Big Brand Search Engine Spam – Hugo Boss

by Hessam on March 8, 2011

I have already written about the apparent inability of fashion brands to build websites which don’t suck. The German fashion brand Hugo Boss is no exception to this. Instead of ditching their Flash website so search engines can find their content and rank their pages for relevant keywords, they have ventured into the shady areas of SEO by publishing sneaky doorway pages on their domain. Doorway pages are only visible to search engines while “normal” visitors are redirected to a nice looking page without noticing. Very sneaky indeed and completely unnecessary taken into account the Hugo Boss brand authority and the amount of good content hidden in all those Flash files on their site. These doorway pages rank very high in search engines for popular keywords:

Hugo Boss - Doorways

You can see these doorways for yourself by doing a Site:search in Google: site:hugoboss.com/glossar/ (To only see English doorway pages go here: site:hugoboss.com/glossar/en/). Note that you need to switch off JavaScript in your browser in order to prevent the redirection. Here’s the difference between what the visitor and Googlebot sees when visiting the same URL:

Hugo Boss - Doorway 2

This is a classic case of sneaky JavaScript redirection which Google and other search engines clearly forbid. In a futile attempt to hide these doorways the webmaster has hidden links pointing to them in the page footers with a noscript tag. Here is a screenshot of the code containing these hidden links.

It makes me sad to see this kind of cheating, especially by well-known brands who have enough time and budget to be better than the rest. Not only are these fast-track techniques useless, they are also a major waste of time and energy. Rather than trying to scam their way up, they should’ve just looked for ways to beef up their existing pages to make them more search engine friendly. Now they will have to start from scratch.

10 comments

Interesting article! Thanks a lot!

by Cepis on March 8, 2011 at 16:54. Reply #

Brand Marketeers need to adopt Pull marketing properly and not just game search engines. The energy with which some brand -over-function marketeers aggressively try to get facetime with people is scary. This is nothing short of stealing visits AND gaming Google all in the name of the brand.

by Anonymous on March 8, 2011 at 17:29. Reply #

I find it insane that a brand with such a large budget and potential reward from this kind of project would end up with such a damaging product. Great post as it’s a great example of why people should never try to fight the system.

by Ronan O'Brien on March 8, 2011 at 17:53. Reply #

[...] quotidiano giro di aggiornamento sui siti e blog di SEO internazionali, mi sono imbattuto in questo interessante post di Hessam Lavi, ex membro dello spam team di Google, che calava la mannaia sul portale del noto [...]

by Hugo Boss bannato da Google - Posizionamento Zen on March 9, 2011 at 11:02. Reply #

[...] the chastening of JC Penney, Overstock and Forbes.com by Google? Well, now it is Hugo Boss who beeped under Google's spam scanner. The German fashion giant was caught, redirecting and [...]

by Hugo Boss Next In Google Spam Busters' List! » SEO Blog PageTraffic on March 10, 2011 at 10:02. Reply #

[...] of Google’s search quality spam team — point to the German fashion brand Hugo Boss.┬áHe explains that rather than ditch their Flash Web site so search engines can find content and rank their pages [...]

by Blekko, Google Line Up Hunted Spam Sites « Facebeyond on March 10, 2011 at 22:28. Reply #

I think you missed something importent. The redirects only work when Flash is installed. So the redirects are purely Flash switches, nothing else. Did Google state that Flash switches are against the rules? I never heard that. I agree that some target pages may not always show the right content, that is bad for the visitors. But this is not against any rule except usability guidelines.
I think you did not check whether the redirect is a Flash switch. But this is an important detail I guess.
Especially when somebody blames somebody publicly, we all should be careful in what we say.
I know other cases where Flash switches like that are also used. And in my option they make sense. I would agree, that the static HTML page is not the best one and I also guess quite outdated, but that’s another story. And implementing a wrong target for that Flash redirect is also a problem, but thats usability, not SEO. May be this is a typical example of beeing too fast with an allegation. I mean, your reproach is quite a big one, and I do not know what HugoBoss thinks about that when they read something like that. Especially when you missed an important detail.
So: The javascript redirect is clearly NOT forbidden as you state, they are only forbidden when they always redirect. Try yourself: Uninstall Flash and activate Javascript, you will see that the redirect will not happen. And next: On the static HTML pages is not one hidden link. They are all visible. I will not discuss whether the content makes sense or the redirect. But this is just what you state in your article…

by SEOmonster on March 11, 2011 at 12:49. Reply #

Thanks for your elaborate comment. I’ve heard similar feedback from others so I’m glad we can have a discussion and clear things up. I do believe Hugo Boss has done this to trick the search engines and here is a longer explanation:

