The case of the stealth Google-bomb

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Earlier this 12 months, I used to be requested to work on a authorized case involving a few finance sector firms the place one was accused by the opposite of trademark infringement the place the defendant’s web site abruptly started rating for the plaintiff’s service mark.

The one hassle was, the distinctive phrase was by no means related to the defendant’s web site. On this article, I’ll talk about a singular performance of Google’s rating algorithm.

What I anticipated to search out on this case was fairly totally different from what I in the end discovered. Most search rating elements are very simple.

search engine optimisation is an area the place the logical precept of Occam’s razor (“the only rationalization is normally the correct one”) is usually current in formulating explanations. 

For example, if a web page ranks for a singular key phrase, that key phrase will probably be discovered inside a web page’s HTML code such because the title, physique textual content, picture alt textual content – or, failing that, the key phrase may be current in hyperlinks pointing to the web page. 

However, this case was to show to be a uncommon occasion whereby media linking the distinctive, branded phrase, was merely… absent.

The case overview

The situation was fairly distinctive in just a few methods.

Some years in the past, the plaintiff had dreamed up a form of catchphrase that they utilized in conventional media to advertise their enterprise.

The catchphrase mixed a phrase carefully associated to their enterprise and merchandise with a phrase that was not historically associated to their trade. 

They uncared for to advertise the catchphrase on-line, and because it was very distinctive, there have been fewer webpages that appeared in Google search outcomes for the exact question. 

When trying to find the catchphrase, 1.7 million pages have been proven within the outcomes, however many of those have been solely partial matches – when you searched with quotes across the phrase, the outcomes dropped to solely a little bit over three thousand. 

The phrase had been used generically in a totally totally different trade, so a lot of the exact-match outcomes associated to that different use. 

The plaintiff’s web site used the catchphrase on a few of their pages, and had the expectation that solely their web site would seem within the search outcomes when it was searched upon.

The plaintiff marketed in offline media channels, and on the radio, they ended their promotion with a phrase like “For extra info, search in Google for _____ _____!”

Sooner or later, they themselves looked for “_____ _____” and thought it was a little bit odd that the defendant’s web site appeared on web page one, close to the decrease half of the primary web page of search outcomes.

As their very own web site was on the high of the outcomes, they didn’t assume extra of it at the moment. 

Nonetheless, they ultimately thought they could want to register a .com area title with their catchphrase. They have been sad to find the area was already registered.

After they typed within the area, the URL redirected to considered one of their high opponents, situated of their space, not many miles from them. 

That’s once they consulted with a lawyer after which determined to sue.

When the legal professional approached me to look into how the defendant’s web site started rating for the plaintiff’s catchphrase, I used to be fairly assured I’d discover them a veritable “smoking gun” explaining the undeserved rating. 

In my expertise, key phrase textual content have to be related to a webpage ultimately for it to look prominently within the rankings for that key phrase question.

I believed it seemingly that I’d discover key phrases, hidden or in any other case, within the code of the defendant’s web site, or hyperlinks with anchor textual content pointing to the webpage. (There’s additionally the potential for a web page rating for a key phrase’s synonym searches, too.) 

The key phrase was nowhere within the web site’s code

I first spot-checked the web page that was showing within the rankings – and didn’t see the key phrase on the web page, nor seen in its code.

I glanced at copies of the web page within the Web Archive’s repository of historic copies of webpages, and I didn’t discover the key phrase current within the web page’s code. 

To be thorough, I developed an inventory of all of the webpages’ situations within the Web Archive, and I arrange Screaming Frog search engine optimisation spider to crawl all of them and to examine for the key phrase within the pages’ code. 

I couldn’t discover the key phrase in any of the historic copies of the web page. I used to be a bit stunned at that since in some circumstances the place I’ve been referred to as in on trademark infringement, the offender might be pretty naive or brazen.

Then, I determine the place they wilfully infringed on area title registrations. They may very properly have used hidden key phrases in drawing extra reference to their competitor’s marks. 

However, the key phrase was utterly absent from the 1000’s of copies of pages saved within the Web Archive.

I subsequent figured it have to be current within the backlinks’ anchor textual content. It’s attainable to not have any key phrase in any way on a webpage, and but have it rank prominently for the key phrase if exterior hyperlinks have been developed containing the time period. Utilizing Majestic, I checked the backlinks and located no hyperlinks containing the key phrase. 

