Senator's campaign website suffers search-engine death penalty for embedding invisible homophobic slur against opponent

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) is running for re-election governor, but her website has suffered Google and Yahoo's death penalty and has been removed from the search index. The reason: Hutchison's webmaster embedded thousands of invisible search-terms in the site in a bid to game search-engines; among them was the phrase "rick perry gay" (Rick Perry is Hutchison's Democrat Republican opponent). The campaign claims the terms were generated automatically by "search engine optimization" software (SEO is a form of Google-Kremlinology in which firms attempt to figure out how to game search engines' ranking algorithms, rather than trying to create the best, most interesting website they can and assuming that the engines will figure out how to highly rank their material).
Hutchison's campaign initially told the Austin American-Statesman that "a vendor sold them on a tool that generates the phrases hourly or less in an attempt to divine the most frequent Web searches made by individuals who search online using one or all of the terms 'Rick Perry,' 'Kay Bailey Hutchison' and 'Texas'"--and plenty of people search for "rick perry gay."

The tool was allegedly used to help make banner ad buying decision, said the campaign, a claim that makes little sense on its face. Why would such a list be inserted in the website's source code unless the goal was to draw search traffic to the site?

Hidden gay slur, search terms, get campaign site blacklisted


  1. Rick Perry is her Republican opponent. He is not now and has never ever been a Democrat. They are both Republicans.

  2. Kay Bailey Hutchison isn’t running for re-election to the Senate, she’s running for governor, and Rick Perry, the incumbent governor she is running against, is also a Republican.

  3. Rick Perry is a Republican candidate, so is Kay. This is a primary challenge. Rick was once a democrat… a long long time ago but he’s been a Republican for more than a decade now.

  4. Funny stuff!

    However, Rick “Goodhair” Perry is an R (and he really does have good hair!). Hutchison must be a primary challenger.

  5. And she is running for the Governor’s office, not re-election to the Senate in this case. Perry is the one running for re-election.

  6. Correct — Rick Perry is the one running for re-election as governor; Hutchison is expected to be his main challenger for the Republican nomination.

  7. Yes, as the previous poster notes, Rick Perry is some sort of Republican bot……who occasionally threatens succession if Texas is forced to provide social services to its residents.

  8. Right. Of course, Hutchinson is emphatically not running for re-election. She’s leaving office to run for the governorship against Perry, who is a fellow Republican.

    Christ, what a mess.

  9. Adding terms to attract hits from search engines would be like giving viagra or herbal ecstasy to a mesothelioma patient. It’s pointless, like bringing hot nude pics to a criminal attorney.

  10. Just to be clear, Google kicked this one off their indices because of the presence of hidden search terms — this is a very common occurrence. It was nothing to do with the meanings of those terms; Google is (quite rightly) happy to index the world’s homophobia for us.

  11. @15 it was because the page had something like 20,000 hidden terms. I think the SEO bot got a bit tangled.

  12. Well in all fairness to #15, there are going to be some homophobic single issue voters. Perry has essentially made his entire platform how he’s avoided reform at every turn.

    On the other hand, KBH is a guanograde psychopath known for assaulting aides and journalists.

  13. Ah, this would be part of stage two of state-level Southern elections– subtle innuendo that your opponent has characteristics poorly desired by the electorate. (Stage One being heart-felt profession of desire for a clean and slur-free fight, and Stage Three being the verbal equivalent of a Jerry Springer throwdown).

    This one wasn’t perfectly polished, but seems fairly subtle as they go. Clever, even, but for Google’s de-listing policies.

  14. “SEO is a form of Google-Kremlinology in which firms attempt to figure out how to game search engines’ ranking algorithms, rather than trying to create the best, most interesting website they can and assuming that the engines will figure out how to highly rank their material” – nice definition, if it would be a bit shorter, one could twitter that now and then. Just to annoy SEOs.

  15. Two glaring errors in the post right off the bat? I realize it’s okay to fix errors after the fact, but c’mon. Fact-checking does not take that long to do.

