Dear Senator (and Texas Gubernatorial Candidate) Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Here’s A Free Crash Course On SEO

The “Kay Bailey Hutchinson for Governor Official Website” put up by “Texans for Kay Bailey Hutchison, Allan Shivers, Jr., Treasurer” over the weekend in support of Kay Bailey Hutchinson for Texas governor was briefly in Google but now appears to be completely missing. Huh. Google Index

Odd since Bing seems to have indexed it just fine, although the snippet looks a little odd.

Bing Results

Let’s take a closer look at the site.

kbhhomepage

Looks OK. Maybe it’s all in images or JavaScript or something and Google is having a hard time extracting content? I’ll just take a closer look with web developer toolbar. I’ll disable CSS and…

Oh. Wait.

Hidden Text

Do you think all those hidden keywords revealed when CSS styling is disabled might have anything to do with it? I speculated yes when first writing this piece, and after it was posted, I got this confirmation from Matt Cutts, head of the spam team at Google:

Google did take action on this site for hidden text. Hidden text is a violation of our quality guidelines. We’ve removed the site from our index and tried to contact the site maintainers by email to explain that the hidden text was the cause for the site’s removal from our index. We also recommended that the webmaster remove all the hidden text and file a valid reconsideration request. More information about requesting reconsideration of a site can be found here.

Hiring an SEO firm is just like hiring any other service for expertise that you lack. Since you by definition don’t have the expertise, how do you know if they’re doing a good job? Well, Texans for Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Allan Shivers, Jr., Treasurer, today you’re getting a free crash course in SEO evaluation.

Understanding hidden text

Hidden text is not only against the search engine guidelines and can get you banned, but is amateur and lazy. It’s like hiring a painter to paint your house and having them show up and throw a bucket of paint in the general direction of your walls.

You might find Google’s webmaster guidelines on the subject helpful:

Hiding text or links in your content can cause your site to be perceived as untrustworthy since it presents information to search engines differently than to visitors. Text (such as excessive keywords) can be hidden in several ways, including … Using CSS to hide text… If your site is perceived to contain hidden text and links that are deceptive in intent, your site may be removed from the Google index, and will not appear in search results pages. When evaluating your site to see if it includes hidden text or links, look for anything that’s not easily viewable by visitors of your site. Are any text or links there solely for search engines rather than visitors? If you do find hidden text or links on your site, either remove them or, if they are relevant for your site’s visitors, make them easily viewable. If your site has been removed from our search results, review our webmaster guidelines for more information. Once you’ve made your changes and are confident that your site no longer violates our guidelines, submit your site for reconsideration.

It’s quite possible Google has even told you about this hidden text problem. Create a Google Webmaster Tools account and verify ownership of standbykay.com. You may have a message waiting for you.

Hidden text is also frustrating for the users you’re trying to attract and may cause them to get irritated at your site and leave. Let’s say, for instance, the site does indeed rank for “what is a keg”, as it apparently is trying to do. What exactly do they expect searchers who reach the site to do? The site doesn’t actually answer the question of what a keg is. Do they think that all these keg definition-seekers are going to get distracted and decide to abandon their beer research efforts and become political activists?What other searches are they apparently targeting?

  • texas bbq pit texas smokehouse
  • chicken fried steak recipe
  • debachary [sic] definition
  • gambling addiction
  • houston rockets
  • why do we have knees

Why do we have knees?!!!

According to the Austin American-Statesman, which alerted us to this situation, the campaign has no intention of the removing the hidden text:

Hutchison’s campaign spokesman, Jeff ] Sadosky and other campaign aides said this afternoon that only the two phrases using “rick perry gay” will be removed because they won’t play into the campaign’s future messages.

[Note: At 2:22pm Eastern, it appears all of the hidden text is now gone.]

The explanation is that software is creating the lists of phrases based on search volume and is intended to help direct online advertising efforts. If that’s indeed the case, wouldn’t the list be more easily managed as an offline report than as text hidden inside source code of a web page? Just saying. [Can you tell I'm not buying it?]

Which brings us to the next lesson in the SEO crash course.

Understanding keyword research

Sure, there are sophisticated and expensive keyword research tools that provides lots of awesome information, but I’m venturing a guess that you’re more in the beginner stage, so you’ll do just fine with the free stuff. And as a bonus, the free tools give you files you can open in Excel rather than store the data in the source code of your site! The campaign said the software helped them figure out what else those who were searching for “Rick Perry,” “Kay Bailey Hutchison” and “Texas” were looking for, so let’s do the same, shall we?

Google AdWords Keyword Tool - this is the old standby, and it’s pretty solid and useful since it’s based on Google searches. And hey, it even lets your sort by search volume!

texas-keywords

Tip: “Texas” might be overly broad as you’ll likely get a lot of untargeted traffic. You might want to stick with more relevant keywords, such as “texas politics” or “texas governor race”. A more targeted set of keywords can give you lots of other valuable information, like that opposing candidate has more searcher interest:

governor-keywords

Google Insights For Search -This cool tools lets you compare search terms and zero in on specific regions (such as just Texas) and specific time frames (such as the last 90 days).

