Google Blogoscoped

Saturday, February 4, 2006

German BMW Banned From Google as seen from Google:
PageRank zero and a “sorry” page.

From what it looks like, the German websites of car maker BMW have been kicked out of the Google index. at this time has a PageRank of 0. A search for BMW Germany, which only days ago yielded as a top result, now doesn’t show any sign of at all. Instead, – BMW’s international site – is on top for this search.

The reason for the ban is likely to be that the BMW websites have been caught employing a technique used by black-hat search engine optimizers: doorway pages. German and international bloggers last week were quick to spread the news.

As you may know, a doorway page is stuffed full of keywords that the site feels a need to be optimized for; however, as opposed to real pages, this doorway is only displayed to the Googlebot. Human visitors will be immediately redirected to another page upon visit. And that’s exactly what happened at, as reported Wednesday.

While BMW almost immediately removed the pages after the news broke (after having them live for almost 2 years), apparently it was too late. German BMW are now suffering what is known as the “Google death penalty”: a ban from almost any imaginable top search result, and a degrading of the PageRank to the lowest possible value.

Consequently, a search for gebrauchtwagen bmw, which had a page at as top result on Wednesday last week, now shows as top result. (Interestingly enough, the second result at this moment is the report on this blog.) A search for using Google’s site operator doesn’t yield any results, either. (Note that sometimes, different Google data centers return different results, so this change may not yet be visible on all of Google.)

How many pages exactly are affected by this is hard to tell, but a search on Yahoo for returns 41,500 pages – including cached copies of many of the keyword-stuffed doorway pages, like, which now return a “file not found” message. Most of the pages can still be accessed from Yahoo’s cache, while others – like a doorway page stuffed with the phrase “BMW review” – are missing from Yahoo’s cache, but can still be accessed at if you disable JavaScript.

This penalty is a good example of what can happen to sites going against the Google webmaster guidelines – no matter how big or important one might deem the site. Google writes:

“If an SEO creates deceptive or misleading content on your behalf, such as doorway pages or ’throwaway’ domains, your site could be removed entirely from Google’s index.”

In a nut-shell, Google’s guidelines go back to a single philosophy: webmasters should optimize for humans, not machines, because Google doesn’t like to be cheated. The irony here is that is a highly inaccessible site right from the front-page: a JavaScript-only navigation prevents access by certain browsers, browser settings or media (such as handheld browsers), and it also prevents search bots from effectively crawling the site. It might well be that BMW’s doorway pages were a reaction to the otherwise inaccessible site structure; needless to say, the worst possible reaction.

As Mario Sixtus put it in the German Handelsblatt blog on Wednesday:

“Such usage of SEO practices – otherwise known from porn or casino sites – are likely to add another chapter to that best-selling book, ’The project manager’s guide to covering up smaller errors with even bigger ones.’”

[Thanks Siggi Becker, Fridaynite, Thomas Bindl.]

Update: Google’s Matt Cutts just posted an article on this. [Thanks Alek.]

Update 2: BMW has been reincluded.


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