I doubt there is a person on the planet by now who hasn’t heard that “Little Madeline” is missing. Nonetherless, there is now a website set up to add to the media overload.

I thought I would have a look and I instantly noticed a large block of empty space at the bottom of the page, and did as I always do when seeing that – I clicked CTRL+A.

A load of hidden text appeared.

Now this is an interesting ethical issue for the search engines.

The website is spamming – no question about it. That is bad, also – no question about it.

I am going to be charitable and presume that this is an amateur web designer who doesn’t know that hidden text is a VERY BAD THING to do. The text is not particuarly spammy itself, and there really is no need to “cloak” it frankly.

However, considering the media fuss right now – would any search engine risk the backlash if they banned the website from their index?

It’s a difficult one.

Personally, I think that they should ban the website as “rules are rules”. If you let this pass, then any charity style website can claim to be allowed to spam the search engines.

This is not some insignificant little website either – according to BBC News 24 this morning, over 4 million people have visited the website so far.

Google does tend to try and contact webmasters when banning them – so that may alleviate the issue slightly.


Here is the bottom of the site as you would normally see it:

Madeline website normal

And here is the hidden text which the search engines would be seeing:

Madeline website highlighted

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