Hidden Links on Financial Times Website. WTF?

Jun 10th

When you can no longer trust media...

Ever get the sense that many business models are being challenged by the web? In spite of being subsidized, the Wall Street Journal has been seeing eroding profits. In the most recent issue of the Linking Matters Newsletter Ken McGaffin noted that Financial Times sells hidden advertising links.

That is prettymuch the two largest papers about making money and both of them are getting worse at it, and Financial Times is running a business model based on deception. Can you trust news sites that hide their content and their own business model?

It will be interesting to see how Google deals with the hidden links. Something tells me they are not going to delist FT, although I could be wrong. As this type of shady link activity spreads it will require search engines to place more weight on click stream data, editorial review data, and user data.

If you ever listen to people like Noam Chomsky talk about not trusting certain media he usually uses Financial Times as an example of one of the media sources you can trust since they are so heavily finance based and investors tend to expect more for their money since they need timely news to trade.

Friends have also showed me other similar sites that were doing the same, but I don't really want to out them.

Published: June 10, 2005

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Comments

June 11, 2005 - 12:01am

WOW! That's all I can say. I think media sites selling text link ads is tacky enough, but wow to this!

A little birdy told me that someone went ahead and filed an official Google spam report for an actual search phrase that was affected by this TOS-violating "optimization" tactic. I wouldn't be surprised if 1,000 others did the same thing.

I'm going to be quite interested to see how Google handles this. Quite a spot they're in here.

NFFC
June 11, 2005 - 12:45am

I'm not keen on "spam reporting" as such but I think there are a few exceptions that may be justified in the case of huge companies such as this. Hypocracy has to be the main target.

Having said that, the correct form is....

Drop the webmaster of the offending site a quick email pointing it out. It could be a genuine mistake and at least you gave them a heads up. Do the same to the target site if you feel that is appropiate. If this fails and you feel that the story is "big" enough to merit it then out them, if that makes you feel better.

However be 100% aware that "my competitor is beating me" "boohoo its not fair" etc etc is not a big enough story big enough to merit it.

I would have more respect for Ken McGaffin [currently zero and falling] if his article wasn't just a whine about getting beaten in the SERP's.

D
June 12, 2005 - 1:45am

SEOs shouldn't rat on other SEOs. This is a bold publicity move that I personally would never do.

Shawn
June 12, 2005 - 8:32am

To the general public (which is who Google should care about, who cares about hidden links?). If they did anything about it, it would only be to prove a point to the seo'ers who complain. But they to ask themselves at what point do they sacrifice the integrity of their search index (eg, not including a very popular website) because of a stupid hidden link to make a few seo'ers happy.

June 12, 2005 - 9:52am

>A little birdy told me that someone went ahead and filed an official Google spam report

I think a few of the sites it was seen on (er at least ThreadWatch, and maybe here) will probably cross the eyes of a few engineers.

I don't know if they will pay attention or even care about the spam report. I believe Google knows of much shady stuff in their index and does not act on much of it unless others are aware of it.

>I'm not keen on "spam reporting" as such but I think there are a few exceptions that may be justified in the case of huge companies such as this. Hypocracy has to be the main target.

Yeah. A while ago I found a similar site where the case of hypocracy was far greater. I did not report it though based on karma, etc. I agree that placing blatent self promotion in outing does lower the trust / value factor significantly. Based on how the article reads it lends to the assumption that there was no attempt to contact the webmasters prior to writing it.

I am thinking I was in error to link to the story.

So hard to know what people want for sure when you only see / read the reactions that are there, and you do not see the thoughts that do not appear on the page, or when a few people unsubscribe from an RSS feed.

From what comments are left on the page though it looks as though I probably should not have linked to it.

>If they did anything about it, it would only be to prove a point to the seo'ers who complain. But they to ask themselves at what point do they sacrifice the integrity of their search index (eg, not including a very popular website) because of a stupid hidden link to make a few seo'ers happy.

I think that is the key. It hurts Google to hurt that site. Could you imagine a FT op ed about Google being a bogus company, with an index filled with spam, and everyone should sell their shares.

Not saying that would happen of course, but if you have a large audience and a far reach your site is way less likely to get screwed. Look how quickly WordPress was back in the index.

So along with that, if you are going to be exceptionally aggressive with a site you plan on keeping longterm it is best to also find ways to make people care about the site such that Google removing it hurts Google too.

Thanks for posting the great comments guys.

June 13, 2005 - 11:01am

What's so disappointing about this instance, is that size almost certainly matters - small webmasters would expect no mercy, but it's hard to imagine Google being particularly punitive against a major site like FT.com.

Angelo
June 13, 2005 - 5:54pm

Considering that Google itself was caught with cloaked pages, what we could expect? A ban of the Financial Times? Please, wake up...
Angelo.

June 13, 2005 - 6:10pm

Did I say I would expect FT to get banned? Nope. I said I thought they would not.

BTW they already made the link visible.

It is interesting to see that the leading companies on the web are still companies, and first and foremost care about credibility & profitability. IMHO its a good thing that FT was not penalized in any way because that would hurt Google's credibility, and if Google does anything to provoke large publishers they might end up needing to pay for much of the content they currently index free.

From the instances I have seen where sites like FT did stuff like this or a bit worse usually the major site was not penalized and the smaller webmaster who was buying links or whatever was squashed.

June 14, 2005 - 11:40am

They've rather tackily made the link live now, but it a different font and not aligned with anything else.

Talk about a botched job.

June 14, 2005 - 11:16pm

I really don't care one way or the other about "outing" spam or whatever you want to call it. If someone outranks your site by cloaking, using hidden links, buying a link farm, or whatever other form of spam they prefer, they say that all's fair in love and war.

