The New York Times article that landed on late Saturday evening was the basis of the conversation between Desiree and Joe on this episode of The Bella Buzz podcast. There are so many juicy angles to this story that we go down a variety of roads ranging from black hat seo to content farms, to brand signals impacting the search results pages.
A little background first. The New York Times published a story titled The Dirty Little Secrets of Search in which they uncovered numerous web sites that were linking JC Penney for lucrative keywords. The web sites in question had no relevance to the keywords they were linking, everything from nuclear.engineeringaddict.com to bulgariapropertyportal.com could find you a little link to words like “Evening Gowns” or “Bedding”, things that would put JC Penney on top of the rankings. The length of time that this has been happening is unclear, but it was certainly taking place throughout the profitable 4th Quarter holiday period, and certainly had an impact on the revenues for the company.
Black Hat Tactics
The company immediately fired their SEO firm, claiming ignorance of the tactics and link buying strategies that they were using. It raises the question of how companies should be monitoring the work being done on their behalf, and whether the offices on the upper floors understand these sophisticated techniques.
Desiree has her own direct example of serious black hat techniques that really border on criminal intent. During the early part of this decade, a competitor purchased links that were pointing to her web site, which in turn caused Google to drop her from the rankings. This form of corporate espionage should lead to possible charges, however the question is who is the responsible party for handling and prosecuting something like this? We cannot turn that jurisdiction over to a corporate entity like Google!
One way to determine if there might be something happening that you are unaware of, do a search for LINK: <YOURDOMAIN> to see if there are any questionable sites that you should be looking in to.
This New York Times story broke during a time when Google has been seeing some negative publicity regarding the “pollution” of the search results by Content Farms. Companies are now crafting business models that follow search trends very closely and craft content that meets that query. The content is done quickly and optimized professionally so that it will rank at the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
The complaint by many is that this content is of poor quality, provides no benefit to the searcher, and does not meet the standard of “the most relevant information for that search query. Google is struggling with algorithmically weeding out that content.
So, in this discussion and the JC Penney discussion, it comes to light that Google will manually manipulate the rankings according to their internal decision making. JC Penney dropped quickly from it’s number one perch even though the links had not been removed completely, and now they are asking users to install a Chrome toolbar that will give them feedback about sites that users want excluded from their rankings. Where does the neutrality come in? How much control does Google get when dropping a site manually from the index?
The opposite affect of having poor search quality from Google is the gain in trustworthiness of social search. Each user’s social graph will provide better feedback and information than the standard search engine. This is a key time in the evolution of search!
As a small to medium sized business, the only way to make sure that you can compete in this landscape is to be certain your on-site optimization is excellent. All of the long standing efforts for good meta descriptions, nice designs, optimized images and content, and simple navigation are a solid foundation.
The off-site efforts include the many strategies we have discussed regarding content distribution via social networks, as well as an indication that Google will look at “brand signals“. Signals would be things that a reputable company would have over the course of operating a business such as employees listed on LinkedIn, a street address in the about page and Google maps, or brand name searches indicating people are looking for that company. These are the bits of information that compile to give a site a higher listing.
What do you think? Are we seeing a revolution in Search?
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