The Tricky Terrain of Search Engine Optimization

March 03, 2011 By: admin Category: News

In the last few weeks, several large corporations—J.C. Penney, Forbes, and—have discovered that when it comes to trying to improve your website’s search engine ranking, Google has an astute sense for sniffing out what it qualifies as “cheating.” They’ve also found out that Google has a pretty mean bite when it comes to penalizing these cheating strategies, and it usually comes in the form of a significantly lowered page ranking.

The unintended benefit that the rest of us have received from these big-corp crackdowns is a solid lesson in how not to improve your website’s ranking on sites like Google and Bing, which is normally a both legitimate and encouraged practice also known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Better yet, each of these companies provoked Google’s wrath in a somewhat different way; that is, Google confronted each for using one or more distinct strategies to artificially boost their website ranking.

J. C. Penney

The case of J. C. Penney was prominently documented by The New York Times, which explained that for a number of J C Penneymonths (including the most recent holiday season), a link scheme involving thousands of bogus links pointing to the J. C. Penney website successfully boosted the retailer’s web search rankings for a wide range of terms, such as “bedding,” “dresses,” “area rugs,” or even “Samsonite carry on luggage.”

Links from other websites are one way for Google to measure how popular your website is, but those links should come from legitimate web pages—and they weren’t. While the J. C. Penney spokesperson denied authorization or involvement of this search scheme, the company became subject to “corrective action” from Google as a result. Within days, the retailer’s website sunk from No. 1 in search results for terms like “living room furniture” to being buried at No. 68.

J. C. Penney quickly fired its search engine consulting firm, SearchDex, and is back to slowly repairing its search rapport using legitimate methods, also known as “organic” or “white-hat” SEO.


Publishing and media company Forbes was caught doing a related but somewhat different Google-wrong last week, when the search engine giant found a section of their website containing links to other websites that most likely Forbespurchased the space in order to boost their search ranking (this is all understandably confusing). This practice, also called “link spamming,” essentially capitalizes on the fact that being linked to by a big website like Forbes boosts the search reputation of your website, which is kind of an inverse of the J. C. Penney case.

Selling links is definitely a Google no-no (though none of these “black-hat” SEO techniques are actually illegal), and accordingly, Forbes was the recipient of some “corrective action.” Inc.

Our final example is that of online retailer Inc., which encouraged university and college websOverstockites to post specific links to Overstock pages that advertised a special discount for faculty and student users. Much like how links from large websites are more valuable than those from small ones, .edu links are also extra effective, and this program managed to very effectively boost Overstock’s search results for phrases like “vacuum cleaners” and “laptop computers.” Needless to say, this is no longer the case (go ahead and give it a try); Overstock’s rankings have been quietly knocked down.

What We Can Learn From All This

Our goal in this article is not to suggest that one should not try to boost your website’s rankings with Google—by no means! Rather, each of these corporations was reprimanded for misappropriating the system that search engines have in place in order to help users find what they’re looking for. If you can boost your website for search terms such that this is the case, then Google is more than happy to legitimately increase your rankings for those keywords. It’s that simple.

Of course, there a lot of specific ways in which website owners can help search engines “read” or index their websites. For example, being linked to from other sites is wonderfully beneficial foWhite Hat SEOr search ranking if it is done right, through the creation of quality content (such as through a blog), and by helping the world know that that content exists (e.g. using social media or a newsletter). Google calls this organic link building.

Interestingly enough, Google is often portrayed as a cryptic entity that declines to comment on the fundamentals of how its search engine works. However, it actually provides a variety of tools to help webmasters understand how best to cooperate with Google search, such as the SEO Starter Guide that they offer. Some of the recommended practices are really simple, such as offering quality content, promotions, and services.  By consistently treating your website as a long-term investment, putting time and thought into creating excellent content, you can personally make your website shine more among readers and search engines alike.

Others are more complex, and require a little bit of techie know-how, whether it’s effective meta work, optimizing Google Searchimages and site structure, or making sure you know how to deal with site crawling “robots.” For example, simply by converting embedded flash links to plain text links, you can make it much easier for Google to navigate your website and understand what kind of information you have to share with the world. Don’t get caught with “black-hat” SEO techniques, or in any of those other artificial link schemes. Let the cautionary tales of the last few weeks show that when it comes to search, short-term gain doesn’t pay.

Systemtek Technologies is your personal source for tech news and web development advice. If you think you might be interested in learning more about good Search Engine Optimization and how we can use “white-hat” techniques to benefit your website’s search rankings, don’t hesitate to contact us and see what our team of professionals can do for you.

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