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).

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