Black Hat SEO

Last Sundays NYTimes ran great story about the “dirty little secrets” of search optimization.  Curious about J.C. Penny’s remarkably high-ranking  during the holiday shopping season for a variety of searches (<grommet top curtains>?) the Times engaged an online search expert to figure out why.   His conclusion:  it was “‘Actually, it’s the most ambitious attempt I’ve ever heard of. This whole thing just blew me away. Especially for such a major brand. You’d think they would have people around them that would know better.”  Someone–not it, said J.C. Penney, which fired its SEO consultant–“paid to have thousands of links placed on hundreds of sites scattered around the Web, all of which lead directly to”    Said the Times, “[w]hen you read the enormous list of sites with Penney links, the landscape of the Internet acquires a whole new topography. It starts to seem like a city with a few familiar, well-kept buildings, surrounded by millions of hovels kept upright for no purpose other than the ads that are painted on their walls.”

millions of hovels kept upright for no purpose other than the ads that are painted on their walls–cyberspace, John Perry Barlow’s “new home of Mind,” circa 2011.

4 Replies to “Black Hat SEO”

  1. Anand Brahmbhatt

    I've not read the whole NYT article, but just out of curiosity and inability to fully understand why what JC Penny did was wrong, why was it wrong?

    Is it wrong because they sort of manipulated Google?

    It just seems like a great business strategy to me, though obviously I take back my comment if what they did was illegal. I think it's a great business strategy to do that because you're making people who never intended to take a look at what you offer, to offer it.

    • drandall Post author

      It's not illegal. It violates Google's rules, which are central to Google's value proposition. If users lose faith in the quality of Google's results they'll use the site less, making Google searches (and the company) less valuable. Why does Google get to set the rules? Because it's their search engine, their algorithm, their reputation and good will.

  2. ellencohn

    If you're interested in JC Penney's follies, I would recommend reading the NYTimes "A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web".
    Contrastingly, instead of a large corporation, an independent con artist found the loophole in Google's algorithm, using negative reviews to stimulate results.

    Given the magnitude of the internet, I'm surprised more people aren't toying with with their search engine optimization. I'm impressed with Google's authenticity, transparency–but if they continue to allow people to fall through the cracks–perhaps I will start using Bing?

    You may be curious to read Google's blog to see their opinion of the matter:

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