  16. They corrected the post, y’all can remove those sticks that are surely in a most uncomfortable location and have a sit down now. :p

  17. Last I heard a week ago (admittedly I’ve been out of the news cycle for a couple weeks due to the bar exam), KBH was still denying that she’s running for governor against Perry, and will only run if he announces he’s retiring.

    She issued this particularly egregious statement that seemed to imply she views the governorship as her right, and Perry was being a jerk by not stepping down to let her take over.

    Also, BBers might be interested to know that I wrote to her a few years ago when there was that whole hubbub about the government possibly ceasing publication of publicly collected weather data. Her response was that data the National Weather Service and NOAA collect should not be released to the public whatsoever because it would destroy private competition in the weather collecting marketplace.

    Not fucking kidding. I decided never to vote for her again despite still being a Republican then.

  18. “SEO is the new snake oil.”

    Why is this? I work at an ad agency, and our SEO team spends most of its time figuring out how to let our clients geo-target their demographics – so customers in certain cities know of other small businesses that provide the services they’re looking for, aside from the huge chain stores that take up as much webspace as they can muster.

    SEO isn’t all spam jam, you know.

  19. That’s not even SEO, that’s just dumb. SEO is generally a legitimate way of making sure a website is relevant to the kind of people who would be searching the subject (in theory, most decent SEO agencies have an ethical code, but there are plenty of exceptions).

    Google have been known to ban sites that use invisible keywords to generate traffic. BMW is a good example of this, they got banned because their idiotic online agency employed some dodgy SEO guys who filled it up with invisible keywords.

  20. So let me get this straight (no pun intended).

    KBH, in an attempt to highjack RP’s gay supporters, who are trying to find out more about him and his stance on their issues, tries to manipulate Google into ranking her web site higher, thus giving her a chance to grab his gay constituency? Right?

    That’s smart politics!

  21. @#8 – Perry was Bush’s lt. guv, yes, but they don’t run on the same ticket. The lt. guv during Bush’s first term was the same Democratic lt. guv under Ann Richards.

    @Kyle Goetz- KBH announced a long time ago she’s running for guv, and has even announced she’ll resign her senate seat in October or November to challenge Perry in the primary.

    The really sad part is Perry is the arch-conservative’s best friend, and Hutchinson is seen as a (relatively) moderate voice. Too bad her campaign screwed this up.

  22. “SEO is the new snake oil”

    SEO is like medicine on the internet. There is a vast amount of outright snake oil and there is a large amount of items of questionable value. Then there are some things that take research, time, and hard work, but give good, albeit non-miraculous, results.

  23. Are people contending that simply the phrase “rick perry gay” is a slur? Doesn’t that kind of presume that being gay is, in fact, a heinous crime the mere suggestion of which constitutes a slur? If Rick Perry were, in fact, gay, it might make me want to vote for him.

  24. @#21

    Writing poorly researched and sensationalized content is so much better than using rubbish seo software.


    Long-time BB readers eventually notice that Cory D likes to sensationalize on a flimsy pretext, while simultaneously making errors in facts/research that he himself would blast if committed by Big Media.

    It’s too bad, because those of us who share some of his concerns on certain topics find that he gives our position a bad name by being so knee-jerk irresponsible.

    On the other hand, it makes it easier to deflate him when I disagree, but that gets old fast!

  25. Rick Perry was a Democrat for most of his life, and only switched parties after W got elected governor in Texas. He was Gore’s campaign chairman in Texas and a co-chair of the Dukakis campaign. Perry is a political opportunist who will say whatever he needs to, more than most politicians.

  26. I points and laughs. LULZ @ stoopid Rethuglicans!Always looking for the unfair advantage, because they have no real virtues of any kind.

    I hope Perry stomps her in the primary and then gets stomped in the general. I don’t expect to get my way on this, but I can hope.

  27. Back in 2004, there were fairly strong rumors around Austin that Perry was caught in bed with his then Secretary of State, Geoff Connor, and that his wife was filing for divorce. It never gained traction and eventually died out.

