Hidden Articles and Links at Gildasclubchicago.org

Gilda’s ClubI just noticed an advertorial (hosted article) on the gildasclubchicago.org web site when doing one of my common searches. There are certain searches that I have been doing for a number of years, and I usually notice when something odd shows. This one wasn’t hard to spot. In fact, I have seen very similar hosted articles appear from forbes.com in the past, but I would expect it from a company whose goals are more aligned with those of what they are hosting. For a company like Forbes to go there, is expected. For a non-profit organization, who has a board doing oversight, I would question where this got the OK (if at all).

There is an odd result showing up in my search. It is a page at http://www.gildasclubchicago.org and has nothing to do with the mission of the club. This doesn’t exactly look like it fits at Gilda’s Club. http://www.gildasclubchicago.org/insurance-leads.html. You can cut and paste. I don’t want to give the page any added boost. I wonder why they don’t even link back to the home page of the club? Why don’t they present it in a way to let the visitors know that they recommend this non-related service? Because the Gilda’s Club board probably doesn’t know it exists.

What else are they hosting?

You would think an organization like this would be above playing games (well, I thought that about wordpress.org as well). Do you think that the board knows that they are hosting pages that are generating an SEO boost for the company that is developing their web site? Look at the footer in the lower left of the home page (not the splash page).

This is from the about us page at Gilda’s Club Chicago

Gilda’s Club Chicago opened our signature red door in 1998. We provide a warm and welcoming meeting place where men, women and children diagnosed with cancer, and family and friends, join with others to build social, emotional and informational support as an essential supplement to medical care. Membership and our program are free of charge. We offer support and networking groups, lectures, workshops and social events in our home-like clubhouse.

Yep, sounds to me like they would certainly be hosting pages about ‘insurance leads’! Forget I ever mentioned it. Wait, wouldn’t they put it on their links page if they thought it was of use to their visitors? Nah.

Wait, I am intrigued. Is this a page that isn’t linked to the web core? (I think that Danny Sullivan was the one discussing the web core). Well, it probably has to linked from somewhere to be ranking for something so off topic. Let’s do some simple backlink checks. Well, what do you know. Linked directly from the home page of Gildasclubchicago.org and using <h3>’s to pump 3 different pages on the site. Again, totally unrelated to the club. However, the links are hidden when viewing the page. I know that Google and the other search engines don’t care about that, right? Riiiight. The main page of the club is a splash page using flash. Do a simple ‘CTRL A’ to select all of the text. Hmm, I still don’t see the link. View the source of the page. Ah, there they are.

How are the styling the H3’s so that they aren’t visible? Well, there isn’t a stylesheet being called directly and they don’t style it within the H3 tag. The engines would read that, too risky. Let’s check the Javascript (named sswriter.js). I wonder what the person who named the script meant for it to stand for. My guess… ‘sneaky stuff’. Yours?

<H3><A href="resources.html">Resources</A> <A href="http://www.gildasclubchicago.org/insurance-leads.html">insurance leads</A> &nbsp;<A href="http://www.gildasclubchicago.org/american-medical-security.html">American Medical Security Insurance</A> &nbsp;<A href="http://www.gildasclubchicago.org/insurance/health-insurance.html">Health Insurance</A></H3>

Looky here. The javascript file that is being called from the splash page is the method used to call the stylesheet that hides the H3 links. They are styling using this…

h3 {
 font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;
 font-size: 10px;
 color: #ff0000;
 visibility: hidden;

Yep, that would do it ‘visibility: hidden;’ The links exist but the css isn’t read because it is being called by a Javascript instead of being called directly. A spider might read the css file, but it probably won’t read the javascript file.

Let’s review the steps

  1. Found the unusual page in a search.
  2. Visited the page to find that it was clearly just a hosted article and trying to be hidden (no menu or links back to the main site)
  3. Checked the backlinks to the page to find that they are being linked from the home page of the site (gildasclubchicago.org)
  4. Noticed that there were hidden links on the page (viewabled only when looking at the source and, of course, by any spider)
  5. Found that these were H3’s but there wasn’t a stylesheet being called (because spiders do read those)
  6. Viewed the Javascript being called on the page (because spiders don’t read those) and found the link to the stylesheet
  7. Discovered that the stylesheet being called with the javascript hid the H3’s (visibility: hidden;)

Why am I pointing this out? Well, I don’t like the fact that there is so much gaming of the system. I know it exists, but sometimes there are things that are done where companies who you would expect to be outside of it are involved (as in the wordpress/hotnacho thing). In this case, I doubt that Gilda’s Club has any idea and that is why I am writing about this.

If a company is hosting these things, or hiding these things, and they know that it is happening it will probably be discoverred naturally. Matt Cutts is tricky that way. If they don’t know something is being done that could potentially hurt their site, I think that they should be informed. If they are informed and they don’t care.. so be it.

