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February 6, 2006 2:59 AM   Subscribe

Google delists bmw.de. Google employee Matt Cutts reports on the removal of BMW's German web site from Google's index as a punishment for using webspam techniques to increase its search engine ranking. Webmasters and search engine optimizers discuss the issue at WebmasterWorld (no subscription necessary, just follow the link on the page) with a predictable mix of attaboys and dismay at Google's power.
posted by grouse (32 comments total)

 
i'm in the "attaboy" corner. And why shouldn't they delist them? Looks like BMW made the mistake of listening to some self-styled "SEO expert". Good for Google to punish them, I say!
posted by slater at 3:06 AM on February 6, 2006


Agreed. BMW tried to game the system, and now is getting spanked for it. Nobody complains when Google does this to Cialis or porn sites, so why complain that they're doing it to BMW?
posted by antifuse at 3:09 AM on February 6, 2006


I think some of the same people who complain now would also complain when Google does it to Cialis or porn sites. They just don't like Google having this kind of power.

An additional argument is that if you are searching for BMW on google.de, then bmw.de should be one of the top hits. By not showing that to its users, Google is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and making itself less useful.

Not that I agree with either of these arguments.
posted by grouse at 3:14 AM on February 6, 2006


While Google is indeed making itself somewhat less useful by removing the BMW entry, the only two alternatives would be to let these kinds of SEO tricks go for everyone, or to just let BMW get away with it because they are Big.

In the first case, the useful Google results would get drowned out by spam over time, while in the second case it would cause some justified outrage over selective enforcement of their policies and mistrust towards results artificially slanted towards big corporations.

Both options would likely cause a far greater loss in utility than just blocking BMW for a couple of days until they clean up their site.
posted by Cironian at 3:51 AM on February 6, 2006


I wonder how much traffic BMW.de will lose...like nobody could figure out how to get to their site. This could be devastating to a small company, but I really wonder how much damage it can do to a giant like BMW. Moreover, I wonder if the resulting pub will result in more traffic?
posted by lobstah at 4:39 AM on February 6, 2006


At least this one still works. Google seems to be settling into the censorship business with a little too much comfort for my liking.
posted by DrDoberman at 4:40 AM on February 6, 2006


DrDoberman : "At least this one still works. Google seems to be settling into the censorship business with a little too much comfort for my liking."

What exactly are you talking about, Dr D? Obviously it still works as do all other bmw.something sites. It is not like Google took down their sites, they have just taken them out of the result lists for a clear violation of a written Google policy. Where is the censorship? Or should Google be somehow forced to list every spammer who games the system and forget about being useful to its users? What BMW did may eventually amount to a sort of consumer crime, defrauding the public search engines for a better exposure.
posted by nkyad at 5:06 AM on February 6, 2006


I agree that BMW Germany should be published, but I think it's the wrong move to completely delist them. If I am do a google search for "BMW Germany", looking for their site, spammers or not, pagerank or not, it should be one of the first results. Anything else is harmful to the customer, which should be avoided.
posted by Marquis at 5:08 AM on February 6, 2006


I think it's the wrong move to completely delist them.

I disagree. Google became what they were by making sure that the search engine worked. Period. The other engines failed in the face of this (and became portal nightmares) because they didn't work -- and a big reason they didn't work is that they were easy to game, and many people did just that.

Delisting means that you'll either stop fucking with the system, or you'll never get hits from the one search engine that matters. Anything short of that would probably earn a "meh." In truth, before Google took over, it would have been a "meh." But now that people count on Google, delisting hurts -- and gets people to stop playing games. I'll bet bmw.de is back in the listings within a month -- and without the javascript games.

The alternative is what happened to the others -- a gamed, nay, compromised search system.

There's the arguement that Google's gotten too big, etc. -- that's a different argument.
posted by eriko at 5:22 AM on February 6, 2006


Marquis : "If I am do a google search for 'BMW Germany', looking for their site, spammers or not, pagerank or not, it should be one of the first results. Anything else is harmful to the customer, which should be avoided."

And then you could just throw away the search engine because in six months all top 100 results from any conceivable search will be the result of a game, bearing no relation to its relevance to the search string. How harmful to the customer does that feels? I really do not understand your point - you really think Google should just issue a press release saying "Hey, BMW, stop being a jerk" and leave at that? How well did the pleads for stopping the jerkiness worked with the spammers?

