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Case Study: 4iMedia Hidden Image Map Links

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Kay Schnewerk’s 4iMedia.com is a German PR agency with clients from all walks of life, including (according to 4iMedia) the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

They promise “quality in communication,” though their own homepage shows more spam than quality: they’re hiding dozens of keyword-stuffed links by the use of an image map.

To illustrate, have a look at the page the way it presents itself to casual visitors who chose 4iMedia’s homepage for “slow” connections (the HTML, not Flash version):

Looks innocent enough, but now let’s use a program that highlights all image map rectangles on the page:

The cyan blocks to the left and top (circled in orange) visualize what’s fishy here – the page author added lots of image map areas onto the page which serve no purpose other than to fool searchbots… what the Google webmaster guidelines deem inappropriate “hidden links.” Opening the source of the page, we can see how these are implemented:

Using ImageReady Slices, someone at 4iMedia – or, more unlikely but possible, their external SEO – converted a Photoshop file called “home.psd”, adding lots of dummy areas with alt-texts like “Mnchen” (Munich), “Niedersachsen” (the German state Lower Saxony), “PR-Agentur” (PR agency), “Autor-Weblogs” (author weblogs) and more. Some of these links point to sub-pages on 4iMedia.com, some point to the many different (and interlinked) 4iMedia Blogspot blogs, while others lead to Blogmacher.de, hosting Kay Schnewerk’s “Jam&Chips” company dedicated to corporate blogs and topic blogs. And ooops, Blogmacher.de also uses loads of hidden image map links (see video).

Whether or not this kind of blackhat search engine optimization is successful (in all or some of the engines), I don’t know. It might just be. Several of 4iMedia’s pages have a PageRank of 4, nothing high, but clearly not googleaxed either (they even advertise their PageRank on the – duplicate content? – 4imediaserver.com). And a search for Google+Search” class=”bluelink”>pr-agentur niedersachsen, or pr-agentur sachsen, or pr-agentur nrnberg (see the keywords-stuffing list above) indeed returns 4iMedia’s page on top of Google.com and Google.de at this time.

[Thanks A.!]

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