At this level, I used to be stunned. There are usually few circumstances the place a webpage can rank for phrases not current upon them, and never current of their backlinks’ anchor textual content. 

One situation is that if the key phrase phrase is discovered inside textual content on a web page that’s linking to the webpage in query. For this to occur, sometimes the general matter of the web page have to be dominated by the key phrase, or else one would count on the key phrase to be very near the hyperlink. 

Having the key phrase on the web page however not within the anchor textual content is a reasonably tenuous connection, and one would count on the relevancy conveyed to be fairly weak. That is tougher to detect as properly, as that is such a tenuous connection that trade hyperlink analysis instruments don’t detect it. 

One other situation I’ve encountered just a few occasions concerned the key phrase being current on the web page (and/or on pages linking to the webpage in query) for some time frame after which subsequently deleted. 

I get to see this in online reputation management cases the place a defamatory reference has been current, and we later persuade (or sue and pressure) a webpage to take away defamatory content material or hyperlinks. 

You may be stunned to know that key phrase associations with webpages linger in Google’s algorithm for a time frame in some situations, subsequent to deletion – this issue might be referred to as “historic key phrase affiliation.”

However, the affiliation sometimes fades fairly quick generally – the web page begins subsiding in search outcomes fairly quickly generally after the key phrase affiliation has been eliminated. (In some circumstances, the key phrase affiliation appears to linger far longer.)

When you’ve got learn this far, you in all probability see the place I’m main: the cybersquatting of the area title that began off this lawsuit. 

Certainly that is the place I’m main. In actual fact, it was 4 domains that have been arrange utilizing letter sequences that have been confusingly much like the plaintiff’s trademark. The shopper’s trademark adopted this type: “The [Unique] [Industry]”. 

Thus the primary phrase within the phrase was “The”, adopted by a “distinctive” phrase utterly unrelated to the trade, adopted by the ultimate “trade” phrase which is quite common all through that area of interest of the finance sector. Altogether, the section was distinctive. 

The 4 domains have been fashioned within the following methods (areas inserted for ease of studying):

  • The [Unique] [Industry] . com
  • [Unique] [Industry] . com
  • [Unique] [Industrys] . com
  • [Unique] . [Industry]

The primary area was the complete trademark phrase phrase with the areas eliminated, adopted by .com. 

The second area was the identical as the primary area with the preliminary “The” time period eliminated. 

The third area was the identical because the second, solely the trade time period was made plural with the addition of an “s” on the finish of the phrase previous .com. 

The fourth area used one of many new generic top-level domains (New gTLD) the place the Business time period is the TLD – as in Instance.Finance.

I privately approached just a few well-regarded search engine optimisation trade colleagues, and to a person, all of them opined that such a linkage between key phrases within the domains was extremely unlikely, or at finest a really weak relevancy sign. 

One in all them sleuthed to discover a enterprise listing web page the place each the plaintiff and the defendant have been listed, a ways aside on the web page, together with addresses and hyperlinks to their respective web sites – descriptive textual content for every enterprise listed on the pages included point out of the plaintiff’s catchphrase. 

However, was this the reason? 

The catchphrase on the web page was nearer to the plaintiff’s web site hyperlink by far, and different companies have been likewise listed on the web page as properly. Their web sites didn’t rank for the phrase searches in Google. 

This reply was extremely unsatisfactory as a result of co-mentions on a standard listing web page don’t sometimes end in one’s opponents’ web sites rating for one’s trademark title search, however maybe this very weak connection might be a proof.

I started to assume it was attainable that the 4 infringing domains that have been redirected to the defendant’s web site have been accountable for the defendant’s web site showing on web page one in Google’s rankings for “[Unique] [Industry]” searches. 

The primary factor linking the key phrase time period to the defendant’s web site was the 4 domains. This concept clearly relies upon partially on the query of whether or not key phrases in domains are utilized by Google.

Are key phrases in domains utilized by Google?

Key phrases in URLs have lengthy been identified to convey key phrase relevancy to their pages if constructed properly. 

Way back to 2009, former Googler Matt Cutts had acknowledged that keywords in URLs help “a little bit”, so long as there was no key phrase stuffing. Google’s SEO Starter Guide even now recommends to “Use phrases in URLs.” 

