You would not expect that company to use unethical tactics to boost your search rank.
But if they did, and you secured the number one search result, would you care?
You should, because if Google catches you using black hat SEO — tricks that skirt the search engine’s guidelines—they’ll knock you off your high perch. You could be in for a steep fall, to include being removed from search index results, altogether.
The dark side of search engine optimization
A recent incident of SEO gone bad made for an intriguing story in the Sunday New York Times, where an article called The Dirty Little Secrets of Search revealed how the retailer J. C. Penney engaged in shady SEO. Or rather, a company J.C. Penny hired engaged in unscrupulous SEO.
This SEO outfit’s tactics led to J.C. Penney.com netting the number one organic search result for a host of search queries, including popular terms (“dresses,” “furniture”) as well as many others that lie on the long tail of search (“grommet top curtains”).
The primary black hat tactic used was to buy inbound links for JCPenney.com. An inbound link is a link on another website that points back to your site.
Not all inbound links are created equal
Inbound links can make a big difference in your Google search rank, because Google reads links from relevant sites that go to your site as a kind of endorsement. The more links leading from other sites to yours, the more points you get. If a linking site is perceived as a relevant authority on a given subject matter, then you get extra credit. For example, if you have a blog about investing, and the Wall Street Journal website links to yours, you get bonus points.
The SEO company hired by J.C. Penney hatched a scheme that garnered thousands of inbound links from websites that have no plausible reason to connect to the retailer — they paid low-end spammy sites to post links to JCPenney.com.
See no evil?
Penney’s reportedly fired those SEO shysters; after the New York Times contacted Google about their investigation that uncovered the scam, and, shortly thereafter, JCPenney.com’s organic search rank plummeted.
There’s been speculation as to whether Google knew about this link scheme but chose to let it slide, because Penney’s pours lots of money into its paid search program. Google swears paid search does not affect organic search results.
Meanwhile, J.C. Penney says it had no knowledge of the black hat scheme conducted on its behalf. Not sure I buy that, but if it is true, then shame on the management for not having better oversight of their SEO efforts. The spectacular scope of all those number one search results should have raised a red flag.
Tips to avoid getting burned by black hat SEO
If you’re planning to outsource SEO efforts, here are tips to help ensure you don’t fall prey to nefarious operators:
1. Steer clear of anyone who guarantees the #1 spot on Google
While good SEO can get you a top rank, it can’t be guaranteed. Some companies go so far as to claim they have an “inside deal” with Google that can secure you special priority ranking. There is no such thing. If you hear this boast, give that business the boot.
2. Avoid companies that engage in link-buying schemes
This is what got J.C. Penney in hot water. Link buying is unethical. It may raise your rank in the short run, but once you’re found out, you suffer the consequences.
3. Beware of companies that offer to create fake “doorways” to your site
Certain black hat SEOers like to create lots of single page websites stuffed with relevant keywords and inbound links to your site. Because these pages exist solely to steer traffic to your website they offer no real value to web users. Expect a harsh penalty if Google sniffs out your dubious game.
4. Find out what information the company is willing to disclose
Prior to hiring an SEO provider, find out what information they’ll share. Will they tell you exactly what strategies they intend to employ? What keywords are they going to optimize for? What reporting statistics will they provide? Will they help you interpret the data?
SEO is not an undercover operation, and whomever you choose must be willing to divulge specifics about tactics and how they plan to measure success.
5. Don’t look the other way if you suspect shady business
If your SEO results seem too good to be true, they probably are. If you believe the firm you hired is using black hat tactics, show them the door, report them to The FTC, and take steps to correct any deceptive practices. Don’t just let it be.
As noted in Google’s search engine optimization webmaster tools, “Ultimately, you are responsible for the actions of any companies you hire”.
So what do YOU think? Have you ever come across anyone who deals in crooked SEO? Please share your stories.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
One retailer, who goes out of his way to rankle customers, swears this is true.
Business owner provokes customer complaints, on purpose
An article in the New York Times, penned by David Segal and titled “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web,” reports that the owner of an online designer eyeglass purveyor is using the unconventional tactic of inciting bad word of mouth to increase his search engine rank.
This merchant is downright gleeful when disgruntled customers complain about his company on the web. He even gloated about it online, where he boldly proclaimed, “I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”
Exploiting a SEO loophole
I’ll refrain from printing the name of the business owner, or the company — why play into his hand? The guy practically encourages customers to kvetch about his shoddy service on consumer advocacy and consumer review sites. He told the Times reporter, “I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”
One factor that’s known to affect search engine rank is how many times your name is mentioned and linked to on the web. More mentions and more links, especially from sites that a search engine views as reputable, means you get more points in the SEO-meter. The bigger a reputable site is, all the better. Plenty of mentions about your business on a busy well-regarded consumer site garner lots of referral points from a search engine.
It does not seem to matter if the mentions are positive or negative.
Does Google factor in sentiment analysis?
The Times reporter contacted the 800-pound search engine gorilla — Google — to ask if negative sentiment adversely affects its ranking system. Google doesn’t like to give away too many clues about how its algorithm works, and this instance proved no exception.
The reporter then contacted Danny Sullivan, who oversees the most excellent web site, Search Engine Land. Sullivan said he doesn’t think Google employs sentiment analysis, and he reckons that’s a good thing. Even so, Sullivan said he believes Google can do a better job of integrating consumer reviews of e-commerce sites, much like it already does with local business search results.
Until that happens this mischievous retailer benefits from angry customers venting their frustrations online.
Page one or bust
The notion of using negative sentiment to your advantage isn’t new. We’ve got that old saw: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
Celebrities are often accused of doing bad things just to get their name in the press. The tactic may not always work as planned, but many times their stars do rise.
The art and science of search engines being able to serve up the most relevant results in the optimum order is improving, but in the scheme of things, it’s still got a ways to go. When researching topics, many is the time I wind up finding the most pertinent link on the second and third page results.
The vast majority of searchers don’t go beyond page one. If you can game the search engines your search rank rises, even if your lofty position is based on consumer complaints.
The situation may be outrageous, but apparently not egregious enough to get a business penalized by Goggle’s algorithm. FYI, Google does claim to punish your site if it catches you engaging in certain unscrupulous black-hat search engine tactics.
Turning lemons into lemonade
Meantime, that Times’ article that hardly paints a positive picture of the eyeglass enterprise? Well, the story mentions the owner’s name and that of his company numerous times. It includes lots of relevant keywords. That means more links and mentions from a leading reputable news source.
Talk about squeezing out search engine juice.
- Deni Kasrel
Should search engines factor in negative sentiment? Is this guy just playing by the rules? What do YOU think?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )