Over Optimization CAN Hurt

September 22 Wall Street Journal Story: Sites Get Dropped by Search Engines After Trying to ‘Optimize’ Rankings
David Kesmodel of the Wall Street Journal wrote a great story on September 22, 2005 about sites getting dropped from Google and other engines. In the story, available to subscribers or possibly via a free trial, Mr Kesmodel mentions how certain companies that assist with search engine marketing have ended up doing more harm than good. The story specifically mentions one SEO firm by name.
I did some research to figure out what went wrong with one of the sites mentioned in the story, Portercase.com. The Wayback Machine, also known as the Internet Archive, has back copies of many web sites. By looking at back copies of the Portercase.com web site, I was able to find some of what disturbed Google so much that they booted Portercase.com out of the Google index.
I took a look at the Web Archive’s copy of Porter Case’s web site from Dec 2003 and also June 2004.
Dec 2003:
http://web.archive.org/web/20031224085443/http://www.portercase.com/
These guys have long been taking risks.
Go to the bottom of their page and put your mouse over the big black box, then drag it up.
Suddenly, like magic, you’ll see some text:
AIRLINE CARRY ON LUGGAGE, CARRY ON LUGGAGE, COMPUTER LUGGAGE, CUSTOM COMPUTER CASE, DIGITAL CAMERA CASE, DISCOUNT COMPUTER CASE, FOAM CASE, INNOVATION LUGGAGE, LUGGAGE CARRIER, LUGGAGE CART, NOTEBOOK CASE, PROJECTOR CASE, ROLLING CART, ROLLING COMPUTER CASE, ROLLING LUGGAGE, SUITCASE, TRAVEL CASE, TRAVEL LUGGAGE, VIDEO CASE, WHEELED LUGGAGE.

airline carry on luggage, carry on luggage, computer luggage, custom computer case, digital camera case, discount computer case, foam case, innovation luggage, luggage carrier, luggage cart, notebook case, projector case, rolling cart, rolling computer case, rolling luggage, suitcase, travel case, travel luggage, video case, wheeled

This was called the “hidden text” trick. They put a black background up, then type in the text. Voila, the engines can see the text but humans can not.
When reading the article, I at first felt sorry for Mr. Pond. It is true, there are a lot of sleezeball search engine marketing firms that are willing to take short-term gains but put their clients at serious long-term risks.
However, it is up to people to know what’s on their web site.
Look at the June 2004 archive:
http://web.archive.org/web/20040622033456/http://www.portercase.com/
The problem here is hidden links at the bottom, probably in a link farm type arrangement. Figuring out the exact problem would take some time, but question: why would a site on airline luggage link to here?
www.travel-airline-hotel-vacation.net
www.sevilleinn.net
www.montana-vacation.net
www.montana-ranch.com
This “hidden link” trick is despised by Google (note on the page itself, these links are not visible). So are links farms, trading links on irrelevant pages to other irrelevant pages.
Closing Comment: Your Turn
While I feel sorry for Mr Pond, people who buy search engine services, just like anything else, need to do some comparison shopping. The WSJ article is an example of badly needed scrutiny to get people to do more assessment before taking some kind of a come-on pitch.
Readers, what’s your reaction as you look at the back copies of Portercase? Do you think Google was justified in booting Portercase.com out of its index?
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