It’s always something. Apparently has been dabbling in black-hat SEO, hosting thousands of keyword-based articles on their high–page-ranked site and placing hidden links to them on their home page. Way to go, guys. This makes the paranoia over remote images almost look reasonable. What’s next, putting ads in the next default template?

The free/open source software world is based primarily on trust. Based on comments I’ve read over the last couple of days, WordPress has lost a lot of it. They’ve even been (mostly) dropped from Google. A sensible precaution while things are sorted out, but it unfortunately means the first top-level listing on a Google search for “wordpress” is, which looks like a cybersquatter. Not exactly an improvement.

In a support thread Matt answered last week, he referred to it as an “experiment.” He’s on vacation right now, but someone has taken it upon themselves to remove the bogus articles from the site.

My thoughts:

The particular technique used here, using CSS to move text off the page where people can’t see it, but computers still can, has two main uses: replacing content (such as replacing headlines with images while keeping the text “visible” to screen readers) and outright concealing it. Even concealment has its legit uses, like hiding links to spamtraps and honeypots so that normal users won’t be distracted by the spam bait. It also gets abused. The challenge, as always, is trying to separate the legit uses from the abuse.

Even if Matt technically owns, he has some responsibility to the WordPress community. His comments — “If it turns a lot of people off I definitely don’t want it” — seem to reflect this, and I suspect he’ll chalk it up to experience as a bad idea. Had he done this on—which has almost as high a PageRank as (much higher right now!)—I doubt there would have been as much of an outcry.

As I said above, trust is critical. Remember the panic over MovableType buying LiveJournal? The mass exodus from MovableType to WordPress when they changed their license terms? Heck, remember the mass GeoCities exodus when Yahoo bought them? I refused to buy a Belkin router because I didn’t trust them. The fact that someone quickly removed the articles even with Matt out of the country should help rebuild that trust. A detailed statement from Matt when he gets back will probably be necessary for many people.

My main problem with this is the deception. If they’d hosted the articles in the open instead of hiding them, I’d think it was a bit fishy, but that’s all. Instead it puts the “experiment” squarely in the black-hat camp.

Edit: One more perspective on the mess that’s worth reading.

(via War on Spam and Geek Ramblings)

Update April 1: Well, has its PageRank back (now that the junk articles are gone), and is once again the first search result for its own name. Matt, still on vacation, tracked down an Internet connection in Italy and posted a preliminary response to the “villagers with torches and pitchforks”. has also posted a follow-up, including a statement from Hot Nacho (who produced the articles).

Update: And here’s the official response.

One thought on “Gaming search engines with WordPress

  1. I have to side with Matt on this one. Though there were plenty of things he could have and should have done differently, he is a tech guy who now needs to realize he is running a business with a dedicated and easily aggitated community. Those who are the greatest evangelists of your products can also lead to its quickest demise.

    I also have a sincere problem with the difference in numbers between what Matt claims (1000+ articles) and HotNacho which claims 168,000. Its not like splitting the difference brings the two much closer.

    I have actually managed to turn this little “scandal” into a three part series on my blog. Part I is up, with Parts II and III later today.

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