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February 15, 2011

"The Dirty Little Secrets of Search": SEO in the New York Times

February 15, 2011

There was an article in this Saturday's edition of the New York Times about black-hat linkbuilding that we found interesting. This article might be very informative to the average reader but there's nothing particularly novel about this 'news' to anyone at SmallBox.  Provocatively titled, "The Dirty Little Secrets of Search," this article is just further confirmation of something that we've known for a long time: Google is getting more and more discerning about filtering good quality links and high-quality content out of the online jungle.

For anyone who doesn't have time to read the ten page article, here's a quick summary:

The NY Times noted that JC Penney's was showing an abnormal level of dominance in an unusual diversity of keyword constellations in Google Search this holiday season. They showed up in a No. 1 ranking spot for keywords as competitive as "dresses" and "bedding" and as diffuse as "area rugs" and "grommet top curtains." Other keywords where they were showing up in the number one spot included: "furniture," table clothes," "skinny jeans," "home decor," and "comforter sets."  They beat out huge operations like Lowes, Home Depot, Bed, Bath & Beyond and any number of other Big Box retailers in keywords where these other industry leaders should have naturally dominated.

About 34% of Google's traffic goes to the No. 1 website on the SERP.  The website ranked No. 2 pulls in about half of that, or 17% of all traffic. As you can readily imagine, with number one rankings in practically every product category for sale in their store, JC Penney's must have been getting great traffic over Christmas.

So: how did they do it?

Well, unfortunately for them, they did it by using black-hat SEO techniques. Company executives claim that they had no knowledge that black-hat techniques were being used and it's quite likely that they're telling the truth.  They contracted a link-building service that used shady practices to get them results and now they're paying the price. Across the board, after Google's corrective measures, JC Penney's has been buried back in pages 6 or 7 on Google, even for terms where they would, perhaps, naturally appear on page one or two.  That's because when Google gets wind of the fact that you've been using black-hat methods they dock you.  Getting docked liked this is a known-quantity in the industry, that's why reputable firms stay away from black-hat techniques.  This can really hurt revenue.

There's no doubt that JC Penney's reaped a huge benefit by dominating such a wide array of search terms over this Christmas season, but over the long run the campaign that brought them so much traffic between black Friday and Dec 24th 2010 is going to damage their bottom line.

Back in the Wild West days of Search Engine Optimization--say during the early days of the past decade--there were all kinds of ways to manipulate search results. You could type in your keywords over and over in white type-face against a white background and draw visitors like moths to a flame.  Trashy link-farms were a legitimate way to leverage the marketing potential of a website.  But that was a long time ago.

These days Google's algorithm has gotten so smart that, believe it or not, honesty actually is the best policy in terms of how we drive online business. Thoughtful, well written content trumps keyword stuffed content.  Links from sites that are germane to your industry will usually help you a great deal more than links from random sites, and links from link-farms will end up hurting you in the end.  Google can tell.  They're not omniscient yet, but they're getting close.

That's why SmallBox has focused on staying at the cutting edge of totally straightforward, strait-laced SEO techniques over the past few years. We always recommend to our customers that they make sure the code and content on their site is in good shape before investing in link-building.  The industry is always changing, and new opportunities appear practically on a weekly basis, but there is a consistent theme to our approach: we're interested in long-term solutions because, in the end, long-shots don't pay off.

To learn more about SmallBox's SEO service click here.

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