If you report them and they lose their ranking, they cry foul. Why is that exactly? If anything goes, then anything goes - you can't have it both ways.

Personally, I don't bother with cloaking, hidden links, link farms, or "outing spammers," because I've got better ways to accomplish my objectives, but let's get real. Whining about being outed is even more pathetic than whining about getting outranked.

You might even consider the possibility that Ken McGaffin, who has done a lot to teach people the right way to build links, is actually a principled individual who cares about the quality of search results. =

June 14, 2005 - 11:30pm

Hi Dan
long time no comment :)

>I really don't care one way or the other about "outing" spam or whatever you want to call it. If someone outranks your site by cloaking, using hidden links, buying a link farm, or whatever other form of spam they prefer, they say that all's fair in love and war.

I think the biggest problem is that almost nobody competing in a competitive space has a completely clean website. It would also hurt me to point out examples, but others who are well respected in the SEO / search space have a few shady links into or out of their sites. I won't point them out though, because I know I am not squeaky clean either though.

For me, if we attack each others as webmasters it just wastes our focus, and makes us all look bad. In that scenario, only the big networks win.

>Personally, I don't bother with cloaking, hidden links, link farms, or "outing spammers," because I've got better ways to accomplish my objectives

I think that is the issue right there. People want to promote making your own site as good as it could be. Most websites suck. Mine could be way better. I hope to keep improving, but the key is that I need to keep focusing on what I am doing.

>You might even consider the possibility that Ken McGaffin, who has done a lot to teach people the right way to build links,

I like Ken and have learned alot from him. I agree that generally he seems to be one of the guys who wants to do well teaching people how to do things well.

>[Ken] is actually a principled individual who cares about the quality of search results.

while I think Ken is a great guy, that article did not seem to be wrote from the angle of making the search results better.

I subscribe to his newsletter and read everything he writes. A few months ago he even let me guest write an article. I think Ken is a great guy, but I think that article could have been wrote from a better angle.

The WebProNews article that was just published about an hour ago came out a bit harsh though, but that is because NFFC is good with words and strongly opinionated about the issue.

I think the core principal that you, I, and most everyone posting to this thread operate on is that usually time spent making our own stuff better is the best way to spend our time, at least most of the time :)

A Reader
June 15, 2005 - 12:53am

>I think the biggest problem is that almost nobody competing in a competitive space has a completely clean website. I won't point them out though, because I know I am not squeaky clean either though.

Feel free to point out anything you see on my site, Aaron.

>For me, if we attack each other as webmasters it just wastes our focus, and makes us all look bad. In that scenario, only the big networks win.

Well, if you're saying that talking about spam makes SEOs look bad, you're right, sort of. But what really makes us look bad is the people who are doing it, especially the incompetent spammers. If they didn't do it, nobody would talk about it, right?

Some people see all the talk about spam and decide that they have to hire the SEO with the whitest hat, Jill Whalen, Alan Perkins, Doug Heil, etc. will always have plenty of work, because there are a lot of folks who want to get whatever traffic they can get naturally, without risking their reputations.

Others see all the talk about spam and decide that they need to hire Fanto or NFFC or Oilman or whoever, because they gotta have it now and they see the rewards as greater than the risks. IMO, spammers who are good at spamming should be proud of it, and welcome the attention.

Either way, if people talking about spam leads to potential clients and SEOs actually thinking about it, in the long run it's a good thing. People ought to know that they can't trust everyone in the SEM business. If everyone knew that, TP wouldn't have had such an easy time.

In the long run, there are some basic unavoidable truths. The search engines will get better at filtering spam, your competitors will be able to find every keyword you're bidding on, and the battle lines will move even farther away from the search engines themselves.

Maybe somebody's got to blow the whistle, because the damned thing is on fire. Censoring or censuring won't help us.

June 15, 2005 - 4:09am

>Feel free to point out anything you see on my site, Aaron.

that is the point though, the perception of you or I does not matter. at the end of the day sometimes the algorithms or search employees make mistakes. the limits change over time as well.

>Well, if you're saying that talking about spam makes SEOs look bad, you're right, sort of.

I am not saying that. I think its fine to talk about it. even laugh or joke about it. We are watching machines evolve before our eyes. I actually admire some of the old spam stories. Ranking #1 for sex, etc.

>But what really makes us look bad is the people who are doing it, especially the incompetent spammers. If they didn't do it, nobody would talk about it, right?

not true. if nobody did what is considered spam today then the limits, barriers, etc etc etc would be changed. and then the stuff that you and I do "which is not spam" might be considered spam.

at some point each of us needs to help people get ahead. there has to be some aggressive marketing in there somehow.

>People ought to know that they can't trust everyone in the SEM business.

but I tend to trust least some of the most conservative / white hat SEOs. that is just from my own experience and nature, but had I been not aggressive I would probably be homeless right now.

>Censoring or censuring won't help us.

the real irony of this statement is that I was recently sent a cease and desist letter from an SEO firm.

Plugh
June 15, 2005 - 3:07pm

"Hidden" URL's in HTML are not always used as purly as "spamming" method. They are also used to HELP search engines more accurately index your links. I believe hidden URL's should be OK if they are not used for sold advertising (as described in this article).

Better yet, if search engines adopted a real method for the HTML page to provide a list of links to index without the robots having to use to a search and destroy tactic, that could elminate a lot of problems and help more accurately index web pages. However, over the years, search engine robots have been migrating away from using anything "standard" and, instead, lean towards using their own "secret" logic in determining what links to index, and what to describe the links as in the index.

Loss of this "control" by the HTML author almost dictates that in order to get your web site indexed accurately and properly, you have to resort to such tricks as "hidden" URLS.

Once again, selling "hidden" links on your website is poor karma for sure, but then so are pop-up ads, most banner ads, etc.

You reap what you sow.

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