The recent story by the NY Times that exposed the linkbuilding tactics of JC Penney has created quite a stir among the internet marketing community. A whole gamut of opinions have been expressed by numerous people sharing their take on what is “right” and “wrong” when it comes to search engine optimization, linkbuilding, and getting to the top of search engines. If you aren’t aware of what has gone done, here is a basic overview of what unfolded:
- NY Times author, David Segal, “discovers” that JC Penney ranks #1 for numerous keywords and phrases such as “skinny jeans,” “home decor,” “comforter sets,” “furniture”, etc.
- Curious as to how JC Penney manages to rank #1 for a vast number of phrases, he calls up Doug Pierce at Blue Fountain Media to research how JC Penney pulled this off
- Doug Pierce discovers numerous of “spammy” sites and pages linking unnaturally to JC Penney.
- NY Times contacts Matt Cutts who is the head of Google’s webspam team. Matt Cutts investigates and finds that the backlinks are “spammy” and most likely paid without disclosure, which is against Google’s webmaster guidelines. Google manually penalizes JC Penney and sends a letter of notification to them.
- NY Times runs article revealing the tactics utilized to get JC Penney ranked highly
- Doug Pierce posts his research and findings on his blog
- Blue Fountain Media, the firm that Doug Pierce works with, posts an official response
- JC Penney responds to NY Times article
- JC Penney fires the SEO firm, SearchDex, for allegedly purchasing all of the spammy links.
- Former employee of SearchDex, Mitch Friedman, unloads his opinions about SearchDex and what went down
- Corsin Camichel, someone who placed one of the paid links on his site,provides an inside scoop on how the linkbuilding worked
- JC Penney ends up moving from #1 to around #70 for most of their top keywords and phrases and is now working to clean up the mess
So…what happened? Who is at fault? What is “right” and what is “wrong”?
I’ll let the other blogs and comments hash that out. What I want to expose is the loophole that I have yet to see pointed out by anyone else. If what I am about to say has been covered on another website, blog, tweet, etc then please share a link in the comments below! I want Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc to jump on this before the “seo black hats” do.
Blacker than black hat
So what is even more “black hat” than buying into a paid link scheme and getting thousands or millions of links blasted all over spammy sites? What can someone do to destroy their competition based on the algorithms of top search engines that penalize websites for having “too many” spammy links or links that appear to be paid but are not disclosed as being so?
Buy spammy links for major competitors and then report them…or better yet, contact a major reporter to expose the competitor. If the above story is any lesson, then one of the “darkest” tactics would be to simply make your competitor appear to be purchasing spammy links. If “caught”, they would theoretically be knocked off their #1 ranking and basically pave the way for you to rank #1.
Am I endorsing this? Absolutely not! This blog is called Genuine Internet Marketing and I personally do not condone that nor the tactics that SearchDex allegedly employed for JC Penney.
Why would I point this out?
Ideally, the algorithms of search engines should be smart enough to detect links from spammy/paid sites and dillute (or better yet, eliminate) their link value rather than penalize the sites they link to. The purpose behind this is to avoid what I mentioned above. What if a competitor of JC Penney had actually bought tons of spammy backlinks, reported them to NY Times, who then did some “research”, which was then passed along to Matt Cutts, who then personally looked into the link schemes, who then decided a manual penalty was appropriate and knocked JC Penney off the top spot.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but this could happen…as long as an algorithm allows it to. In the NY Times article, Matt Cutts is quoted saying, “Do I wish our system had detected things sooner? I do…”. I know Matt and his team are constantly improving the algorithms and they’ve been working on this exact issue…I know I’m not shedding a light on anything new to them. They’ve done an amazing job making page 1 relevant and hopefully giving people what they want in the top results. However, if the algorithm has a weakness that requires manual adjustments such as this, then people will find ways to exploit it.
The real lesson learned
While people argue whether paid links are good, bad, legit, black hat, grey hat, blue hat, fedora, whatever…I think the real lesson is that search engines still aren’t there yet. Case in point is Google’s recent hiring spree. They know there is work to do. It’s good…but it can be better and they are getting the talent they need to push them to the next level. I for one am glad they are not content and are working to provide the best possible search experience.