Search Engine Land Hiding Text & Spamming Search Engines, Said Sullivan

Jun 1, 2007 • 11:44 am | comments (10) by twitter | Filed Under Search & Web SEO Spam

Danny Sullivan's Search Engine Land site has been caught hiding text and performing "poor man cloaking" techniques. A WebProWorld thread called attention to the fact that Search Engine Land was hiding text in a CSS file:

text-indent: -9000px;

But Danny Sullivan didn't know about it. In fact, someone had to call this thread to his attention, and then he wrote in.

Still scratching my head, I then wondered, "Wait a minute. Is this about my site?" Surely not. But yep, there in our style sheet was the damning code. It's true. We were totally hiding text and technically might be considered spamming the search engines. Curses -- just when I hoped not to be counted among those other search spammers like Google and Yahoo that have been outed for using hidden text.

So what happened? Apparently, there was an H1 tag that was visible only to users who have images and stylesheets disabled. That's why regular users typically don't see it. Danny continues by saying that he doesn't approve of this technique and will fix it after SMX next week.

We'll look at a way to make the logo be a hyperlink that doesn't involve using a hidden style, though our permanent solution might have to wait until next week as we're sort of busy with the upcoming conference we have this week.

Sorry for anyone that somehow thought we were endorsing some spamming technique. We're not, of course.

Yeah right.

Danny Hugs Spam
Image of Danny Sullivan (on left with beer in hand) endorsing Mr. Spam man

Forum discussion continues at WebProWorld.

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06/01/2007 06:32 pm

Shame on You Danny ... so easy to say oops, how did that happen ... and BTW "Ignorance is an excuse"

Scott G

06/05/2007 02:09 am

spamming? hardly... this is a legitimate, <a href="" rel="nofollow">documented development technique</a> called image replacement. Know your medium before you start shooting off and spreading spam hysteria. Spamming is defined as the intention to deceive, image replacement solves a simple problem of serving text to screen readers and search engines (structure) while the visual, presentational markup is simply serving up a graphic representation of what is represented in the text.

john andrews

06/05/2007 07:29 am

I'm with Scott on this very common problem. It also comes up with styled backgrounds that someone decides need to be clickable; an H tag is an easy solution, but maybe it should be an h10 or something to suggest there is no spammy intent?

Erik Dafforn

06/05/2007 01:00 pm

So image replacement is spam now? Sheesh. Techniques like Fahrner and IFR and sIFR have been around for YEARS and this case falls squarely into the "legitimate usage" category. Even Matt Cutts in his "Expo Markers" comment <a href="" rel="nofollow">says as much</a>. And it was also covered at <a href="" rel="nofollow">SEW</a> over a year ago. So Google sees "Search Engine Land" and we see a graphic that says "Search Engine Land"? Where's the fire? The only ONLY possible loophole would be that the text version contained "by Danny Sullivan" as well, which he said he had pulled from most of them. Image replacement is nothing but glorified CSS, built to account for insufficient functionality of browsers and crawlers.

Doug Heil

06/06/2007 01:16 pm

Naw fellows. Ya got it wrong. I already made a post in that WPW thread explaining exactly the reasons for this and that. Read it please. Why don't ya all take another look at the H1 tag in there as well. Now post the same things you have above. Sheesh, Danny can stand up for himself. He doesn't need others to vouch for him. LOL He knows what his designer did could be considered spam, even if it was a mistake. I personally think the designer was just clueless though.

Adrian Lee

06/07/2007 03:13 pm

*sigh* I've been on about this EXACT issue since I first saw image replacement techniques being discussed. I'd forgotten quite how long ago it was, but we're tlaking 4 years now. I'm not sure if the codes been changed, but what's there at the moment is fine. There is now keyword stuffing in the h1 tag, it is pretty much just the equivilent of the image. The use, as it is right now, is not spamming, but because of the whole hidden text thing, it probably is used for stuffing in keywords in places, and people will think it's spamming, even when it's not. There's a few different image replacement techniques around, and they are in use by a LOT of people all over the place. We use it where I work, and it can help accessibility as much as anything.

Adrian Lee

06/07/2007 03:31 pm

Bah, couple of typos above, I meant there is now NO keyword stuffing in the h1. Having since looked at the witch hunt in the forum thread (great advert for avoiding it!) I see that previously the text in the h1 included Danny's name. That is slightly dodgier. If Danny's name was part of the image, fine, but it's not. So that is slightly suspect. But in general terms, no, it's not spam, don't be so anal. It would not have been done for SEO reasons, it would have been done for design/coding issues. If you're going to slag the designer off for being naive about SEO, when you aren't aware of the real reasons behind image replacement as discussed in the web standards communities for 4 years now, then you're slagging your own naivity off as well.


06/08/2007 01:33 am

If I have a picture of an elephant and using image replacement techniques wrap the text for "conslidation loan" to a non-spammy page about a consolidation loan (the site in question being about loans), would you class that as spam?

Adrian Lee

06/11/2007 01:42 pm

Well yes, because the text has nothing to do with the image. And image replacement for non-textual images is always dodgier. The whole idea of image replacement is to be able to use fancy fonts or whatever (like a logo with text) and then have a fall back plain text version for various reasons. Hence if Search Engine Land have their logo, and then hidden text saying Search Engine Land in an image replacement manner, it's fine. ANd a more recent post of SERoundtable has cleared that up. It's when you use image replacement to stuff in keywords that have no relation to the image that it gets spammy. Intent is what makes things spammy, not the method.


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