A new entry in the SEO-misstep "Hall of Fame" & a word of warning for non-English sites

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a borderline Voodoo art form these days – It was a service we tried to offer clients at one of my previous companies back in 98-99 (our primary business was Web Design and CMS implementation).

At that time we had moderate to no success and the effort/cost to revenue ratio was virtually even or a slight loss. It took so much effort to keep on top of the listings that clients expected guaranteed positions etc. for the amount of money it would have cost, which we just couldn’t do – add to that the added risk of getting your client blacklisted and we really couldn’t see any upside to offering the service anymore and decided to exit the game altogether. (We ended up finding a third-party to service our clients, with slightly better luck, but still nothing spectacular).

From our brushes with clients doing SEO work over the past couple of years it’s become clear that even with the dwindling number of competitive search engines the job has only gotten more competitive and challenging – and riskier.

The folks behind BMW’s BMW.de site just found out just how bad you can get burned if you don’t play by the rules.

In a move that analysts say indicates a problem that still needs a solution, Google has removed BMW’s German Web site from its index for violating Google’s guidelines against trying to manipulate search results.

The move was first reported by Google employee Matt Cutts in a posting to his blog on Saturday. He said BMW.de had been removed last week because certain pages on the site would show up one way when the search engine visited the page but when a Web user opened the page, a redirect mechanism would display a completely different page.

Source: Yahoo

I had originally read that Google had merely reset their Pagerank to “0” – which would basically drop them way, way down in the rankings but a search for “BMW.de” turns up no results. As far as Google is concerned they no longer exist.

An interesting point that got brought up in the article was also that one of Google’s employees recently passed this warning on through his personal blog:

In 2006, I expect Google to pay a lot more attention to spam in other languages, whether it be German, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, or any other language.

In his most recent post he also indicated that Ricoh.de was quickly approaching the same fate.

integrating a multilingual site into an SEO strategy adds an interesting wrinkle to the process. SEO service vendors agonize over keywords and page structure to try and get the best possible pagerank – this is hard enough in one language. Translation professionals already work hard enough to ensure they provide a quality translation that retains the intention and context of the content – the reality is though when it comes to SEO considerations quality translation may not be enough.

The process of SEO itself is a translation of sorts – SEO professionals will take your site’s content and rework/rewrite it to try and create a page that a Search Engine will understand and respond to favourably, all while retaining the original meaning and context of your content. The challenge is between different languages the right keywords may actually differ.

What if in English users tend to search for “Content Management” but in French users generally search the equivalent of “Document Repository”? Unless you’ve got a translator who knows your industry inside and out and catches that difference you may take a major hit when it comes to your French search engine placement.

I’m sure in a lot of cases people have discovered this and have resorted to workarounds like doorway pages to try and correct some of those issues – but take not. BMW was lucky, their German site is the only one that got blocked so you can still get to BMW.com etc. but smaller vendors, where their multilingual sites may all be under the same domain, are going to have to tread very lightly going forward. Get your site blacklisted for pushing the envelope on your French language site and you’re going to find everything disappears from Google when the blacklist your .com domain.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out – I’m sure over the next year or so we’re going to see some interesting attempts at solving the challenge.

02/09/06 – Update: BMW.de fixed the issue and so did Ricoh.de apparantly. Result? A very quick reinclusion into Google’s DB. Source.

Technorati: , , , , , ,