In a surprising move, search engine giant Google blacklisted the German BMW website www.bmw.de after the car manufacturer allegedly tried to artificially boost the site's search rankings. The result: the "Google death penalty".
"This week our webspam team continued ramping up our anti-spam efforts by removing bmw.de from our index," said Matt Cutts, a Google software engineer. "There's a violation of our webmaster quality guidelines, specifically the principle of 'Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users'.
BMW denies the claims but the site apparently had multiple references to generic search terms such as "gebrauchtwagen" or "used car" written into the website's code over 40 times to keep the site at the top of Google's search results. In a technique widely known as 'Search Engine Optimisation' (SEO), BMW's website team also created many 'doorway' pages which were designed to impress the search engine's indexing systems, but which simply sent users to the BMW homepage.
Members of the blogging community have suggested that the page, live for up to two years, was immediately removed as soon as the news story broke.
As a further slap on the wrist, Google set www.bmw.de PageRank back to zero. PageRank is a calculation that assigns every website a popularity ranking based on the number of hits it receives from the Google site. At zero, a page will not appear anywhere near the top of the search results page for quite some time.
While most websites use some form of SEO to improve search results, misleading methods such as BMW's SEO technique are considered unethical and known to be used predominantly by pornography and gambling websites. With many unscrupulous individuals promising that they can 'improve your search engine ranking', Internetrix strongly recommends businesses ask SEO 'experts' to guarantee their techniques won't result in a similar Death Sentence (and get them to promise to compensate you if their techniques do get you in trouble).
Google's setting a precedent that companies will be punished for breaching its guidelines. Perhaps the lesson to be learned, according to Google Blogoscoped, is this: "Webmasters should optimize for humans, not machines, because Google doesn't like being cheated."
That being said, after only a couple of blacklisted days, www.bmw.de is back on Google and almost being rewarded for its deceitful ways. The sheer volume of news this dispute has generated has more than likely led a whole lot of curious people, who would have never searched for the site in the first place, to type "BMW Germany" into their favorite search engine. However, if you're not as big and powerful as BMW, we'd suggest the publicity and benefit wouldn't be quite as significant - our advice is to approach the SEO process cautiously.