Nonetheless, domains are very particular components of URLs, and there was an uneasy shift over time as a few years again it was noticed by many within the trade that keyworded domains appeared to have been given an excessive amount of weight.

In 2012, Google took pains to reduce the influence of exact match domain (“EMD”) names within the rankings for his or her key phrase question equivalents. Whereas as soon as upon a time, HumptyDumpty.com might be anticipated to rank unusually simply for “Humpty Dumpty” searches, the EMD replace decreased the impact whereas not wiping it out altogether.

In a more moderen timeframe, Google has emphasised that key phrases in URLs have fairly minimal influence, as soon as the web page related to them is listed. 

Google has downplayed the key phrase URL affect as a result of many web sites have been identified to expend assets past a practical ROI in changing web sites with summary URLs into keyworded URLs, and misplaced some rankings and visitors within the course of. (As a result of conversion to keyworded URLs modifications requires time to re-establish rankings with the all-new resultant URLs, shedding key phrase rating historical past benefits.)

Regardless of decreasing the weighting of the EMD key phrase relevancy issue and downplaying the affect of key phrases in URLs and domains, these key phrases in domains proceed to be an influential issue. 

Simply apart from the key phrase’s presence in a website title, the area title itself typically will get used because the anchor textual content for hyperlinks pointing to it, and this may increasingly trigger or enhance the key phrase relevancy for the area title. 

It typically turns into fairly unattainable to distinguish the impact of the key phrases throughout the area title with the anchor textual content of exterior hyperlinks pointing to the area. 

Regardless, it could be taken as provided that keyworded domains carry a particular benefit in search engine optimisation. 

Key phrases in domains are both utilized by Google in rating determinations, or else the carefully related anchor textual content related to hyperlinks to the area causes the area to have rating benefits for its personal key phrases. 

The distinction between these two issues could also be a moot level, because the result’s that key phrases in domains are definitely an element that permits webpages to rank for searches for these key phrase queries. 

Because the key phrases related to the infringing domains are influential in search, the subsequent query is whether or not the redirection of these domains may switch the key phrase relevancy to the URL they have been pointed to.

Why is redirection used?

Whereas key phrases in domains and hyperlinks unequivocally have some rating benefit for his or her equal/related search queries, the subsequent query one should ask is that if a website’s key phrase relevancy is transferred by way of redirection. 

A redirect is a technique by which one web tackle (a webpage URL) is made to ahead an internet site customer requesting it to as an alternative view one other, totally different web page. 

For instance, if an web consumer clicked upon a hyperlink on a webpage that pointed to “http://instance.com”, that web page might be set to routinely redirect the consumer to a distinct URL equivalent to one at “http://vacation spot.com”. 

Redirection of web URLs is comparable in idea to organising a telephone quantity to ahead calls to a distinct phone quantity.

As chances are you’ll know, redirects are set as much as support the web site customer in attending to the content material they search once they have visited a legacy URL for content material that has since been moved. 

Corporations will typically arrange a redirect once they rebrand, necessitating a change of their domains. 

For example, Overstock.com rebranded itself as “O.CO” in 2011, believing the shorter model title and URL could be advantageous – they usually redirected their area title “overstock.com” and its URLs to “o.co” equal URLs. 

This transformation allowed their prospects who had bookmarked the unique, legacy URLs or who have been extra acquainted with the unique web site homepage tackle to be routinely taken to the brand new URLs in the event that they typed in or clicked upon legacy URL hyperlinks. 

Domains can be redirected for the aim of enabling customers to navigate to an organization’s web site once they have mistyped a URL, or when a model could have alternate spellings when typed by customers. 

Google has arrange various these – as an illustration, typing “gogle.com”, “gooogle.com”, or “googel.com” right into a browser window’s tackle field will end in redirecting to the canonical “google.com” area title.

Domains can be redirected to mix or maintain the goodwill related to a model title.

For example, within the early 2000s, FedEx acquired Kinko’s and mixed the corporate’s companies below its FedEx branding. Even now, nearly 20 years later, “kinkos.com” remains to be set to redirect to the “fedex.com” area title. 

