Search Engine Spam Penalties: Good or Bad?

  |  February 13, 2006   |  Comments

Big-brand egos aren't a component of search engine algorithms.

Much hype has been generated over Google's ban and re-inclusion of two very well-known brands, BMW Germany and Ricoh. Some believe banning Web sites from a search engine index results in a poor search experience. If people seek information about a specific topic, information should be made available to users regardless of how a site achieved search engine visibility.

On the flip side, the Web search engines are commercial enterprises. They have a right to control how information is displayed in their search results. If a Web site doesn't follow a search engine's guidelines for inclusion, the site's content shouldn't be made available in search results.

Meeting Searcher Expectations

When I heard about the spam penalty on these two major brands, I laughed. My first thought was, "It's about time. And thank goodness for the publicity surrounding it." Of course, I'm sure both Ricoh and BMW wouldn't be thrilled with my response, but it really doesn't matter to me.

I'm a die-hard search engine user. And I'm no amateur searcher. I use all the different Boolean operators and the advanced search features. Since I'm also an SEO (define) expert and understand the whole concept of keyword phrases, I know how to formulate accurate queries. I know the types of search engines (news, shopping, Web directories, images, etc.) to use to get desired information.

In other words, I know how to search.

Nothing irritates me more than seeing garbage, AdSense magnets, and spammy Web sites polluting SERPs (define). These waste my valuable time. It really irritates me when I expect to see one page type and am delivered to a different page type.

I'm not alone in this perspective, as I wrote in last week's column. Whenever I usability-test a site search engine, I notice participants become quite irritated when their expectations aren't met after clicking a hyperlink.

I haven't seen these two major brands' cloaked and uncloaked pages. I can only speak from experience from other sites I've worked on. I honestly believe if the cloaked and uncloaked pages genuinely matched and met searcher expectations, Google (or a representative from any major search engine) wouldn't have penalized these sites.

Big Brands Equal Big Spam Penalties

One main reason I'm glad these two sites are receiving such publicity (albeit negative) is many people don't believe search engines penalize sites. It takes a major brand being penalized to get the message across.

Many of my clients are well-known brands. Some came to our firm because they suspected their sites were penalized due to work from other SEM (define) firms. Just yesterday, I had the unfortunate task of informing a very kind business owner he was spending over $6,000 per month on an SEO firm that was obtaining link popularity for his site through paid link spam.

I see search engine penalties and blacklisting all the time. Because most companies aren't exposed to this experience on a daily or weekly basis, they may not appreciate how much work Google and other major search engines put into the quality of their search results. Usually, it takes a spam penalty or blacklist to open their eyes.

Hopefully, this unfortunate event for these two major brands will open more eyes. Search engines will penalize your company for not following their terms and guidelines.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

According to some news resources, a BMW representative felt a Google representative should have contacted the company prior to the spam penalty. I respectfully disagree.

Google has posted its Webmaster guidelines for years. I've heard many Google reps speak at Search Engine Strategies conferences worldwide. They've long made it very clear content delivered to the search engine spiders and end users must be the same content.

Furthermore, I don't believe any of us can appreciate the volume of search engine spam the search engines receive. Contacting companies to let them know their site will be penalized or banned would be cost prohibitive. Do big-brand companies deserve special treatment just because they're big-brand companies?

Finally, I don't believe any search engine rep treats blacklisting lightly. I'm sure evidence is carefully reviewed by human beings prior to any kind of spam penalty.

I fully support Google's decision. It shows it really, truly cares about the quality and integrity of its search results.


Should a Web site be banned if searchers are genuinely looking for information about a company? If a person is looking for information about BMW Germany, that information can be made available in search results even with a spam penalty in place. If I perform a URL search for, as a searcher I should be delivered to the appropriate site. Information retrieval is more flexible than one might imagine.

However, I don't believe any company is entitled to a top position in any Web search engine's crawler-based results without following the terms and guidelines set forth by the search engines. Last time I checked, big-brand egos weren't a component of search engine algorithms.

Meet Shari at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 27-March 2.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.

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