Gilda’s club does a tremendous amount of good for families who are going through a horrible ordeal. What if this site was delisted due to the actions of a developer and it had an impact on fundraising and/or visibility. I know, they could file a reinclusion, but that isn’t my point. They shouldn’t have to (unless they know, of course).

Can Google Hear Me?

Can Google Hear Me? My Date with Drew?

Aaron Stanton is getting a bit of press for trying to get in front of Google – “Can Google Hear Me?“. I just had to chime in about the original idea. He clearly saw the documentary called “My Date with Drew“. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with taking something that has already been done and applying it in a new way. “My Date with Drew” was done so well, you couldn’t help but love it. It is about a guy who tries to get a date with Drew Berrymore withing 30 days and with $1,000 to spend. It is really well made and the editing style matches up with what Aaron Stanton is going for.

Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and the style of the video, along with the overall concept, matches up very closely with a funny and successful project. Good luck Aaron.

If you haven’t seen “My Date with Drew”, it is worth it. It is the perfect date movie.

How Google Could Game the Markets

Google holds enough information to game the financial markets like we have never seen before. The search data alone provides a treasure trove of information when extracted and analyzed properly.

As John Battelle put it, the search engines, Google in particular, hold the “Database of Intentions“.

The Database of Intentions is simply this: The aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result. It lives in many places, but three or four places in particular hold a massive amount of this data (ie MSN, Google, and Yahoo). This information represents, in aggregate form, a place holder for the intentions of humankind – a massive database of desires, needs, wants, and likes that can be discovered, supoenaed, archived, tracked, and exploited to all sorts of ends. Such a beast has never before existed in the history of culture, but is almost guaranteed to grow exponentially from this day forward. This artifact can tell us extraordinary things about who we are and what we want as a culture. And it has the potential to be abused in equally extraordinary fashion.

This data holds a great deal of value for any number of reasons. The holder of this data could use the aggregate the data to build a financial model like we have never seen. Let’s watch the returns on that Google cash hoard to see if perhaps they are using it. Wouldn’t you? It isn’t illegal. Think about it. As an investor, what has value to you? INFORMATION. Obviously, GOOG has some pretty smart people working there. If you were to build a financial model, and then incorporate the one thing that no one else has, do you think you could achieve a pretty good return? Bet you could.

Who, within the search companies, has access to this data? Is it nameless, faceless? Tie it to an IP. Oh wait, an IP from a large M&A (Mergers and Aquisitions) firm. An IP from a large investment banking firm. Link up the search data from those two users and guess who is buying who? Heck, you don’t even need personalized search enabled to come up with that one, hostnames are just fine.

Google stock chartI know that this sounds very big brother, but it really isn’t. It isn’t even insider information. It is not illegal. In fact, it is a brilliant way to return the most value to your shareholders and organize the world’s information at the same time.

Google Personalized Search

Google announced in their blog that personalized results would now be active for all users when they are signed in to any Google service. I don’t necessarily like this feature, for an SEO, but for the general user population, it probably has a lot of benefit. My own engine.

As an SEO, will you now have to profile a particular user group the way an advertiser traditionally does? Will this segment the market. Perhaps. Only time will tell.

Business Idea: Who wants to create a database of user profiles. Real people who share the personalized results with you. Infosearch, you interested? Someone with a lot of users who can be segmented. This would provide a flavor or results that wouldn’t be easy to recreate.

I wish that Google would provide a way, other than logging out of your account, to disable the personalized results feature. Perhaps if I am clicking through to page 2, they are providing a poor result set and should ask if I would like to disable personal search.

What a treasure trove of information Google now has. They are tying a users intentions with an actual user. A name a face, a credit card (with Google Checkout), documents, Email, etc. You get the picture.

Big brother? I know that they intend to “do good”, but let’s hope every single person who has access to that data is just as well intentioned.

Buttercast.com Contest

A friend of mine is putting together a site that will allow you to create your own commentary and broadcast of the big game aka the Superbowl ™.

His site is Buttercast.com (personal broacasting) and they will be offering some great prizes to the best entry for the big game. What you need to do is record your own commentary of the 2nd quarter and submit your entry. You can win a 50″ plasma TV, a Nintendo WII, or an Ipod.

Your chances of winning are pretty high since the promotion started rather late. Good luck.

You Got People – Are you kidding?

Are you kidding me H&R Block? The tag-line for their new ad campaign is “you got people”! I might slaughter the English language from time to time. I don’t claim to have proper grammar in all of my writing, but at least I can say that I didn’t do it on purpose.

Who sat in a room when coming up with a campaign for H&R Block this tax season and decided that it would be a good idea to butcher the English language just because it was something that could be branded and trademarked? Was it something that they wanted others to talk about? Was this a “brilliant marketing ploy” as Leo Laporte might suggest.

I suppose you know you are getting old when these things bother you.