Like just about anything else in the business world, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has a set of rules that everyone involved is expected to play by. As long as SEO firms play by those rules their clients will enjoy profitable search engine rankings. But if they break the rules and Google finds out, their client’s sites could be buried so deep they become essentially useless.
One recent example of such disaster came by way of JCPenney’s rankings throughout the busy holiday season. From about November 2010 to early February 2011, the giant retailer owned the number one position for everything from clothing to furniture to household goods. And it wasn’t just generic search terms either. It was very specific terms that would seem unreasonable for JCPenney to own. It wasn’t coincidence, by the way
Black Hat Practices
In SEO you have what are called “white hat” and “black hat” practices. White hat practices are those that play by the rules and don’t use any deceptive tactics to boost page ranking. Black hat practices are exactly the opposite. In JCPenney’s case, they used the black hat practice of saturating the web with paid links. It worked successfully because Google takes into consideration, among other things, the number of back links a site has all across the Internet.
For example, if you have a website offering advice and tips on antique furniture, Google would give you a higher page ranking if there were a dozen or more websites linking back to yours. They assume that those links are created by fans of your site or those with whom you regulate conduct business, and they link back to you as recommendation. However, paying to insert links over thousands of websites is a Google no-no.
An investigation by the New York Times revealed that someone had paid for more than 2,000 links back to JCPenney on pages that were mostly irrelevant. It was these links that vaulted the company to the number one position under so many keywords and helped them to remain there for so long.
A Disaster for Your Company
This may not seem disastrous if you are the SEO client, but consider what happened to JCPenney. As soon as the New York Times offered the evidence to Google, officials at the search engine promised corrective action. That corrective action came in the form of manually dropping JCPenney’s search rank all across their chosen keywords. For example, where they were number one for the phrase “living room furniture” prior to the corrective action, they ranked number 68 after the action.
The lesson in all of this is to make sure you hire an SEO firm with reputation for integrity. If you find your vendor employs any black hat practices you’re better off finding a new vendor – even if it costs you more money. In the end, being forcibly dropped in the ratings by Google is bad business, and possibly bad press that you don’t need.