    I imagine that’s what the “Rick Perry Gay” tag is referencing, but oddly, none of this latest coverage seems to mention it…

  28. Alan@~29: I live in Texas in KBH’s district. I can attest to the fact that she is just as much a c*nt as Mr. Perrmahair. Ok, to be fair, they are about as different as Beelzebub and Asmodeus.

    Maybe all of their scuffling will allow a Dem to come back into office. I can live and hope. (Oh Noodley One, please help them to shoot themselves in the foot some more!)

    Btw, doesn’t “KBH” sound like a subsidiary of Halliburton getting fat on those no-bid contracts?

  29. @#35– I’ve noticed as well that no one’s getting the “joke”. Maybe others don’t keep up with the high school drama that is Texas Politics hahaha. I find it no surprise that KayBay would stoop to these kinds of tricks!

    I mean, jeez, the last time we had a Democrat governor was because the Republican nominee equated rape with bad weather!

    Southern Dems learn humility at a young age, or at least fatalism. I predict that no matter who is running, the biggest and baddest jerk is going to be the one that wins.

  30. Phikus: When you say you live in her district, what do you mean? She’s a U.S. Senator from Texas. Do you mean you live in Texas? In the (old?) 3rd in Dallas?

    The spammed keywords appear to have been removed now but, well, there’s still this: According to this post pointed to from here, among the phrases included were

    “why do we have knees”

    I am still trying to come up with an explanation for this one.

  31. Little John: I guess I was a little redundant there, which is why we have knees, after all. Knees remind us that things would be really hopping if we didn’t have two of them, redundantly speaking redundantly. In my opinion, that really caps it. It cannot be said that she’s not doing everything she can to have a leg up on the competition. It cannot be said, I say!

  32. Says a lot about the power of the search engines though, doesn’t it? Upset Google like this, and you’re blacklisted from their search results – for all practical purposes, your website no longer exists.

  33. Every Republican and the GOP in Texas is run by a bunch of azzclown idiots.

    Buh Bye KBailey – we are over you old lady. Move on.

  34. @ Phikus – I said “(relatively)”.

    @33 – Perry was a Dem when he served in the state house (1984-1990). He switched parties when he ran for Ag Commissioner in 1990. So he was a Dem for 6 years and has been a Republican for going on 20. However, he has always be very conservative, and did switch at a politically opportune time. He supported Gore in in the primaries in 1988, btw (in case anyone thought it was in 2000).

    #41 alludes to something that will make this primary race interesting. The hard right rules the Republican party in Texas and loves Perry. However, Texas has open primaries, and you may see a lot of people switching over and voting for KBH early just to get Perry out of the overall race. This is the first time ever that Perry has had a real primary challenge, so it’ll be a lot of fun to watch.

  35. SEO can also mean taking a craptastic old site full of antiquated, non-standard HTML coding and turning it into a sleek, modern site that the search engines can actually index properly. My job involves a fair bit of this, so hearing the entire field described as ‘snake oil’ is slightly disheartenening.

    (Anyone who uses hidden search terms in this day and age is just asking to be smacked down).

  36. Must have hired the Las Vegas SEO firm that was hounding me to get our website overhauled.

    Over the phone, you could hear it was the typical boiler room operation. I looked them up online, five page website with glowing prose and a contact at a Las Vegas PO box. The terms were excellent, pay up $5000.00 up front, no guarantees, no money back if you were dissatisfied.

    The fifth time the phone jockey called, he hooked me up with Sergey who started telling me all the failings of my well ranked website, while at the same time displaying absolute lack of any idea of what our website was about.

    I called him on it and pointedly asked if he knew what our business was. He kind of exploded, gave the phone back to the phone jockey. I could hear him in the backgound discussing how f’ing stupid I was, our company was and a few other slurs on American business people.

    The sixth time they called, I cited Sergey’s well thought out descriptions of our business and asked the phone jockey if they were going to SEO our f’ing stupid product as sold by an f’ing stupid American company. The guy apologized, hung up and I never heard from them again.

