If you like good spy novels and SEO, there is no better piece of writing on the subject than the February 12th article The Dirty Little Secrets of Search by the New York Times. If the piece was a Russian spy novel, JCPenney would be the Russians and Google would be the U.S. with the black-hat SEOs as the bad Russian operatives. (Please note: I am only speaking of the tone of the article when I am speaking of JCPenney. I personally shop at JCPenney and find their brand extremely reputable).
What plays out in the article is a great piece of investigative writing by the New York Times. The story begins with an analysis of search performance on retail keywords. Across the board, JCPenney appeared in the first position for the keywords. Upon further analysis, it was deemed that JCPenney was using black-hat tricks, in particular paid links, to drive up search results for top keywords including “dresses,” “skinny jeans,” and “home decor.” After discovering the search fraud, the New York Times contacted Google. Google performed an internal investigation, found the same issues, and began a “manual” discounting of links — which in the SEO world means a big "oh, no." Almost immediately, JCPenney dropped significantly within the search results.
The biggest coup of the article is the interview with the person practicing black-hat SEO. Rarely are the individuals who perform black-hat SEO so eager to speak.
So what does this mean for the little guys? If a brand like JCPenney is going to use inappropriate SEO techniques, how can other retailers or businesses keep up?
The truth is the brands that utilize black-hat techniques cannot perform them forever. Time and time again, stories appear of brands getting caught by Google and the damage they ensue is just short of catastrophic. Google will continue to be extremely aggressive against hackers and spammers who attempt to game the algorithms.
Kudos to David Segal for a great story. I tip my "white-hat" to you.