It doesn’t pay to mess with Google as BMW is now painfully aware.

The German carmaker has been rapped over the knuckles by Google Germany
for violating the search engine’s quality guidelines, and in particular
the principle: “Don’t deceive your users or present
different content to search engines than you display to users.”

Their crime? Trying to artificially boost the website’s popularity by using the word gebrauchtwagen
or
“used cars” 42 times on the doorway page of the carmaker’s
German site. Such doorway pages are not helpful to the user. Instead,
they’re created
specifically to achieve high rankings in search engine results. This
helps get people in before redirecting them to a different page. And
Google abhors this cynical approach.

So it’s delisted www.bmw.com.de. The sanction – known colloquially as the “Google death penalty”
– means that a Google search for terms like “BMW” or “BMW Germany”
will not return a direct link to the car company’s German website,
bmw.com.de, says Stephen Hutcheon in the SMH. “Moreover, bmw.com.de’s precious PageRank, the algorithms that
assign every page on the web a sort of popularity ranking, has been
reset to zero.”

BMW might have thought the language barrier would protect it
from being discovered but as Google software engineer Matt Cutts explains on his blog, the search giant’s webspam team is now turning its attention to international and foreign language sites.

For BMW it’s little more than a wrist slap – people looking for BMW
will still be able to access the company’s main site (www.bmw.com) via
Google and BMW claims that Google was responsible for only 0.44% of its
click throughs anyway – but Google’s made its point.

“Google’s page rank method can be as
lucrative as it is powerful, and it is tempting to try to fiddle with
the system,” says Pammy Olson in Forbes. Some forms search engine optimisation are acceptable;
others aren’t. And web site operators would do well to get very familiar with the Google code.

The fact that Google can be so uncompromising is a sign of the
power it wields. Could you imagine one of the major TV networks, a London daily
or a
Conde Nast publication telling BMW, “sorry, we’re pulling your ads for
unethical business practices”? asks Bernhard on blogging4business.

Peter Fray

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