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Thread: Is this ethical?

  1. #1
    Senior Member weslinda's Avatar
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    Is this ethical?

    So I came across this on a fairly well know web site and I was wanting to see what everyone thinks. Is this ethical?

    h1 {
    display: block;
    height: 150px;
    width: 533px;
    position: absolute;
    top: 0;
    left: 200px;
    padding: 0;
    margin: 0;
    font-size: 8px;
    text-indent: -9000px;
    overflow: hidden; }

    It appears to me that they are attempting to have H1 tags with text in them, but not show them on the actual page. So what does everyone think?

    My personal take is that it is wrong, and poor practice to say the least. Will CSS become the new tool to spam the search engines? Is this spamming? What would this be called if not spam?
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  2. #2
    WebProWorld MVP incrediblehelp's Avatar
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    Re: Is this ethical?

    Doesnt make much sense why hide the content from the spiders. Hiding code maybe yes. Maybe just simple test on their part. Interesting.

  3. #3
    WebProWorld MVP Webnauts's Avatar
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    Angry Re: Is this ethical?

    He is obviously not hidding the <h1> from the Search Engines. For search engines it is visible. He hides them from the users though. And his <h1> tags are sitewide not unique.

    So he is definitely violating the Google Webmaster Guidelines!!!

    Unethical and unprofessional.
    John S. Britsios, Forensic SEO & Social Semantic Web Consultant | SEO Workers | Webnauts Net

  4. #4
    Senior Member weslinda's Avatar
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    Re: Is this ethical?

    Well lets hope I haven't caused too much of a stir, but I'm wondering if web sites will start using CSS to game the system and if so, can search engines figure this out? More importantly, will they spend the money to find these things.

    Also, I could see an issue with some of the Accessibility Items that are used in CSS to provide a "jump to content" menu for those not using a traditional browser. Any thoughts on whether these might cross into the same circles?
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  5. #5
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    Re: Is this ethical?

    I think that users should not be dependent on Google or any search engine for stopping unethical behavior like this. Instead, the various browser manufacturers should add invalid or unethical css logic, similar to pop-up blockers, that would display a glaring warning to unsuspecting users that stroll upon a site:

    WARNING: You are attempting to access a web site that is buggy or has been purposely programmed to use SPAM exploits. It is not recommended that you view this page. Do you want to continue to the site against our recommendation or do you want to black list the site and block the content?...
    --Steve (blog)
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  6. #6
    WebProWorld MVP wige's Avatar
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    Re: Is this ethical?

    I knew something like this would be only a matter of time. I have already seen on different sites, for example, CSS code that makes h1 content look like it was in p tags, most likely to get the benefit of h1 without the user noticing that that text is different.

    It probably comes down to whether the search engines have started looking at CSS files and matching style instructions to pieces of code. If they don't yet, they probably will soon. This is an interesting approach though. There was an old technique where you would set the position of the element to somewhere off screen, but browser makers killed that by resetting the negative value to 0, making it possible for users to see the content that would otherwise be hidden.

    People will always be looking for new ways to game the system, and CSS will only make it easier... after all, now that the style information is in it's own file, you could probably [EDIT: Deleted]. Sure, thats definite spam, but it would be almost impossible to detect.

    Also, code like this can be legitimate. Above I mentioned the old trick of moving an entire block off screen. That was developed as a JavaScript hack to make text and images invisible until called by user action, when the visibility attribute was poorly supported. An overreaction to something like this (penalizing sites that hide content in such methods, rather than ignoring the content) can result in more harm to legitimate sites than stopping spam. For example, until recently I used a similar trick to hide a form and some text about AJAX, which was then "put back" on the client side if the browser had JavaScript enabled and supported the AJAX methods I used in the page.

    Steve, there are some browsers that implement some basic checking of the web page as you suggest, however the focus of the developers is more on the immediate threat to the user. This particular exploit is something that affects the SE ranking, not the end user, so it is unlikely that a browser developer will spend much time on this when they already have to keep on top of exploits and XSS attacks that can compromise the end user directly. But always an idea for a FireFox plugin...
    The best way to learn anything, is to question everything.
    WigeDev - Freelance web and software development

  7. #7
    Moderator chrisJumbo's Avatar
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    Re: Is this ethical?

    Of course, couldn't this be an aspect they initially want off-page and then javascript or something else brings it on-page.

    Did you view the source to see what is contained in the <H1> tags?

  8. #8
    WebProWorld MVP Webnauts's Avatar
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    Re: Is this ethical?

    Quote Originally Posted by weslinda View Post
    Well lets hope I haven't caused too much of a stir, but I'm wondering if web sites will start using CSS to game the system and if so, can search engines figure this out? More importantly, will they spend the money to find these things.
    Search Engine can see that hidden code. You can check that yourself with Lynx or a a search engine simulator.

    Quote Originally Posted by weslinda View Post
    Also, I could see an issue with some of the Accessibility Items that are used in CSS to provide a "jump to content" menu for those not using a traditional browser. Any thoughts on whether these might cross into the same circles?
    There are legal CSS techniques to hide those links, without using the hidden or display:none rules, which SE can pick up.

    Maybe server side?
    John S. Britsios, Forensic SEO & Social Semantic Web Consultant | SEO Workers | Webnauts Net

  9. #9
    WebProWorld MVP Webnauts's Avatar
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    Re: Is this ethical?

    Quote Originally Posted by chrisJumbo View Post
    Of course, couldn't this be an aspect they initially want off-page and then javascript or something else brings it on-page.

    Did you view the source to see what is contained in the <H1> tags?
    The domain name which is keyword rich and the site owner's name. And the <h1> tag is sitewide the same. In other words not unique.
    That is not a skip navigation or so ever. That cannot be forgiven.
    John S. Britsios, Forensic SEO & Social Semantic Web Consultant | SEO Workers | Webnauts Net

  10. #10
    Senior Member
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    Re: Is this ethical?

    I think that is called Cloaking. A website I went to once to check out our competitors, to see if they were doing just that, was http://www.1-hit.com/...I don't see that free tool on their anymore, perhaps I'm not looking hard enough. Anyway, if a free tool can scan a website and see it cloaking things, why couldn't a search engine?

    If you don't want your users to see it, then it shouldnt' be on their in my opinion.

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