What Google could do is issue a meta-result for any search in the format "*BMW*" saying something like "As some BMW actions were contrary to our guidelines, all BMW sites were delisted for a the time being". But this would probably leave them open to all sorts of legal actions.
posted by nkyad at 5:31 AM on February 6, 2006


I like the idea of a level playing field. I like the concept of Google's policy - Present what you sell and we'll optimize our catalog for you. Also, cheat at it and we'll punish you until you stop cheating and promise not to cheat again. I'm also amazed at how I run into this link at every nook and cranny on the web today. Matt's blog, for however long it lasts, is pretty cool I think -- he gets to talk all "We" about Google search products in a "one of us" sort of speak. It's nice to read a tale that doesn't sound like it went through a PR filter.
posted by cavalier at 5:55 AM on February 6, 2006


Big thumbs up to Google. I like it when they get righteous like this. *develops crush on Google*
posted by Hildegarde at 5:58 AM on February 6, 2006


Google doesn't permanently delist as far as I know. If bmw.de can demonstrate they've dropped their offending tactics they'll be listed again, eventually.

In the meantime, I doubt they're losing many "bmw germany" searches since the first link is to BMW's international site that serves as a referring host. Does anyone know what terms they were actually trying to game? I would imagine it was things like "automobile" or "german car" (in German, of course) and not something generic like their company's name.
posted by mikeh at 6:32 AM on February 6, 2006


They did the right thing. BMW Germany has been delisted from google, slapped on the wrist if not the face. The next time google spiders they'll probably be relisted and if they're smart they'll have dropped those tactics.
posted by substrate at 6:35 AM on February 6, 2006


They'll give BMW a chance to be relisted if they remove their spamming techniques. This is not something they'll do for a small fry without a lot of arm twisting. I've seen plenty of discussions on webmaster forums about people trying to get listed again after listening to some dumb SEO person. The outlook is generally not very good for those folks even if they clean up their act.

I love Google, but I think this is a double standard on their part. There's plenty of spam in the Google results now (lots of crap from ebay affliates especially). So I can understand why they have to fight it, but from what I've seen, they aren't winning the battle lately.
posted by inthe80s at 7:11 AM on February 6, 2006


DrD: The Chinese thing is censorship. The DMCA take downs are censorship. Removing Nazi sites from their European pages is censorship. Those were all done at the behest of governments, and google is the company that was censored. Google is the victim of censorship in those cases.

This is just Google acting in the long-term best interests of their customers, by making sure companies don't try to game the search engines and distort results, and to protect Google's advertising stream (because Google would have preferred that BMW just buy keywords).
posted by empath at 7:14 AM on February 6, 2006


I think it's the wrong move to completely delist them.

It's 100% the right move. Google's makes the terms of staying in their index very clear, and BMW violated the terms. Bottom line: If you do something just for the benefit of the spider and not at all for the user: it's SPAM.
posted by FeldBum at 7:27 AM on February 6, 2006


I think this isn't so much as good or bad as Google is just protecting the value of its search engine. If companies pollute it with worthless links then Google hurts.
posted by clockworkjoe at 8:40 AM on February 6, 2006


Big fan of Google temporary delisting for webspam users. Not so big a fan of Google forgiveness for large web sites but not small ones.
posted by mediareport at 8:53 AM on February 6, 2006


Big sites are useful to Google customers, so temporary bans are the right balance to maintain customer value (no ban leads to spamming, indefinite bans compromise value as well).

Most small sites which abuse SEO are of no particular use to anyone, so indefinite bans don't reduce customer value. If I were Google, I'd probably allow small sites back in if they bought AdWords and showed that they got a meaningful amount of click-through, indicating that free results would be likely to have some customer value, as well.
posted by MattD at 9:03 AM on February 6, 2006


i'm wondering why bmw thought this was necessary to begin with ... wouldn't they naturally be one of the top results for "bmw germany"? ... if not, and they were trying to ensure that they got back to the top, what kind of search engine doesn't have the obvious top site at the top?

for people who insist that search results be useful, google sure seems to have a lot of commercial "buy this here" type sites in preference to the actual product makers' sites ... the same goes for yahoo
posted by pyramid termite at 9:06 AM on February 6, 2006


As someone who has to spend an inordinate amount of his job hand-deleting and blacklisting comment spam, I heartily applaud this action. Comment spammers and their ilk (and yes, I realize this is more of the "ilk" variety) are the scum of the earth.
posted by soyjoy at 9:12 AM on February 6, 2006


i'm in the "attaboy" corner. And why shouldn't they delist them? Looks like BMW made the mistake of listening to some self-styled "SEO expert".

It really makes no sense whatsoever for BMW to have used such an old, wornout and spammy tactic. But it's unlikely that a professionaly SEO would have recommended that they follow such a path. Chances are good that with an intelligently crafted site that follows web standards, and has content relevant to visitors, they would rank very well for most things related to their site.

Sadly, when I see something like this going on, it's usually because some web master took an action without consulting an SEO expert. For instance, I've seen more than a couple of webmasters who thought that adding a few extra words when using one of the progeny of the Fahrner Image Replacement was a good idea.

Google has been telling folks for years, on their Google Information for Webmasters not to use those types of tricks:
Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as "cloaking."
Chances are good that if someone is serious about competion for a certain keyword phrase that they will look at the sites of those who rank above them to see if they are using tactics like this, and file a spam report with a search engine.

