It's a sin to lie to spiders

Telling search engines one thing and site visitors another is not smart. Google is right to put BMW off the road

BMW wouldn't do much business if it just advertised £10,000 Minis but only sold £80,000 M5 Coupes. So it's a mystery why the company's German Web site designers thought that the same bait and switch tactics were fair game for Google.

The trick is to tell the Google search spider one thing — that you've got a sparse, highly-focussed page that fits its model for good user fodder — and then actually present a highly graphic, marketing-heavy slab of persuasion when users come calling. Google's rules aren't arbitrary; they represent the company's best efforts to give us a fair and useful overview of Web content. Optimising your Web site to fit those rules is a good thing, evading them is not.

Google has done precisely the right thing in delisting BMW.de. It not only has the right to preserve the quality of its search results, but a duty to do so. As they get smarter, search engines are beginning to take on some of the power and responsibilities of news publishers. Journalists must always remember that they're acting on behalf of their readers, asking the questions that a reader would ask if they had the time and chance to do so. Search engines do the same job for Web content — and deceiving the search is deceiving the reader.

We look forward to seeing more sites kept honest by Google's fraud squad — even if we are slightly nervous about the company's AI acquiring more and more of the skills of a human journalist. On that front, we won't complain if the spider's progress is slow.

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