A recent article in The New York Times, The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, by David Segal exposes the backhanded tactics some SEO firms utilize to improve their clients’ search engine rankings.
Segal investigated the unusually high rankings by J.C. Penney the last several months for a broad range of keywords. Through the help of a search expert, The Times uncovered the use of paid links scattered across the web, on mostly obscure, unrelated websites. These paid links pointed to the jcpenney.com site. This technique is considered a no-no in Google’s SEO rulebook, and is part of practice known as “black-hat” optimization.
Segal explains black-hat services “are not illegal, but trafficking in them risks the wrath of Google. The company draws a pretty thick line between techniques it considers deceptive and “white hat” approaches, which are offered by hundreds of consulting firms and are legitimate ways to increase a site’s visibility.”
Turns out J.C. Penney issued a statement saying it was not involved with or aware of the paid links, but shortly thereafter fired its search engine consulting firm.
Upon notification, and after investigating the findings, Google has adjusted J.C. Penney’s ranking for a variety of keywords. In one case, in a span of two hours J.C. Penney dropped from the number one search result for “Samsonite carry on luggage” to a dismal number 71.
J.C. Penney’s story is fair warning for small businesses to ensure their hired SEO help only employs white hat optimization techniques.
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