offensive or not a good idea to use that as a link. To me, linking those words visibly on the page is a GOOD thing. Not something to hide. If a person is looking for that item, and visually see that phrase underlined and linked to a page that offers that item, they'll be more apt to click on it than they would click on "Colgate Motion."

If I were doing the SEO for Colgate, I would be educating them of the value in that as opposed to offering them the alternative of "hiding" the link. I think if you explain it to them and outline the obvious benefits, they probably wouldn't have a problem with it.

(Perhaps that guy that asked me the question 3 years ago at SES is now doing Colgate's SEO? :-)

After all the shouting about

After all the shouting about the BMW episode, I think this is an ideal follow-up. There is precious little doubt that what BMW did was intentionally deceptive, and therefore spam by almost every definition.

Colgate are much closer to the line though. Now, I know there's some disagreement about this, but I personally think that the standard generally applied to determine wether something is or is not spam is "Would this have been done if search engines didn't exist?"

The points brought up about legitimate use of styles to strip underlines from links are a good test. Danny has mentioned that some links at SEW have underlining stripped. However, as that seems to have been done purely for styling reasons, and the links are otherwise instantly visible in a location and layout that most users would associate with navigation, they pass, IMO

Over at Colgate, it's not so. Adding text to replace Flash, OK, I could *just* about accept that, as incompetently as it has been implemented. Using styles to disguise keyword rich text, in the same line as unstyled text links.... and calling the class "stealthLink".... Um, no. That was done for the benefit of search engines. If you want a user to click, why hide the link? Why not use the same style that was perfectly acceptable 2 words ago?

Another Factor

We've discussed guidelines, intent, deception, user vs. SE, etc. but I don't think we've talked about this question: can you call it spam if there's no way it's going to work, no matter what the intention behind it might be?

If you throw comments onto a page and stuff them with keywords, it's not going to accomplish anything except for making the file larger. If you thought it was going to push the page's rankings for the keywords in the comment, you might think you're Lord Spammer Deluxo, but the search engines are just going to ignore you. Is that spam?

I think this is relevant to the "stealth" links. How many links to a page can you put onto another page? As many as you like. What's it going to accomplish? Not a lot. The intention behind those links is to get the target pages to rank for the links' anchor text, but if you've got three links to the same page in one sentence, I don't think it can work. If it can't work, is it spam, or just dumb?

Spam doesn't have to work to

Spam doesn't have to work to be spam. A con artist doesn't have to actually get any money (or other valuable) off of someone to be convicted, although it does help if you are trying to secure the conviction....

Do you see what I'm saying?

I do

But what I'm talking about isn't really analogous (at least in my opinion) to a criminal act that fails. It's more like doing something that you think is criminal but isn't.

What if I think it would be fun to set off all the car alarms on the street, but I don't know how to do it? So I jump up and down in front of each car, waving my arms around. And nothing happens. Maybe I tell myself that all the cars have silent alarms and the police are on the way, so I run away, laughing at my accomplishment. I'm quite the vandal.

In the case of comments, the search engines don't bother judging whether what you've put in there demonstrates an intent to deceive anyone. They just skip it. I believe it's about the same with multiple links to the same page. No matter what you think it'll do, I don't think the search engines give a damn.

see?

Quote:
The intention behind those links is to get the target pages to rank for the links' anchor text, but if you've got three links to the same page in one sentence, I don't think it can work.

Well, maybe not. Maybe the intent of those styled links was to provide alternative "calls to emphasis" for diferent phrases, to meet the needs of different readers. Some readers will click on "battery-powered toothbrush"(1) but others will pass on that, more interested in the new product "Colgate Motion"(2).

I suggest that your perspective as an SEO is apt to be often out of synch with the majority of designers and consumers.

(1) A consumer
(2) an industry insider

Basically, that to me is the

Quote:
Basically, that to me is the same as saying that the only rules are whatever the search engines define, since they ultimately rule the SERPs. Honestly, I think we're in agreement.

I agree. But...

Quote:
Despite what they say, they definitely will let some sites they review stay in the index despite this spam technique, if they decide the technique isn't hurting relevancy.

which implies that the rules (guidelines) do not define acceptable behavior. They define desired behavior. The SERPs define acceptable behavior. There is indeed a difference after all.

