Example Of Google Penalty Email Over Hidden Text

Jul 1, 2009 • 7:57 am | comments (6) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

A DigitalPoint Forum thread has a copy of a email sent to a webmaster for violating Google's webmaster guidelines. The email specifically shows the webmaster which guidelines they are breaking, in this case, hiding text.

Here is a copy of the email:

Dear site owner or webmaster of somewifi.com,

While we were indexing your webpages, we detected that some of your pages were using techniques that are outside our quality guidelines, which can be found here: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769&hl=en.

This appears to be because your site has been modified by a third party.

Typically, the offending party gains access to an insecure directory that has open permissions. Many times, they will upload files or modify existing ones, which then show up as spam in our index.

The following is some example hidden text we found at http://somewifi.com/:

songs Power Of Quest download songs Thomas Newman buy mp3 Tied and Tickled Trio new mp3 AFI top mp3 Alex Lifeson dowland ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) instrumental Dark oscillators mp3 songs Distance music download Euskefeurat music download F.J.Haydn download Fair to Midland

In order to preserve the quality of our search engine, pages from somewifi.com are scheduled to be removed temporarily from our search results for at least 30 days.

We would prefer to keep your pages in Google's index. If you wish to be reconsidered, please correct or remove all pages (may not be limited to the examples provided) that are outside our quality guidelines. One potential remedy is to contact your web host technical support for assistance. For more information about security for webmasters, see http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/04/my-sites-been-hacked-now-what.html. When such changes have been made, please visit https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/reconsideration?hl=en to learn more and submit your site for reconsideration.

Sincerely, Google Search Quality Team

Google specifically emailed this webmaster because they thought it was done by a third party, i.e. a hack. Google wrote in the email, "this appears to be because your site has been modified by a third party." Google then informed the webmaster that in order to protect the safety of the Google searcher, they have removed the infected website temporarily.

It is nice to see specific examples of this in real life, so I thought it would be nice to share with you all.

Forum discussion at DigitalPoint Forums.

Previous story: Daily Search Forum Recap: June 30, 2009



07/01/2009 09:32 pm

I've recently begun learning SEO. One of the books I'm reading is Building Findable Websites by Aarron Walter. At the beginning of the book (page 18), he seems to recommend hiding text. He's talking about placing the company logo in the top corner of a website.... "A search engine can read the text in the alt attribute but assigns a lower rank to the content than it really deserves. A better approach would be to use the h1 tag. [...He puts the company name and catch phrase in the H1 element and then displays some CSS, including a text-indent: -9999px...] I've used a general element selector to pinpoint the logo <h1> tag since logically we would have only one piece of content that is the most important on the page and deserving of the tag. The text-indent property places the text of the tag 9999 pixels to the left, far out of view for sighted users, but still visible to search engines. With the text out of the way the background property displays the image in place of the text, centering it in the 200px by 200px display area defined by the width and height properties." Is this bad advice? Would Google view this as duplicitous? I found this very strange when I was reading it in a seemingly official book.

Rob Abdul

07/02/2009 08:40 am

If allegedly it was done by a third party then, security needs to be assessed and tightened. It is nice to see Google don’t just go for the jugular, and give the benefit of doubt.

lee johnson

07/02/2009 02:24 pm

I think it is great for the warning from Google. Saying that - 30 days out of the index is poor. What if a webmaster can fix the issues straight away and they will do it just after they have been removed "for at least 30 days". Many sites are for business, what if you had your business shop window removed from the high street for 30+ days. You would go bust. I think this should be reviewed a lot more quickly than Google suggest. Thsi could kill business and thats the last thing anyone should want in this economic climate that we are currently sat in !


07/02/2009 08:35 pm

Hi Lee, if you submit a reconsideration request after cleaning things up and it gets processed before the 30 days are up (which is usually the case), it's very likely that the penalty will get removed then. So if you get an email like this, jump to clean your site up and to plug any security vulnerabilities that might have allowed modifications like that and submit a reconsideration request to let us know about it so that we can revert it asap!


07/07/2009 05:46 am

Patrick: Text in alt tags are not hidden text. hidden text are chunks of text are are hidden using CSS. Example, text hiding behind a div, white text on white bg. Good to know how an email from Google looks like.

Sean Mullins

07/14/2009 02:07 am

Thank's for sharing. I always thought it might be a nice idea if Google sent some kind of (automated) email or otherwise let the site owner know if they were penalized. My own site has just dropped from page 1 for search terms to page 5 - I suspect it might be a penalty but I can't know for sure, and although I could submit a reconsideration request I assumed this would in reality take ages - does anyone have experience of real turnaround times?

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