More European Automaker Sites Do Doorways & Should Search Engines Be Able To Enforce Spam Rules?

Dave Naylor's been doing a tour of European automotive sites and finding others that are doing the doorway page dance that got BMW banned from Google. Meanwhile, there's some concern in the blogosphere about whether people should be worried about Google's spam rules in general. A look at both issues, below.

Dave's found this page over at Porsche Denmark that redirects to the Porsche Denmark home page. Disable JavaScript (use this handy tool for Firefox), and you can see the underlying textual content that's being cloaked.

It's hard to know what exactly is going on, as I don't read Danish. Since you can't get to this page from the Porsche Denmark home page -- and since it redirects to that home page -- it seems designed mainly to capture searchers looking for a particular topic and route them into Porsche. In other words, a classic doorway page operation.

Here's a better example. Look for klassiske porscher on Google, then you get this page, which redirects to the home page. Disable JavaScript, and the redirection stops, showing you the hidden content. A user never sees that. Porsche has no intention for them to see it. They only want Google to see it, to rank the page well and deliver them a user to a completely different page on the site.

In the comments on Dave's post, David Thulin points to this page at Chevrolet Sweden. Use that tool I mentioned above and disable styles. Now the pretty picture of a Chevy goes away, replaced by hidden text. My Swedish is as good as my Danish -- ie, I can't read this. But it doesn't seem spammy in terms of repetition. Still, scroll to the bottom, and you'll see links to additional doorway pages. Someone clearly realizes search engines don't like the graphical pages they are feeding out, so they've created a series of doorway pages. That degree of savvyness also means they should be aware that search engines generally don't like doorways.

Of course, the entire BMW situation has sparked some interesting pushback in new quarters, people who feel like Google in particular shouldn't be pushing "orthodoxy" or their own results on site designers. Google Orwellian at Publishing 2.0 is one example (I left some comments there), Death Penalty, Investigations? Sounds like the FBI... is another and Google Delists BMW-Germany at Slashdot has some similar comments. Jeremy Zawodny has some pushback of his own on the pushback over here: Google vs. BMW, a sanity check.

I think some of the outcry is mistaken. Google is simply doing what all search engines do, enforcing its own rules on what spam is. That's not anything new or Google specific. Sure, it does warrant examination. Then again, it has also been heavily debated in the past. Not everyone agrees with spam rules, but even those who don't understand that if they do something against the rules, they risk getting tossed out. But perhaps the times are a changing...

For those looking to educate themselves on spam issues, here's a reading list:

  • A Bridge Page Too Far? - From 1998, covers one of the earliest outings of a big company using doorway pages, State Farm.
  • What Are Doorway Pages? - Originally written as a companion to the article above, I last updated this in 2001, and it's still fairly useful. It gives you an idea of how old school some of the spam tactics the automotive makers are doing.
  • FTC Steps In To Stop Spamming - From 1999, covers how the US government stepped in to stop one of the worst cases of search spam, when content is used to mislead people (in this case, searches for things like "kids internet games" lead to porn).
  • Pagejacking Complaint Involves High-Profile Sites - From 2000, similar to the above, covers the issue of content being stolen from a site, cloaked and used to gain rankings. It was more useful in the days before link analysis, when on-the-page factors counted for more.
  • Ending The Debate Over Cloaking - From 2003, a very long look at what cloaking is, why not everyone agrees it is necessarily evil despite search engine rules and how the focus probably should be on the content rather than the technical delivery structure.
  • Spam Rules Require Effective Spam Police - From 2004, revisits how search engines have various spam rules but also how they don't disclose if someone's been yanked from an index, something that would probably help site owners.
  • The Great Doorway Debate - From 2004, a long debate in particular on whether doorway pages (like those the automakers are using) should be considered spam.
  • Whitehat vs. Blackhat, It Is All BS - From 2004, a long debate on our Search Engine Watch Forums about what spam is, whether there are bad tactics and so on.

  • Working With Google Scholar -- And More Approved Cloaking - From 2004, covers how cloaking isn't so bad if Google decides it helps users.
  • What, Exactly, is Search Engine Spam? - From 2005, short, to-the-point rundown on some of the things search engines frown upon.
  • Comment Spam? How About An Ignore Tag? How About An Indexing Summit! - From 2005, covers in part how designers are questioning anew why they should worry about what search engines think.
  • Talking About Search Engine Spam - From 2005, summarizes a discussion on "white hat versus black hat" tactics and how in my view, intent rather than actual tactics may define what's spam. The summary leads to a long review of the session for Search Engine Watch members.
  • Google Admits To Cloaking; Bans Itself - From 2005, shows that if Google's following orthodoxy, at least it's happy to ban itself for violating that.
  • Is Cloaking Deceptive Advertising? Not Necessarily - From 2005, looks at why cloaked content doesn't necessarily spoiled the "level" playing field some believe happens in search engines.
  • WordPress Caught Spamming After Enlisting To Fight Spam - From 2005, looks at doorway spam that was on the WordPress site and how large, important sites caught up in spamming tend not to be penalized for very long.
  • White Hat - Gray Hat - Black Hat - From 2005, summarizes even more articles and forum discussions on what spam is, should search engines enforce rules more strongly, is going against guidelines unethical -- you name it!
  • Worthless Shady Criminals: A Defense Of SEO - Covers why designers would be foolish to ignore the "third browser" of search engines. You might not like the rules; you might think search engines should somehow magically understand what your all image web page is about. But you could also complain that radio needs to change because it refuses to play the pictures in your television ad. Rather than trying to work around the rules, first consider if you can build a web site that pleases human and search engines at the same time. Plenty of people do -- and often end up with more usable web sites, as a result.
  • Google Testing Notification Of Banning To Webmasters - Covers Google experimenting with warning site owners if they are doing something against the rules.

Need yet more? The SEO: Cloaking and SEO: Spamming categories of the Search Topics area available to Search Engine Watch members takes you back for years with articles on these topics. Plus, becoming a member helps support the site and the creation of content like you're reading right now.

Want to comment or discuss? Please visit our Search Engine Watch Forums thread, Google Removes BMW Germany For Spamming.