There's plenty of spam in the Google results now (lots of crap from ebay affliates especially). So I can understand why they have to fight it, but from what I've seen, they aren't winning the battle lately.

Not every site that is reported to Google as spam is removed immediately. What the search engine tries to do is come up with algorithms that can detect spam and remove it from their index on a larger scale. In some instances, a site using tactics at odds with Google's web master guidelines may even still be listed but find it almost impossible to rank well in the search engine.

They did the right thing. BMW Germany has been delisted from google, slapped on the wrist if not the face. The next time google spiders they'll probably be relisted and if they're smart they'll have dropped those tactics.

Unlikely. I think that Matt made it pretty clear in his post that the company would probably have to file a reinclusion request after fixing all problems.

Does anyone know what terms they were actually trying to game? I would imagine it was things like "automobile" or "german car" (in German, of course) and not something generic like their company's name.

If you follow the link to Matt Cutt's post above, he has a screen shot there of how the BMW page about the "bmw neuwagen" appeared to both a search engine, and to a visitor. The version intended for search engines had the phrase "bmw neuwagen" repeated a good number of times. (That page is now showing a "page not found" message.)

If I were Google, I'd probably allow small sites back in if they bought AdWords and showed that they got a meaningful amount of click-through, indicating that free results would be likely to have some customer value, as well.

I disagree completely. It's not difficult to build a web site that both complies with the guidelines Google posts, and ranks well for the products that you make. I think that allowing sites to buy their way into organic results is a path in the wrong direction.
posted by bragadocchio at 9:41 AM on February 6, 2006


dugg
posted by matkline at 9:56 AM on February 6, 2006


I disagree. Google became what they were by making sure that the search engine worked. Period.

I'm not sure. I think that what made Google the Trusted Search was that they used math instead of humans.

If I remember, Google ascended from twin dilemmas: 1) the arbitrary taxonomies of Yahoo and 2) the inefficiency of "pure" search engines which got gamed, like alta vista. And Google did this by inventing and implementing algorithms that were able to figure out how to separate wheat from chaff.

We trusted the separation because we believe that proper information should be "processed" without personal or cultural values placed on the processing.

(and yes, I know that's impossible, that *any* processing has implicit bias).

So what's slightly un-nerving to me about hand-picking bmw.de is that it's another chapter in Google's path from (perceived) algorithmic precision to (perceived) subjective decisions. And that Google's perceived value was based on the trust in their math, not in their hand-selected decisions about what was good and what is not.

For example, I would feel far better about it if Google was able to solve for BMW's abuse by iterating the search engine so it could no longer be gamed like that. Because I don't want to invest trust in an information company that has to go through and flag every crappy link by hand.

I'm not saying it's the wrong thing to do. I am saying that it's a very different game they are starting to play, and it may not be one they're good at.
posted by cloudscratcher at 10:34 AM on February 6, 2006


Cripes, BMW. How much does a textad cost? How is this financially sensible and cost-effective?
posted by Eideteker at 11:13 AM on February 6, 2006


Because I don't want to invest trust in an information company that has to go through and flag every crappy link by hand.

This is what I'm unclear on. How does this scale? If enough companies do this, do they have the resources to "ban" each one? Perhaps - if they can automate it through some algorithm. But, if they can do that, why not do that now?

Why isn't this analogous to removing spam comments from your weblog one-by-one - a a battle you will ultimately lose.
posted by vacapinta at 11:28 AM on February 6, 2006


I run a directory of links that gets quite a bit of traffic. Right now, I want to log who clicks on links in our directory, so every click on a link takes you to our counter and then off to the site. The directory does not contain direct links to sites. Several site owners have asked me to change that in order to (fairly, I guess, considering we exert editorial decisions about whether to include sites in our directory) boost their pageRank. I was considering keeping our visible content as it is now, but also add direct links to the sites that are hidden (visibility: hidden or some such). But based on this discussion, I guess that qualifies as cloaking. Hm. Rethinking.
posted by tippiedog at 12:32 PM on February 6, 2006


Apparently Ricoh have had Ricoh.de removed for the same reason.
posted by bap98189 at 12:58 PM on February 6, 2006


i'm wondering why bmw thought this was necessary to begin with ... wouldn't they naturally be one of the top results for "bmw germany"? ... if not, and they were trying to ensure that they got back to the top, what kind of search engine doesn't have the obvious top site at the top?

They were spamming for the term "used car". Read Danny's post at SEW, which is where Matt found out about it anyway :)
posted by FeldBum at 1:10 PM on February 6, 2006


oh, so they were trying to get used car shoppers to look at their new cars?

that's tacky ... they should get the banhammer for that until they knock it off
posted by pyramid termite at 9:12 PM on February 6, 2006


They're back. In less than a week.
posted by tellurian at 6:53 PM on February 9, 2006


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