DO YOU THINK THE SENATOR WAS APART OF THIS CAMPAIGN?
Add a new item to the long list of political shenanigans that backfire once discovered. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) has decided to run for Texas governor against incumbent Rick Perry, and her new campaign website contained hidden text that read “rick perry gay.” The resulting flap led to the firing of the Web development firm involved, drew heated responses from Perry’s office, and (perhaps worst of all) saw Hutchison’s campaign website yanked from Google’s search index.
Texas newspapers uncovered the hidden text last week. The “rick perry gay” reference was one of only thousands of phrases tucked into the source code for Hutchison’s site, apparently to help draw search engine traffic.
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?
Whatever the reason for it, the Hutchison campaign blamed the vendor who developed the site and removed the Perry reference. On July 30, Google removed the campaign’s site from its search index as a penalty for using more than 2,000 hidden terms. Yahoo then followed suit.
The campaign then announced that it was firing its Web design firm. It also redirected the original standbykay.com to texans.forkay.com.
Rick Perry’s campaign then sent us an e-mail crowing about the situation, saying, “It is reassuring that Google and Yahoo had the sense to ban Sen. Hutchison’s attempt at more anonymous dirty tricks and under-handed black hat tactics. This is remarkable third-party validation that Sen. Hutchison is taking the low road in a campaign that should be about the issues. We look forward to the senator breaking her embarrassed silence with an apology to Gov. Perry.”
While the issue will no doubt blow over like a Texas rain shower, it could have longer-term consequences for the site vendor, the nonpartisan ElectionMall. The DC-based firm builds and manages websites, mailing lists, and online stores, but stuffing your website with thousands of search terms and getting a candidate temp-banned from Yahoo and Google doesn’t look good on the old résumé.