on February 13, 2011
The Times this morning ran an excellent article this morning about Google’s Search Ranking system and how people try to manipulate it. Google forbids certain search engine optimization techniques, which it refers to as “Black Hat SEO,” on the grounds that they misrepresent the popularity of sites. The article, entitled “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search,” looks at how J.C. Penney benefited from Black Hat SEO by obtaining links from a multitude of sites across the Internet.
J.C. Penney was able to boost itself to the top of the search results for phrases like “dresses” or “area rugs” leading up to the retail blitz of the 2010 by paying for links on sites that had nothing to do with dresses or area rugs, such as cocaman.ch. Penney maintains that it has no idea where the links came from or who paid for them; nonetheless, Google has used manual readjustments to lower the company’s search rankings drastically, from the Times: “On Feb. 1, the average Penney position for 59 search terms was 1.3. On Feb. 8, when the algorithm was changing, it was 4. By Feb. 10, it was 52.” Falling from 1.3 to 52 is a significant drop and correlates to thousands, if not millions, of dollars of lost revenue for J.C. Penney as the retailer tries to replace lost sale revenue from its discontinued catalog with website sales.
This action by Google illustrates the dangers of Black Hat SEO. Link farming or paid links may be a good way to quickly boost your site’s rankings, but the results can be disastrous. Many SEO firms that offer guaranteed search rankings as part of their optimization packages utilize these techniques. Often, they will not volunteer this information, leaving website owner’s open to the possibility of one day finding that their site has plummeted in search rankings because of something they had no idea about. As you can see, it pays to do a little homework up front and ensure that your SEO firm avoids Black Hat techniques.
At Collaboration 133, we avoid all practices that could even remotely be considered to fall under the Black Hat label because we never want to see our clients fall in search rankings like J.C. Penney did. We focus on White Hat SEO techniques, such as content generation and optimization, organic back-link building, and keyword analysis that will improve the ranking of our clients’ websites while protecting them from action by Google for disapproved practices.
For those wishing to learn more about the some of the Black Hat methods J.C. Penney used to game the system, check out this blog post on cocaman.ch. In the post, the site’s owner explains the methods and ad management system he used to earn revenue from a number of links, including those to J.C. Penney. From the tone of the post, it appears the owner has decided to work with Google and forgo Black Hat techniques. It sounds like he was mainly experimenting with them as a hobby and was not interested in profiting from them.