JCPenney recently made headlines with the penalization it received from Google based on some suspect search engine optimization (SEO) approaches.
The New York Times recently published an article on "Search Optimization and Its Dirty Little Secrets," which explored JCPenney's suspicious search domination over the holiday season, and its eventual ranking demise due to Google's reaction to its seemingly spam-like activities.
The New York Times gathered evidence to show that JCPenney had been engaged in under-handed SEO tactics including the placement of thousands of irrelevant links on irrelevant websites.
The spam team at Google investigated and JCPenney was penalized for its SEO approaches by being dropped in the rankings from the first page to the sixth or seventh page.
The Problem - What Went Wrong?
Search engines like Google assess the quality and relevance of a website for a given keyword based on a myriad of factors. Google's number one goal is to provide a good user experience that keeps users coming back. They want the site with the most relevant content for a given keyword to come up at the top of the search engine results. Of the many factors its algorithm uses to make this assessment, the inbound links pointing into a website is arguably one of the most important.
All other things equal, the more links you have pointing to your website using your target keyword in the "anchor text" (hyperlink), the higher you will rank on that keyword.
That said, not all links are created equal, and not all approaches to acquiring inbound links are considered legitimate.
Google looks negatively upon links from sites that are irrelevant or that have poor authority (judged partially by PageRank). Having a link to a retail site that sells home goods from a site about cars is not considered relevant and in fact could be detrimental. Having a link from a site that is made up solely of links to other sites (commonly referred to as "link farms") also can do damage to your site's reputation. Google also gets suspicious when the number of links pointing to a site increase dramatically in a short period of time. Garnering thousands of links in one month when a site typically only acquires 10 to 20 in a typical month could suggest that some type of link "scheme" is underway. Finally, using "doorway" pages or mirrored sites that are designed specifically for the search engines (and not your users) is also something that Google frowns upon.
Essentially, any activities that do not appear to be authentic in nature, that are solely designed to manipulate search engine rankings, and/or that do not benefit the user will eventually be raised as a red flag by Google. Any of these suspicious or sneaky activities are often referred to as "spam" or "black-hat SEO" and will typically be penalized by Google with a reduction in rankings or - in extreme circumstances - a removal from the indexes all together.
JCPenney's approaches exhibited many of the "suspicious" behaviors outlined above, which created the red flag for Google:
What Can We Learn From This?
In SEO, patience is everything. Anything that appears to be a "quick win" is likely going to be detrimental in the long run. It takes time to achieve quality, relevant links, and to sustain rankings over time.
Suggestions for your SEO strategy:
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Julie is a member of the senior strategy team at Klick Health, focused on online media and digital. Julie initially established and led the media practice at Klick for several years, relinquishing leadership to expand beyond media into additional digital tactics. She brings a wealth of experience in search marketing, digital media, and all facets of digital strategy to bear, helping Klick's clients develop innovative digital solutions. As her role has evolved, so have her contributions to ClickZ, which she has been writing for since 2007.
March 19, 2014