Posts Tagged ‘searchdex


Penny-wise? Penny’s Foolish

wanna buy sum cheep linx?

Maybe you’ve heard about JC Penny’s recent moment of “Oh crap, we got caught peeing in the pool” moment, but whether you  have or  you haven’t, there’s a serious object lesson here. To recap, the New York Times ran an article this past weekend detailing an undercover investigative report on JC Penny’s search engine optimization strategies.

Those strategies involved Penny’s SEO provider, SearchDEX, who for many years has made lots and lots of money doing just this sort of thing. What sort of thing?

Link fraud.

There. I said it. The most cruel and horrible crime in all of human history. Okay, not really. But the tactics employed in Penny’s behalf by SearchDEX—and the sheer wanton, flagrant scale of the operation—really does create a threat (if not measurable harm) to all the other businesses who try to compete in the search arena without resorting to nasty tricks.

And just what is this “link fraud” carried out by SearchDex? They purchased, created, or encouraged others to purchase or create thousands if not tens of thousands of links to Penney’s website from any and every source imaginable. Links from sites with no relevance to Penny’s market space. Links from fake sites. Links from dead sites. Links from link farms, links from spam inserted into legitimate content like blogs.

The benefit derived from this profligate scheme was incredibly high search ranks for Penny’s for hundreds of different keywords, some keywords even that had no relationship at all to Penny’s business.

They’ve created a gigantic black hole of search, one from which no searcher can escape.

Google, meanwhile, alerted to Penny’s devious plot to rank better, took action and devalued all the ill-gotten links. Now, this may not seem like much, but in truth, it probably amounts to 30-40% reduction in traffic for the retail giant. That kind of hit could cripple an internet retailer with small margins and large competition.  But maybe not such a hit for everybody. Like Penny’s maybe. Who, incidentally, spends millions of dollars on paid advertising in search engines every year. So they’ll still show up on the first page of search results for any keyword that matters to them. And  they’ll still be free to hire another SEO firm of whatever scruples (or lack thereof) and move on to the next blackhat strategy.

Now, what have we learned from all this?

  1. At least in the short term, it can pay huge dividends to operate on the dark side of search engine optimization.
  2. You will get caught.
  3. Unless you are Fortune 500 material, it will hurt.
  4. If you are Fortune 500, so what.

Here’s the real lesson, though. Whether it works for a while or not, whether you get caught or not, whether it hurts your business or not, playing the backhat game just ain’t right. SearchDEX (and all the other blackhat outfits like them) make life tough for everybody. They reduce the usefulness of search in general by diluting the results with irrelevancy. They damage the marketspace by creating an environment where only cheaters can make it to page one. They make it damned hard for shoppers to find the things they’re looking to buy. And for me, the worst thing: they destroy the public’s faith in SEO as a legitimate marketing tool.

And that’s pissing in my pool.

More JC Penny’s stories

Big Brands and Bad Linking: How to Avoid Google Penalties
SEO’s Achilles’ Heel: The Misdirected Attack on Search Engine Optimizers