Can you trust your web design company?

I’m a bit of a geek and I like to look at the search results for a variety of keywords and see who is ranking where.  I’m always interested to see why they’re ranking where they are so I often have a poke about to see what’s working for them and what isn’t.

Today, I was looking at a web design company’s website and I had a poke around some of the websites that they’d done for their clients.  This particular client didn’t have a visible link back to their designer’s website but when I took a look at the HTML code, they did in fact have a link back to them – a nice keyword rich link that Google would discover and put into their calculations when working out the popularity of the designers website.  What they’d done is hidden the link so that the website visitors couldn’t see it but Google could.

I didn’t check all of their clients for the same behaviour but what is obvious is that this company is ranking extremely well for the search term that they have hidden on their client’s website.

This was the sort of the search engine optimisation trickery that happened years ago to try to fool Google or Yahoo into giving you a higher ranking.  It used to work years ago, but now it’s expressly forbidden in Google’s terms of service.  If you’re caught hiding test and links then you’ll be penalised in some way.  Note that usually the website receiving the link isn’t punished, since they can’t control who links to them, but the website giving the link WILL be punished.

So, one of two things occurred in order for this link to come about:

  1. The designer asked for a link and the client said OK, but make sure it’s not visible to our visitors
  2. The designer asked for a link, the client said no but the designer put one on anyway and hid it
  3. The designer asked for a link, the client said no, the designer said that he could put a hidden link in, explained the risks and the client said yes.

I think 3 is unlikely and 1 probably is as well.

What makes this particular story interesting is that the designer’s website has an article saying that you shouldn’t use underhand tricks when optimising your website and expressly points out that hidden text is wrong.  This is a case of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’.

My question to you is, “What would you do?”.

  1. Would you contact the client and tell them that they’re at risk>
  2. Would you contact the designer and tell them to cut it out?
  3. Woul you contact Google and get the lot of them penalised?

A secondary question could be- “Do you trust your web design company not to do this.  How do you know?”

Answers in the comments please!