Feb 18, 2011

Don't Mess with The Google!

I spearhead a lot of website projects and clients are always asking, rightfully so, about how to get traffic to their site. So, when the New York Times revealed how JC Penney shot to the top of Google results, I paid attention.

For the past few months JC Penney was the No. 1 search result for many of the products they sell. If you searched for “dresses” JC Penney came up. Searches for “skinny jeans,” “furniture” or even a brand name like “Samsonite carry on luggage” revealed JC Penney as the top result. Brilliant marketing? Awesome SEO tactics? Try again. According to the Times article, more than 2,000 paid links on thousands (often abandoned) websites artificially raised JC Penney’s organic search rank.

Buying links is not illegal, but it and any other “black hat” SEO schemes are against Google’s rules – and if a site is caught, Google’s wrath is severe. In JC Penney’s case, Google has “manually” reduced the company’s search ranking, effectively banishing it from search results. Back in February 2006, Google penalized BMW Germany for influencing search result by kicking the site out of the Google index. Ouch.

I’m a Google fan. But, it’s humbling to think about how much power the company yields. A dip in search results could cripple a company. So, play it safe, and play by their SEO rules. There are tons of great tips available on ways to increase your SEO organically – and Google is okay with that. Search Mashable for good SEO ideas for blogs or this informative post. (But remember, getting someone to your site is one thing, keeping people coming back for more requires good content and design.)

It’s also interesting to think about what this investigation has done to the JC Penney brand. I assume that most people are with me: we like, use and trust Google. So, what will consumers think of a company that was publically chastised by our hero search engine? What does this all say about the company’s character? It can’t be great, but don’t start selling your JC Penney stock yet – I have a feeling JC Penney’s search rank is probably on the rise from the number of quality “real” links that developed from the NY Times story.