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Heroic Media using Google to divert abortion-seekers, violating the search engine’s policy

MahurinPointing_Thumb1_1704.jpg
MahurinPointing_Thumb1_1704.jpg

Anti-abortion-rights media group Heroic Media recently launched a new online strategy that violates Google policy.

The Texas-based organization — best known for erecting controversial billboards with phrases such as, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb” – re-designed its website in late July, launching a new method of deterring women from getting abortions.

Heroic Media’s latest strategy involves manipulating Google search results by buying ads and filling them with abortion-related keywords that direct abortion-seekers to Option Line, a crisis pregnancy hotline founded by Care Net and Heartbeat International, the nation’s two largest networks of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). In March, Majella Cares, which parents Heroic Media and sister organization Life Always, registered the URL www.freepreghelpline.com, which is a single-page site that essentially serves as what’s known as a “landing page” or “doorway page,” and what Google defines as “large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase … written to rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to a single destination.”

At the top of the website is a prompt to enter a zip code; once entered, the user is taken to an Option Line page that lists crisis pregnancy centers located within that particular area. According to Option Line’s website, there are about 1,800 CPCs within the Option Line network.

The remainder of the FreePregHelp website consists of all-capped blue and green text, reading:

If you’re scared and worried… If your boyfriend freaked, if your parents are mad, then you’ve come to the right place[.] Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Then move on to the important stuff, like making a decision you can live with. One that can ultimately bring you peace and happiness. Now’s the time to talk it out. To know what your options are there are lots more than you might think [.] Listed above are people you can talk to and a website you can go to for more information, advice or direction. They’re confidential. No one will know. You don’t have to do this alone.

Heroic Media outlines its Internet Outreach strategy on its website:

Each month there are more than 2 MILLION Google searches for “abortion” nationwide. When a young woman turns to the internet for immediate, anonymous help, and she searches for abortion related terms, Heroic Media’s keyword advertisements are there to connect her with help and hope.

Internet keyword advertising is targeted and measureable. We can reach scared, abortion-vulnerable women with life-affirming messages and monitor effectiveness by the number of views, clicks, and visits to our site. We recently launched a new landing page at www.freepreghelpline.com to optimize reporting on just how many women are connected with life-affirming resources.

Keyword advertising on Google is also extremely cost-effective because you only pay for clicks, which cost an average of less than three dollars. That’s three dollars to connect abortion-vulnerable women with life-affirming information and people who can help.

For every $100 we invest in keyword advertising, around 30 women are connected with Option Line where they find the help they and their babies need.

As stated, the intention of the landing page is to funnel Internet users searching for “abortion” to Option Line, but the new strategy appears to violate Google’s policy. The search engine’s webmaster guidelines explicitly state that doorway pages are a violation of policy because they are considered manipulative and deceptive.

From Google’s doorway-page policy:

Whether deployed across many domains or established within one domain, doorway pages tend to frustrate users, and are in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines.

Google’s aim is to give our users the most valuable and relevant search results. Therefore, we frown on practices that are designed to manipulate search engines and deceive users by directing them to sites other than the ones they selected, and that provide content solely for the benefit of search engines. Google may take action on doorway sites and other sites making use of these deceptive practice, including removing these sites from the Google index.

For Google, it’s not about ethics, but search quality, a spokesperson said, adding doorway pages like www.freepreghelpline.com violate company policy.

“Sites sometimes violate Google’s webmaster guidelines in an attempt to game our algorithms and trick their way to the top of our results,” said Google spokesperson in an email. “If they succeed, this hurts the search experience for people coming to Google, because high-quality information gets buried by spammers and sites don’t get to compete on a level playing field. Our webmaster guidelines are designed to protect users, and when a site violates them, we reserve the right to take action to preserve a good user experience. This helps ensure that in the long run people can find the best possible search results on Google, and website owners can compete on a level playing field for traffic.”

Earlier this year, Google’s cloaking policy gained national attention following a New York Times investigation of JC Penney’s search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, which involved links to JC Penney from thousands of (often unrelated) websites, which in turn drove JC Penney to the top of Google searches for the most mundane items. As the Times, reported, Google found violation with the way in which the retail chain’s website was dominating the search results for everything from “casual dresses” to “horses.”

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