Kinko’s was a well known model title, so the FedEx firm nonetheless maintains its mental property asset by way of the redirection of the area title. (Emblems usually have to be stored “in use” as a way to shield their registration standing. Redirection might be one technique for establishing {that a} trademarked title stays “in use”.)


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Can a website title’s key phrases in a redirected area trigger a separate webpage to rank for them?

The rationale why a few of my colleagues didn’t consider this might affect rankings was that it doesn’t have loads of particular documentation from Google or anybody else.

Nonetheless, there are some intriguing hints that point out there could certainly be a dynamic whereby key phrases in a website title will affect rankings for these key phrases. 

To start with, there may be the carefully related dynamic we all know fairly a bit about – “Google bombing.” 

Google bombing most famously got here to be identified circa 2004 as search engine optimisation pranksters brought about the White Home’s biography web page for President George W. Bush to rank for the question, “depressing failure.”

This was completed by many individuals cooperating to create exterior hyperlinks with the anchor textual content, “depressing failure”, and all pointing on the White Home biography web page.

The results of this effort brought about the web page to rank for phrases that weren’t discovered within the code of the webpage. 

Google bombing works as a result of Google’s algorithm considers the hyperlink’s textual content to be extra in regards to the web page that the hyperlink factors to than the web page the place the hyperlink is discovered. So, the key phrase relevancy indicators from the hyperlink’s anchor textual content are transferred to the web page that’s linked to.

Our query right here is, “does Google switch key phrase relevancy from a redirected URL to the vacation spot URL?” 

There’s a foundation to consider they do. In 2009, Cutts stated

“Sometimes, anchor textual content does circulate by way of a 301 redirect.” 

Additionally, Google’s modern documentation states:

“Rating indicators (equivalent to PageRank or incoming hyperlinks) will probably be handed appropriately throughout 301 redirects.” 

That is maybe but unsatisfyingly obscure. Colleagues I queried thought this was usually confined to rating weight, classically known as PageRank, and never essentially some other indicators. 

Or, maybe this was confined to solely the anchor textual content of hyperlinks redirected to Google and no different ways in which key phrases might be linked to a web page URL that will get redirected. And, what does “appropriately” imply on this context?

Within the case I used to be engaged on, there was no different content material notably related to the domains that have been redirecting, so there was no anchor textual content to be transmitted. 

The key phrases themselves, current within the area title, seemingly must be the supply of the key phrase relevancy that was utilized to the defendant’s URL. 

So, the query can also be whether or not key phrases in domains are utilized by Google as a discreet rating sign for key phrase relevancy. 

Twelve years again, Cutts said that “key phrases in a URL” are influential, and the area is a part of the URL, however it is a bit vague. 

A number of years later, Cutts extra clearly acknowledged that Google did pay some consideration to key phrases in domains and that they have been adjusting the weighting of this as an element. 

Up till that time, having a precise match area (“EMD”) for a key phrase phrase was a serious benefit, as a result of it appeared to convey a major potential to rank for searches involving the phrase. 

However, Google published an update that revoked loads of this innate benefit, notably for low-quality web sites.

It appears seemingly that Google didn’t revoke all affect of that sign, however these of us within the trade for a very long time have identified that this issue was a lot decreased from what it as soon as was.

After all, search engine optimisation trade professional books and guides have lengthy suggested that serps use key phrases in domains as rating elements. 

And, trade research have shown a excessive correlation between having key phrases included in domains with rating properly for these key phrase queries.

At the least primarily based on previous historical past of the various search engines, key phrases in a website title can confer relevancy in seek for these associated key phrase queries. 

And, there may be trigger to assume that this rating issue may certainly switch by way of a redirect to a vacation spot URL, as this performance happens for the anchor textual content in redirected hyperlinks.

What occurred within the cybersquatting case?

We should always usually take it as given {that a} webpage doesn’t rank for a key phrase search if there may be not some connection between the key phrase and that web page.

Google rankings don’t happen in a key phrase void. The web site appeared to by no means include the catchphrase. 

Certain, a web page can rank for synonyms – however, belief me, this key phrase bears no semantic relation to any phrases discovered on the defendant’s web site. 

It may have made a partial match primarily based on the trade time period included within the catchphrase, however then many different native or nationwide firms also needs to have appeared on web page one. 