Now what is the webmaster to do? (follow the guidelines). And what is the Competitive Webmaster (defined in my profile) to do? (follow the SERPs). And where does the profit flow? (wherever Google pushes it after skimming). And what is this game called? Business.

> Maybe the intent of those

> Maybe the intent of those styled links was to provide alternative "calls to emphasis" for diferent phrases, to meet the needs of different readers. Some readers will click on "battery-powered toothbrush"(1) but others will pass on that, more interested in the new product "Colgate Motion"(2).

Sure, I can totally agree with that. Absolutely. It's just a pity then that most of those readers will have no idea to click on those words, since they won't realize they are links unless they make a habit of hovering over each word they read with a mouse :)

Not spam

Quote:
If you throw comments onto a page and stuff them with keywords, it's not going to accomplish anything except for making the file larger. If you thought it was going to push the page's rankings for the keywords in the comment, you might think you're Lord Spammer Deluxo, but the search engines are just going to ignore you. Is that spam?

IMO, that's not spam, it's just stupid.

But I'm not a search engineer, so I don't know what they think.

LOL its spam

and you know it is!
pure spam.

I just wanted to call something spam that Jill said wasn't :)

Just looked at the colgate site

That's DEFINITELY spam. It's not even a close call. It's way more than underlining some links and not others. Half the stuff in Google's text cache isn't seen on the visible page at all.

There are two separate

There are two separate issues in the Colgate example. The unstyled content at the top of the page, and the styled content (with the 'stealthlink' links) at the bottom.

I'd say the stuff at the top

I'd say the stuff at the top is worse, but it's still not so terrible. You shouldn't have so much text in a noscript element that's intended to take the place of a Flash file with almost no text, unless you take the idea that a picture's worth a thousand words literally.

It's certainly not something I'd ever do, squeaky clean guy that I am (I wouldn't even use a noscript for a Flash object -- I'd put alternative text right before the closing object tag) but it's not really a big deal, especially since it's an international brand. No site's going to be more relevant to colgate toothpaste than this one, no matter what nastiness they're guilty of.

First let me say Bob I

First let me say Bob I disagree with you in regard to the to the word consensus in regard to this thread http://www.threadwatch.org/node/6200.

I look at a sentience like this from DS

in short, it's not spam until the fat search engine sings that it is by pulling you.

and I think at least to me that is what most of the comments reflected.

Secondly I do not think what Colgate is doing is Spam. They clearly mark the link as "click here for more products". They display the same links in their site map.

I don't think they are hiding anything. I don't think they are trying to fool SEs with that click on expandable link. What I think is Colgate is trying to keep their home page free from as many links as possible. Yet provide the visitor with a quick summary of links.

Will a SE determine this to be Spam, I don't think so but I can't speak for the SEs.

devils advocating.....

ok - so two points on the inline links

I don't feel that non underlined inline links are necessarily 'not for the user' - look at people surfing, they move the mouse and highlight words as they read, they hover over things, they will see that things are links and click on them, so I'd say calling those links spammy because of their appearance is a close call (although the class and the destination pages are hardly in their favour)

But perhaps the stylesheet was setup by a 19 year old geek with an active imagination who likes spy novels? Mayby they just thought stealth was an exciting word?

So if the biggest argument that these links are spam becomes that multiple links with different anchor text are all landing on the same page. What if Colgate had a glossary section? would it be that if there was a page about battery powered toothbrushes and one about Colgate Motion would those *information* pages make the non-underlined links simply information rather than spam?

If you're saying that thats twice as spammy - then have a look around some big websites and see how many do that - often the links are bolded, and often its clear from the context of the surrounding text that the words likely to be a link, but by no means always.

Don't know about Hand Job, this is a rush job

I have an odd sense of humour, but looking again at the coding on colgate.com , they have rushed to change their coding, and rushes lead to mistakes

Quote:
meta name="description" content="olgate Palmolive-

They've cleaned up a lot

The link that opens the otherwise-hidden text is gone and so is the text it opened, so of course the "stealth" links are gone too.

The noscript is still there, but apart from the opening paragraph there, which is just the meta description (but with the opening "C") it's no biggie.

A lot of stuff is commented out in the source code now. I wonder if this change is permanent.

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