    1. Must have hired the Las Vegas SEO firm

      And if you read the fine print, you’ll see that you agree that any lawsuits will take place in Clark County, Nevada.

  37. This next governor’s race is going to be awesome political theater. It’s shaping up to be a race between a Washington insider and a special interest financed cowboy.

    For those who don’t know (you kinda have to live in Texas to know). The right has a love hate relationship with Perry. Usually, it’s a strong emotion in one way or another. He’s pretty far to the right (as evidenced by his secession remarks and refusal to accept earmarks), but he’s also made some “questionable” decisions (right motive, wrong execution IMO). Similarly, people are fairly divided on Hutchison as well. She’s not seen as being conservative enough to govern Texas, but she’s also got a huge fan base. The real fun thing is that those groups are not mutually exclusive either!
    (Personally, I like Perry)

    To top it off, there’s also a 5 or 6 way fight over Hutchison’s soon to be vacated seat. The really fun thing thing about the special election is that it is a totally open election (no primaries) so several republicans, a few democrats, and one or two independents will __all__ be on the same ballot. There will then be a runoff if no candidate receives a majority of the votes. (Michael Williams, current Railroad Commissioner for me)

    We Texas Republicans (synonymous with conservatives right wingers) are a fickle bunch!

  38. @Antinous

    Heh! Didn’t get that far as I couldn’t stand the rank scam smell.

    All I could imagine at the time was a scam harvesting ftp credentials and the boiler room boss collecting sacks of the stuff for a down street jaunt to a high stakes poker game.

  39. In case anyone is interested in what real SEOs think about this incident, here’s an excellent post by Vanessa Fox, a former Google employee:

    A couple points for those too lazy to read the post:

    1.Matt Cutts, head of the spam team at Google, comments: “Google did take action on this site for hidden text. Hidden text is a violation of our quality guidelines.” Notice he never mentions gay slurs. It’s a non-issue. Your headline is totally false.

    2. Vanessa Fox created Google’s Webmaster Central, “which provides both tools and community to help website owners improve their sites to gain more customers from search.”

    That is exactly what SEOs do: “help website owners improve their sites to gain more customers from search.” And contrary to popular belief, most of us don’t resort to spamming and scamming to accomplish this goal. We do things ethically, not just because we’re good people, but because it makes good business sense.

    Think about for half a second.

    Like most businesspeople, our success depends on long-term, profitable relationships with our clients. Getting our clients’ sites banned from Google is not profitable and does not facilitate long-term business relationships.

    It’s just common sense. Get some.

  40. Actually her explanation makes sense… technically. Politically, she has a hard time explaining whys he wants her ads next to searches like “Rick Perry gay”

  41. @majorfauxpas

    Touched a raw nerve, eh? As long as your name isn’t Sergey and you aren’t operating out of a Las Vegas PO box, we probably aren’t discussing you.

    SEO is about being a good copy editor and knowing your client’s business.

    One of our competitors did not understand that, hired a scam SEO and hit top ranks for exactly one week. They got the Google death penalty and have only a year later begun to get any ranking.

    Sadly for the SEO profession, popular opinion has been built over time from such experiences.

  42. So…any not-first-time commenters want to share a positive SEO anecdote?

    Bueller? Bueller?

  43. One of my clients hired an SEO firm for his bread-and-butter business. They talked to him about his business and what keywords he thought he should be ranking highly for.

    When I discussed the changes with the SEO bossman during the code review, I got a free lesson in SEO tactics. And it was good, solid stuff. If you want to rank for a certain keyword, it should appear in semantically important parts of your pages. Free lesson for me.

    In far less than a month after the changes, the customer was in the top 3 for his chosen search terms. (His subsequent dissatisfaction with the process stemmed from him expecting to rank for terms that he hadn’t informed the SEO company about.)

    Big Bonus Ending: the SEO business was based in a “former Eastern European nation,” as they say.

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