It’s maybe attainable that the key phrase may have been added to the webpage, and eliminated and not using a copy getting recorded within the Web Archive. 

However, this appears unlikely – the catchphrase ought to have been there for a discernible interval if that was the case. Majestic’s historic backlinks likewise present no proof of the key phrase within the backlinks.

I shared information on the case with one colleague, they usually discovered just one merchandise connecting the defendant’s web site to the catchphrase apart from the redirecting domains. 

A Yelp web page occurred to listing each firms on the identical “high 10” supplier web page, however the listings weren’t shut in proximity.

May key phrases current on the identical web page with a hyperlink to the defendant’s web site trigger the location to be deemed related in search? Probably. 

Nonetheless, with out nearer proximity to the hyperlink, this appeared unlikely.

Semrush confirmed that the defendant’s web site started rating abruptly for the catchphrase searches early within the 12 months, the identical month the domains have been registered:

The defendant’s web site natural analysis from Semrush, displaying when rankings started for the plaintiff’s trademarked catchphrase. Whereas this report is for desktop, the web site confirmed related rankings on cell as properly.

I made up my mind that the best probability was that the redirected domains have been the trigger for the web site to attain prominence for a time frame when the trademark was searched. 

The spike upward in Semrush for the catchphrase occurring immediately in shut tandem with the registration and redirection of the domains gave the impression to be the basis trigger for why the web site was in a position to seem for a phrase that was not current.

Even with the media promoting carried out by the plaintiff, the catchphrase is one thing of a distinct segment search phrase. 

Google Tendencies reveals searches for the phrase started when the plaintiff started utilizing it, however the quantity is fairly low:

Google Trends

You would possibly count on that key phrases in a website title may not lend a lot rating weight, particularly if redirected. I consider that’s the case. 

There was not loads of on-line media involving the catchphrase, so the opposite gadgets rating on the web page have been:

  • Coincidental matches the place the phrase was used a little bit in an informal/generic method in one other state or two.
  • Or coincidental in that the trade time period and distinctive time period simply occurred to be on the identical web page in shut proximity. 

I feel it’s extremely seemingly that if there had been extra internet content material utilizing the catchphrase, nearly anything would have outranked the defendant’s web site. 

That web site confirmed it solely appeared close to the underside half of the search outcomes web page, so it didn’t rise all that prime.

Nonetheless, whereas the info create a circumstantial case that the trademark phrase rating was achieved by way of the cybersquatting and redirection of the domains, that is maybe not sure proof that it is a factor. 

If we use the scientific technique, we will solely say that the situation appears to assist the speculation, however there are nonetheless tantalizing alternate explanations once we are coping with the black field that’s Google.

So, I made a decision to check the speculation.

Experiment: Can key phrases in a redirected area title trigger a web page to rank for them?

I needed to mimic the primary circumstances from the authorized case, so I’d attempt to create a phrase that had only a few pages that may be related to the phrase in search outcomes. 

Within the authorized case, the necessary components of the phrase have been an actual phrase unrelated to their trade, coupled with a phrase generally used of their trade. 

For my take a look at, I got here up with the phrase “supercalifragilistic web optimization.” There are just a few search engine optimisation trade websites on the market which have the phrase “supercalifragilistic” on considered one of their webpages, however not notably in direct combo with “search engine optimisation”. 

I registered the next domains utilizing this phrase:

  • supercalifragilisticseo.com
  • supercalifragilistic-seo.com
  • supercalifragilisticseo.company
  • supercalifragilisticseo.media
  • supercalifragilisticseo.xyz

I took these domains and set them up with 301 redirects to level to my company web site’s homepage at argentmedia.com. 

With the intention to transfer the experiment ahead rapidly, I submitted every of the domains by way of Google Search Console to get them spidered. 

Whereas there was no proof that the defendant in my authorized case had achieved this, it was maybe pointless due to the character of the web. There are numbers of internet sites that auto-generate content material primarily based on the area title system (DNS). 

These web sites routinely generate profile pages itemizing out information about registered domains, such because the WHOIS information displaying registration information. They typically additionally combine further information into the pages, equivalent to: 

  • IP tackle location for the web site.
  • Different domains on the identical server.
  • Data scraped from the homepage on the area.
  • Hyperlinks to third-party statistics in regards to the area/web site.
  • And extra.

