Over last Christmas season, retailer J.C. Penney turned up as the #1 organic search result on Google across a surprisingly wide variety of search terms. So surprising in fact, that the New York Times asked an online search expert to look into it.
What they found was that J.C. Penney was allegedly using “black hat” optimization techniques to artificially increase their Google rankings. J.C. Penney has denied that they had any knowledge of the practice, and have fired their search engine consulting firm.
The technique in question involves one of Google’s ranking criteria, called "external linking." According to the Google algorithm, the more external sites that link back to your site, the higher your ranking. Google assumes that the inbound links mean that others are interested in your website, and that means their searchers should be to.
But paying to have inbound links to your website posted throughout the internet – even on sites that are relevant to your search terms – is a big “no-no” to the Google police, since you are basically trying to fool them into ranking your site higher than it should be. So is trading links or any other linking practice that is anything other than truly natural and organic.
Google calls these tactics “link schemes.” If Google catches you (or your SEO firm) doing it, they will punish you with everything from sending you back a few pages to completely delisting your site from the search results.
Once the NY Times alerted Google to J.C. Penney’s alleged linking scheme, the search engine took corrective action, sending J.C. Penney down the rankings and well off the coveted first page of Google results. They landed somewhere around page seven for most of their search terms.
So what’s the take-away from J.C. Penney’s sad story? Steer clear of SEO marketing companies that promise unbelievable results. If they use less than proper tactics and get caught, it’s YOUR website that takes the hit, even if you didn’t know what they were up to.
If you want to increase your site’s organic search position, there are perfectly legitimate, “white hat” steps you can take to do it. Like keeping a regular, relevant blog that searchers will find interesting or helpful, and linking out to sites that you actually read or use.
What are some less than above board SEO marketing techniques you've see or heard about?
Do you think it's OK to "game" Google for higher organic search results?
About the author: Kate Headen Waddell is a strategic copywriter specializing in web copy, white papers, case studies, blogging and other B2B marketing tools. You can visit her website at www.smartb2bmarcom.com.