If you disable JavaScript in your browser to stop the redirection on these doorways, the content you will see is something like this:
From http://www.hugoboss.com/glossar/en/boss-sunglasses.html:

“BOSS sunglasses
Sunglasses from BOSS provide stylish eyewear for men and women of all ages. Sunglasses come in a variety of classic styles such as rimless frames for men and oversized frames for women. Modeled for business and sport fashions, sunglasses from BOSS are optical frames designed to look classic and chic. Gaze into a romantic sunset with the BOSS eyewear collection of sunglasses.”

Now, looking at the page this doorway is redirecting to (http://www.hugoboss.com/de/en/boss_black_men_eyewear.php) you can see that there is nothing like the block of text above on the page. Why? Because the text is very SEO optimized, as in keyword heavy and not very user-friendly. No real customer would be impressed reading this page – Hugo Boss would NEVER use this text as part of their marketing anywhere! Actually no real visitor will see this text since (almost) everyone have JavaScript activated in their browsers by default.

Here is another piece of text from another doorway page:
“HUGO BOSS dress
A dress from HUGO BOSS is excellence personified. Whether searching for a dress based on classic elegance or modern chic style, business pantsuits for women, stylish suits or casual situations that require refined designs of comfort, a dress from HUGO BOSS offers perfection and the finest in materials and design.”

This page redirects to: http://www.hugoboss.com/de/en/hugo_women_looks.php

Could you imagine Hugo Boss write something like the above on their landing pages!?! Never in a hundred years…

If you are after implementing a non-flash fallback version of your site for e.g. iPhones, screen readers etc, there are several ways to implement this correctly. The right way would be to create a “low-fi” version of the page showing the *same* content as you show to everyone else. This is indeed a very common technique and something that many websites use. The same goes for redirections based on users’ geo location and other valid redirection methods for improving the user experience. Hugo Boss however is not doing this, instead they’ve added a big chunk of over-optimized text so these pages will rank high in search engines.

It always boils down to the intention if something is spammy/blackhat or not. The main evidence of why this is a clear case of doorway pages is:

- The position of the pages within the site highlights that they wanted to attract search engines and the text included in those pages is not aimed for users who do not have Flash.
- Pages in this directory are optimized for very commercial keywords and the text is highly optimized for search engines – i.e. you would never put this text on a “regular” page.
- The content of the doorway pages and pages which they redirect to are very different – this is called cloaking and is a violation of Google’s T&C
- Links to these pages are hidden in the footer of the pages, invisible to the regular user (see screenshot in the post)
- But most importantly: Google sees this as a violation of their T&C since they penalized the domain by removing these pages from their index following my blogpost.

by Hessam Lavi on March 11, 2011 at 19:48. Reply #

Your details are interesting, but still you suggest things. You say Google penalized them by removing that pages from the index. Did Google tell you this? I will never believe that as this information is very confidential. So may be HB took them out of the index themselves? You do not see this as a possibility because you seem to be damn sure about everything. Sorry, I have the experience from big companies and you can not believe what may happen there. Even Google was against it’s own rules in Japan. So everything is ok if you discuss it, but the tone of your article sounds like “it must be like that”. Quite lurid. Shouldn’t we discuss cases like that in an objective way? I think your article is not objective. And this is sad as this is a problem with lot of blogs (heard of the german “bloggergate”)? So why don’t you state just the facts and let the community discuss it? I always think of the BILD Zeitung when I read this. And the reputation of BILD is quite bad. Lots of people read it. So may be you do it for more readers? Sorry when I ask: Why aren’t you still with Google? I am sure they would communicate completely different.

by SEOmonster on March 13, 2011 at 23:12. Reply #

Do you by any chance work for Hugo Boss? It seems you are taking this quite personally…

HB has not removed the pages, Google did. In order for a URL removal request to work, the pages in question need to be blocked in the Robots.txt as well as return a ’404 – Not Found’ server response which is not the case with hugoboss.com.

by Hessam Lavi on March 14, 2011 at 8:23. Reply #

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