These autogenerated area profile pages that seem in all places might be one supply by which Google discovers the domains.

That mentioned, Google itself is a registrar that might go to all new area title registrations. Alternatively, they’ve common entry to the DNS of the web so they may ship Googlebot out to go to any domains registered. 

A number of the area info pages which might be autogenerated don’t have direct hyperlinks to the domains they doc. They only listing the domains out in unlinked textual content.

However even that’s not essentially an obstacle to Google, since they’ve the power to detect hyperlinks in textual content that aren’t linked. 

Some have referred to such non-linked hyperlink mentions as “inferred hyperlinks,” however Google spokespersons have acknowledged that they don’t use such for rating functions. 

Nonetheless, the door should be open to the chance that Google would possibly use unlinked hyperlinks in textual content for URL discovery functions, whereas not conferring any PageRank on the hyperlinks. 

Thus, these pages may be a part of why the infringing domains in my case have been found by Google, resulting in them probably influencing the defendant’s web site rankings for the trademarked time period.

What I discovered was that after organising the experimental domains and redirecting them to my web site, inside just a few weeks, ArgentMedia.com started rating for the search time period, however solely actually when the time period was looked for in quotes: “supercalifragilistic search engine optimisation”.

Can keywords in a redirected domain name cause a page to rank for them?

Additionally, a few of the automated area profile websites appeared within the outcomes as properly, equivalent to a web page from “com.all-url.information” as proven within the above screenshot. 

As of penning this piece, my web site solely ranks for the exact-match phrase when the search is carried out in quotes. 

I count on which means that Google deems my web site to be of solely very tenuous potential relevancy for the search time period. It might solely be displaying that outcome within the itemizing as a result of there are only a few webpages that match that exact question. 

When conducting the search with out quotes, there are various different webpages that match the question extra carefully on account of having each phrases current within the seen textual content of the webpages.

Conclusion

It appears seemingly that my concept that key phrase indicators are handed by way of redirection is legitimate. 

There stays a point of fuzziness in regards to the exact mechanisms concerned, as a result of it’s not attainable to isolate the affect of key phrases discovered current within the area title from key phrase anchor textual content that might be showing on the market in relation to routinely generated area profile web sites or scraper web sites.

Curiously, there may be one different historic occasion that additional establishes how key phrase indicators are handed by way of redirection. Keep in mind the President Bush “depressing failure” Google bomb? Google received round to suppressing the White Home web page’s rankings for the “depressing failure” searches as a way to diffuse the bomb. 

Nonetheless, as soon as Obama was elected into workplace, the White Home IT personnel redirected the outdated profile web page for Bush, pointing it to Obama’s new profile web page. 

As Google’s rating suppression and content material removals for search are primarily based on utilizing the URL as a singular identifier, redirection of the URL brought about the “depressing failure” Google bomb suppression to turn into undone. 

As lots of the hyperlinks pointing to Bush’s former biography web page contained the “depressing failure” anchor textual content, the key phrases then grew to become redirected to Obama’s new web page, eventually making it rank for “miserable failure” as well. That is yet one more proof that key phrase information is handed by way of redirection – not merely rank weight devoid of different indicators.

Demonstrating this specific dynamic in Google’s algorithm doesn’t seem to convey any worthwhile benefit, apart from exposing a possible vulnerability that might be exploited by the subsequent evolutionary degree of a Google bombing prank. 

If used as a Google bombing, remember that this observe would then seemingly be deemed to be a black hat search engine optimisation approach.

Any rating benefit this would possibly convey appears altogether very, very weak – maybe demonstrating how Google has discounted most or all key phrase rating benefit that was as soon as innate in precise match domains. 

The automated nature of the benefit by way of it leading to hyperlinks on varied area profile web sites appears negligible, partially as a result of such web sites seem like assessed by Google to be very low-quality and even spammy. 

Whereas I didn’t take a look at it by utilizing a lot bigger portions of keyworded domains, I believe that the introduction of tons of of area redirects linked from many low-quality area profile web sites would possibly even incur a penalty. 

(Be aware that I’m not an legal professional, and this text shouldn’t be supposed for use for authorized recommendation.)


Opinions expressed on this article are these of the visitor creator and never essentially Search Engine Land. Workers authors are listed here.


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