Malformed HTML could get you banned from Google

Just a word of warning about the dangers of malformed HTML on your web site.

One of my clients, who shall remain nameless, used a free HTML WYSIWYG editor to make edits to the text of their website.  This editor created a block of text that was improperly wrapped in <MAP> HTML tags.  A MAP tag defines a client-side image-map,  an image with clickable regions.  As a result the text was hidden from the browser.

After a little more than a week, they received this message via email from Google. ( the url has been changed)

Dear site owner or webmaster of ********.com,

While we were indexing your webpages, we detected that some of your pages were using techniques that were outside our quality guidelines, which can be found here: http://www.google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html

In order to preserve the quality of our search engine, we have temporarily removed some webpages from our search results. Currently pages from ********.com are scheduled to be removed for at least 30 days.

Specifically, we detected the following practices on your webpages:

* The following hidden text on ********.com:

It then went on to display the text in question.

As a result they were dropped from the organic search results on Google.  This was particullly bad because it was over the weekend prior to the start of national television campaign.  The owner gave me a call on late on Sunday night and we started working on a plan.

  1. We immediatly removed the offending text from the site
  2. We requested reindexing from Google via the Google Webmaster’s Tools
  3. We set up a new Adwords campaign using just the domain name and company name as keywords, that pointed to the home page.

Lucky for them, Google was handling request quickly and they must have seen that it was an honest mistake, because the site popped back up on the top of the search engines within 48 hours of the request.

To keep this from happening to you, do the following.

  1. Design your site using standard practices and don’t try and trick Google.
  2. Follow Google’s Guidelines.
  3. Never hide text on your site by using any of the following techniques or any other method.
    1. Match the text color and background color
    2. Use CSS to set the display to “None” or the placement off the page
    3. Position the text behind images or other element
    4. Wrap the text in non-display tags.
  4. Make sure to sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and monitor your account for errors.
  5. Validate your web page using the W3.org tool to ensure your HTML is correctly formatted.

Remember, Google has more engineers working on Search Quality and more Ph.Ds in information retrivial working for them, than you do.