Kay Bailey Hutchinson InsightsRick Perry Regional Insights

Wordtracker Keyword Questions – this new tools uses ISP data to generate a list of questions people are searching for related to keywords. Using this tool, we find that perhaps Texans for Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Allan Shivers, Jr., Treasurer has been doing a few searches of their own.

Wordtracker Questions

Here’s another tip! You can use these keywords in the actual copy of the website. It can help you not only be more visible in search engines, but also have deeper engagement with your consituents! How awesome is that. If you want to know what people are searching for, why only use that for ad targeting, when you can use it to understand and reach your audience more generally? For instance, people are apparently asking the question “why is Kay Bailey Hutchison running against Rick Perry for governor of Texas?” Add a page to the site with frequently asked questions, add that one, and answer it.

Understanding basic SEO

Texans for Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Allan Shivers, Jr., Treasurer, there’s another problem with your SEO. Not only does the site have elements that will get it banned, the site doesn’t have thebasic stuff that can help you be found. Let’s run down just a few of them.

Extractable text- None of the visible text on the page is viewable by search engines! (Kinda funny, huh. None of the visible text is viewable, but all the hidden text is.)  It’s all hidden in JavaScript. With images and JavaScript turned off, the page looks like this:

JavaScript Off I should clarify, it’s not that none of the text is visible. “Political ad Paid for by Texans for Kay Bailey Hutchison, Allan Shivers, Jr., Treasurer” shows up just fine. So anyone looking for political ads paid for by (etc.), just might find the site. Well, if it wasn’t banned by Google for hidden text, of course.

Meta tags – The keywords, robot, and revisit-after tag are completely ignored in this context. So I hope you didn’t pay very much for someone to include them. The description tag is fairly important as it’s your one and only chance to provide a compelling marketing message in the search results to motivate a searcher to click over to the site. Was “Kay Bailey Hutchison – Running for Texas Governor” the most inspiring message you could come up with?Meta Tags Video – Don’t autoplay video when the page loads. That’s not really an SEO thing. Just an annoying-the-hell-out-of-me thing. More to the point, add at least a caption above or below the video. Add some descriptive text. Something that lets the search engines know what it is.

Canonicalization - it sounds like an advanced SEO tactic, but it’s actually a foundational element that even the most novice SEO should know. www.standbykay.com and standbykay.com both resolve to the site. One should 301 redirect to the other.

Duplicate content – Texans for Kay Bailey Hutchison, Allan Shivers, Jr., Treasurer also runs another site, texans.forkay.com. (Why the subdomain? No idea.) They also own texansforkay.com, which has a JavaScript redirect to texans.forkay.com. First lesson in redirects: always go with a 301 redirect.

The bigger issue is why two sites that have exactly the same purpose? So far, standbykay.com doesn’t have much content (and only one page), but the bulk of it is that dang autoplaying video, which is the same video featured prominently on the texans.forkay.com home page.

That leads me to think that any expansion of standforkay.com might use other content from texans.forkay.com. That’s another way to ensure the new site won’t rank in search engines, as they don’t want to list the same content multiple times. Any good SEO firm should ask why you need another site and work closely with you to define differentiation — a different purpose, audience, and goals.

But wait? What’s this? kayfortexas.com? That appears to be an exact duplicate of texans.forkay.com. Studying up on that 301 redirect is probably a really good idea.

I hope Texans for Kay Bailey Hutchison, Allan Shivers, Jr., Treasurer enjoyed this crash course in SEO. If you found it helpful and are want a second lesson, might I suggest Google’s informative Requesting reconsideration of your site.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: General | How To: SEO | SEO: Spamming

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. She built Google Webmaster Central and went on to found software and consulting company Nine By Blue and create Blueprint Search Analytics< which she later sold. Her book, Marketing in the Age of Google, (updated edition, May 2012) provides a foundation for incorporating search strategy into organizations of all levels. Follow her on Twitter at @vanessafox.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://twitter.com/vanscoy vanscoy

    Great free advice. Now if you could just find us somebody to run against her.

  • http://www.lakeland-printing.com pawsprinting

    Great article, and I love the line “Video – Don’t autoplay video when the page loads. That’s not really an SEO thing. Just an annoying-the-hell-out-of-me thing.”

    I read this post because Matt Cutts posted a link from Twitter. I thought it was funny that he added to your story about that site indeed being penalized. It must be cool to be able to have the resources to look that up. Anyway, I’m glad Google makes an attempt to notify the webmaster to fix things.

  • crimsongirl

    Funny incident, and surprisingly dumb move by a campaign staff that should have some savvy. Today’s Austin American Statesman (local newspaper) quoted some local SEM folks – Kate Morris, Bill Leake – who said some sensible things. Then they included a quote from a Virginia-based consultant who “said he sees nothing untoward because the phrases could prompt search engines to display Hutchison ads”. Amazing how ignorant people can be. http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/2009/07/31/0731website.html

  • Kalena

    Hi Vanessa – nice retro spam spotting! Gave me hallucinatory flashbacks. Just wanted to alert you to the fact that the *Google Insights for Search* link appears to be broken

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