AC Hotels and Google – A learning experience

24 03 2007

There is a lot of buzz going on concerning AC Hotels and the ban of many of its websites from Google index; I have covered this issue in my previous post AC Hotels has been banned from google but there is a need for an update.

Mobuzztv on AC Hotels


People in Spain, mostly people from the Spanish SEO community, knew the practices of AC Hotels optimizing their webpages. For some reason, nobody mentioned it before the ban. After I post my last article, many of them started saying that they knew about illegal techniques used to optimized pages, but still, very few actually mentioned what were those illegal techniques. Anyway we have seen comments of people literally bashing the hotel chain for “spamming” google, comments which have not been always fair to the chain. For my part, investigating this issue after the ban was a pain as AC Hotels quickly changed the structure of its websites to get back on Google . So if I wanted to back up those theories of illegal practices of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), we had to look at the usual cache systems of Msn, Yahoo, and of the “memory of the web“.

Finally Telendro came up with a proof (a screenshot) of the cloaking. I did my own search and finally found out a similar version of the cloaking Telendro was talking about.

Definition of cloaking: Although there is a lot of debate concerning its definition, the one who has the power to ban or penalize should be the one we should listen to. So Google says:

Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as “cloaking.”

I actually found it in archive.org. I have changed a little bit its source so people can see the links (without being redirected to the flash site). If you click on the screenshot below it will send you to the html of their cloaking page, full of keywords, cross linking (to their other websites) but also to 2 sites owned by their web designer/SEO company! (I also removed the link of the flash content).

This is the version for the Search Engines (click to see html source):

AC Hotels page for Google spiders

And here is the version for normal visitors:

AC Hotels

However, certain actions such as cloaking, writing text in such a way that it can be seen by search engines but not by users, or setting up pages/links with the sole purpose of fooling search engines may result in removal from our index.

Flash is not SEO friendly but flash can be indexed by Google. If you are not really convinced please try this command:

http://www.google.com/search?num=100&hl=en&safe=off&q=filetype%3Aswf+%22ac+hotels%22&btnG=Search

As a matter of fact, Google is able to read and index .swf files. Unfortunately, in practice, Google’s indexing and browsing of .swf is far less than successful and SEO companies need to use tricks to index entire flash website. One those technique is to create a html site for the spiders when the actually see the flash version. That is what AC Hotels also did:

Msn cache of AC Hotels

Matt Cutts ( aka Googleguy) says:

  • “If all of your content and menus are in Flash, search engines may have a harder time following the links. If you feel strongly about using Flash, just make an HTML version of the page available as well. The search engine bots will thank you. Your users will thank you. Feel free to block the Flash version from the crawlers with a robots.txt file, since you don’t need your pages indexed twice“.

Conclusion:

This “case” is a good concrete example for other websites. I think what’s interesting here is to understand what they did wrong and why Google penalized them. The SEO company of AC Hotels websites has reacted pretty fast since the websites are now back into Google index. On the other hand ranking in Google is not only a matter of design as you can rank well by getting a lot of external backlinks to your site.

Having a flash site, AC Hotels chose to use SEO tricks to get a good ranking and they have been penalized for this; we should not blame them for playing with Google rules since it is not always easy to understand what is allowed or not. It’s often that I see that websites that rank better are the ones who use those tricks. Everyone wants to be first in Google; so you always have to push the limits of optimization since your competition also does it. What’s the problem with this approach? You don’t know where the limits are! Where is the boundary between optimization and spamming. AC Hotels did it pretty well until they got banned and now they have to adapt themselves and change their SEO strategy.

I am definitely not the one who would blame them; I personally think they should follow Googleguy’s opinion about having two versions of the site (flash and html) with only one ranked version in Google.

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7 responses to “AC Hotels and Google – A learning experience”

25 03 2007
Listed at Travel in Blogs.com (01:07:11) :

AC Hotels has cloaked its pages and has been banned by Google – a learning experience…

This post has been submitted and voted on Travelinblogs.com, thank you for your vote!

29 03 2007
Lucidite (12:41:50) :

Excellent articles Sylvain and a most informative read. Since AC Hotels has been reincluded in Google’s index, it does appear that they have been cleaning their act up.

I wonder if AC Hotels themselves were aware of how dangerous their SEO campaign was to their website? Situations like this are difficult, because one cannot expect a non-SEO professional to determine factors such as risk and ethics when choosing SEO services. Very few of my clients would be able to determine that AC Hotels’ SEO techniques were violating Google’s guidelines.

I hope that AC Hotels learns from their experience, let this be a warning to people looking for SEO services. Dig deeper, ask questions in SEO forums, take a look at their existing clients, try to find out what others are saying about their services… Are they offering an “ethical”, transparent service in-line with search engine guidelines and best practices?

18 04 2007
javajoba (19:27:39) :

Great articile. I’m glad to see google taking some action. It’s one thing doing the Google dance and something else all together when you miss lead the SEs.

I agree with Lucidite: Did AC know what was going on under the the html? I would think not. but…

19 04 2007
Chris (17:07:47) :

Good coverage on this story! Intertesting.

Chris

7 06 2007
HOSTING PERU (04:35:34) :

GRACIAS

30 05 2008
michael (19:05:50) :

I have a questions for this article and I wonder how the technology for the previous website was made. Was it a full flash fallback technique or was it just pure full flash with spam incoming linking that made their website sink??

7 06 2008
sahil (10:48:52) :

cool article

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