Our SEO industry was recently excited by a large well-known brand JC Penney for violating the search engine guidelines by purchasing links from other domains and linking them to pages on JC Penney’s sites pages.
Search engines rely heavily on back-links sent from other sites, as well as the text used, known as anchor text, as the hyperlink. In a nutshell, this basically provides a vote to the site being linked to for the topical relevance of the anchor text.
When JC Penney hired SearchDex, it did so to manage their search marketing efforts. In an attempt to game the search engines, SearchDex set out and acquired backlinks to JC Penney for various phrases including, “dresses”, “area rugs”, “bedding” and many others. Their efforts paid off…for over nine months to a year, Penney dominated the search engines for these respective phrases. Mostly positioned in the top 4 positions resulting in Penney receiving exponentially more traffic to their site.
An SEO specialist, Doug Pierce of Blue Fountain Media, recently stumbled across this inbound anchor text after leveraging a tool from SEOmoz called, Open Site Explorer. The tool confirmed the anchor text location as well as confirmed that the sites sending the links back to JC Penney were irrelevant to the users query…which signals to search marketers that they were likely acquired via paid means or via black hat tactics. The search engines scrutinize black hat tactics, as they do not satisfy their overall objectives, which is to provide relevant results to the user and not to be gamed by exploiting a weakness in their algorithms.
After writing the article “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search” in the New York Times, the SEO industry and the efforts of JC Penney were turned upside down. Not only did this expose Penney’s black hat SEO tactics, however, it also exposed Google and Bing’s algorithm weight given to the links from irrelevant sites…which do not align with their typical guidelines.
There have been many articles that have beaten this issue to death, so I will try and not do the same. What I want to focus on is the fact that I believe that their may NOT necessary be a direct tie to the amount spent on Paid Search (PPC) and the position a site receives in organic or SEO rankings. What I am saying is that, I believe the search engines have conveniently turned a blind eye to these black hat tactics used by larger brands even when they know that possible “shady” efforts may have been used, an effort to obviously not increase the risk of losing the large amount of revenue.
A friend of mine who works in an extremely competitive business of selling Halloween costumes has experienced a loss in transactions, revenue and traffic to the same “shady” black hat tactics. Each and every year a competitor who is nowhere to be seen for the majority of the year in the search results, all of a sudden has thousands more inbound links from sites with targeted anchor text and now ranks well above his site that is suppose to be considered an industry leader. Search engines were informed of these black hat tactics, however, chose to not do anything about it. But when they did do something about it…the season was over. Yes, so too was the amount of media spend the competitor in AdWords and Bing was spending.
It is my hope that with these recent JC Penney issues, that both the search engines and search engine optimizers put more effort into the content development and overall user-experience of their sites. It is my belief that sites who add not only a 360 degree marketing mix to their approach to acquire traffic but a 360 degree effort towards the content in each of their sites, will see their biggest “bang-for-their-buck”.