Google went belly-up: SERPs sneakily redirect to FPAs

I’m pissed. I do know I shouldn’t blog in rage, but Google redirecting search engine result pages to totally useless InternetExplorer ads just fires up my ranting machine.

What does the almighty Google say about URIs that should deliver useful content to searchers, but sneakily redirect to full page ads? Here you go. Google’s webmaster guidelines explicitely forbid such black hat tactics:

Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects.” Google just did the latter with its very own SERPs. The search interface google.com/ie, out in the wild for nearly a decade, redirects to a piece of sidebar HTML offering a download of IE8 optimized for Google. That’s a helpful redirect for some IE6 users who don’t suffer from an IT department stuck with this outdated browser, but it’s plain misleading in the eyes of all those searchers who appreciated this clean and totally uncluttered search interface. Interestingly, UA cloaking is the only way to heal this sneaky behavior.

Don’t create pages with malicious behavior.” Google’s guilty, too. Instead of checking for the user’s browser, redirecting only IE6 requests from Google’s discontiued IE6 support (IE6 toolbar …) to the IE8 advertisement, whilst all other user agents get their desired search box, respectively their SERPs, under a google.com/search?output=ie&… URI, Google performs an unconditional redirect to a page that’s utterly useless and also totally unexpected for many searchers. I consider misleading redirects malicious.

Avoid links to web spammers or ‘bad neighborhoods’ on the web.” I consider the propaganda for IE that Google displays instead of the search results I’d expect a bad neighborhood on the Web, because IE constantly ignores Web standards, forcing developers and designers to implement superfluous work arounds. (Ok, ok, ok … Google’s lack of geekiness doesn’t exactly count as violation of their webmaster guidelines, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?)

Hey Matt Cutts, about time to ban google.com/ie! Click to tweet that

Google’s very best search interface is history. Here is what you got under
http://www.google.com/ie?num=100&hl=en&safe=off&q=minimalistic
:

Google's famous minimalistic search UI

And here is where Google sneakily redirects you to when you load the SERP link above (even with Chrome!):
http://www.google.com/toolbar/ie8/sidebar.html
:

Google's sneaky IE8 propaganda

It’s sad that a browser vendor like Google (and yes, Google Chrome is my favorite browser) feels the need to mislead its users with propaganda for a competiting browser that’s slower and doesn’t render everything as it should render it. But when this particular browser vendor also leads Web search, and makes use of black hat techniques that it bans webmasters for, then that’s a scandal. So, if you agree, please submit a spam report to Google:

Hey Matt Cutts, about time to ban google.com/ie! #spam-report Tweet Your Spam Report

2010-05-17 I’ve updated this pamphlet because it didn’t explain the “sneakiness” clear enough. As of today, the unconditional redirect is still sneaky IMHO. Google needs to deliver searchers their desired search results, and only stubborn IE6 users ads for a somewhat better browser.

2010-05-18 Q: You’re pissed solely because your SERP scraping scrips broke. A: Glad you’ve asked. Yes, I’ve scraped Google’s /ie search too. Not because I’m a privacy nazi like Daniel Brandt. I’ve just checked (my) rankings. However, when I spotted the redirects I didn’t even remember the location of the scripts that scraped this service, because I didn’t look at ranking reports for years. I’m interested in actual traffic, and revenues. Ego food annoys me. I just love the /ie search interface. So the answer is a bold “no”. I don’t give a fucking dead rat’s ass what ranking reports based on scraped SERPs could tell.



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13 Comments to "Google went belly-up: SERPs sneakily redirect to FPAs"

  1. Sebastian on 12 May, 2010  #link
  2. Jill Whalen on 12 May, 2010  #link

    Hi Sebastian,

    I’m confused. Are you saying that when you do a search for minimalist in Google, the results page redirects to that IE ad?

    That’s not what happens when I do the search. But I have a feeling you’re saying something else entirely. Does the redirect happen when you click on one of the results in the list?

    If you could please clarify, I’d appreciate it!

  3. Sebastian on 12 May, 2010  #link

    Jill, when you replaced /search? (standard UI) with /ie? (better UI that comes with numbered SERPs w/o snippets, respectively snippets as tooltips) you got a very clean and minimalistic user interface for ages, before Google decided to redirect it to questionable IE ads all of a sudden. Many searchers have bookmarked google.com/ie and these searchers –including yours truly– now are redirected to a page that advertises IE8.

  4. Charlie Irish on 12 May, 2010  #link

    Shhhh!
    /search?output=ie works just fine.
    Just don’t tell anyone else.

  5. Jill Whalen on 12 May, 2010  #link

    Ahhh…I see. Thanks for the explanation. I guess I should have read the link you posted in the article! ;)
    So yeah, that is a really crappy and surprising thing for them to do.

    Can anyone say “don’t be evil”?

  6. Sebastian on 12 May, 2010  #link

    To avoid the sneaky redirect you can search Google with an additional query string parameter output=ie like www.google.com/search?output=ie&q=buy+viagra+online&safe=off&num=100.

    The current redirect breaks all bookmarks and hard coded links to those SERPs.

    I don’t understand why Google didn’t redirect searches like www.google.com/ie?q=buy+viagra+online&safe=off&num=100 to www.google.com/search?output=ie&q=buy+viagra+online&safe=off&num=100

  7. Sebastian on 12 May, 2010  #link

    Jill, that’s evil. :(

  8. Dan Thies on 12 May, 2010  #link

    This service was designed to support IE6, they decided to stop supporting IE6 and redirected users of IE6 to upgrade their ancient browser. You were using the service for some other purpose, but how is that Google’s fault?

  9. Sebastian on 12 May, 2010  #link

    Dan, this service (/ie search interface) was not an IE6 thingy. It was out in the wild for many years and used by lots of searchers, not all of them were IE6 users. Also, it doesn’t redirect only IE6 users. I’m using Chrome and get faced with this ugly IE ad.

  10. Michael VanDeMar on 17 May, 2010  #link

    Meh. Sloppy on their part but I seriously doubt this falls under any of the usual patterns involved with “sneaky” redirects. More like an unannounced change, ie. discontinuing /ie for /search?q=a&output=ie. They’ve made worse unannounced changes in the past, imo. :)

  11. Sebastian on 17 May, 2010  #link

    Michael, sloppiness is no excuse for the entity that “defines WebSpam”. ;-)

  12. […] Google went belly-up: SERPs sneakily redirect to FPAs - Sebastian is back and like Aaron, has the proverbial bee in zee bonnet! Please do go and fill the spam report too… just for fun […]

  13. Miriam on 31 May, 2010  #link

    Thanks for posting the workaround as well.

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