The New York Times reports on a fairly common story: a website shows up in the top search results for specific terms as a result of shady practices. First, some background…
Google, Bing and other search engines crawl the internet in an attempt to analyze the content of each page. The more websites that link to a particular page, the higher that the search engine ranks that page for a particular search term. So-called black hat search engine optimizers create websites that may not be relevant or may be of questionable quality, for the sole purpose of linking to the desired target. In this instance, thousands of websites were linking to retailer J.C. Penney’s homepage for search terms such as “dresses,” “skinny jeans,” etc. The end result – J.C. Penney became the number one search result for those terms for months.
If you own a Web site, for instance, about Chinese cooking, your site’s Google ranking will improve as other sites link to it. The more links to your site, especially those from other Chinese cooking-related sites, the higher your ranking. In a way, what Google is measuring is your site’s popularity by polling the best-informed online fans of Chinese cooking and counting their links to your site as votes of approval.
But even links that have nothing to do with Chinese cooking can bolster your profile if your site is barnacled with enough of them. And here’s where the strategy that aided Penney comes in. Someone paid to have thousands of links placed on hundreds of sites scattered around the Web, all of which lead directly to JCPenney.com.
Sometimes it is tempting to use “whatever means necessary” to improve business. But, it is not worth destroying credibility. In this case, J.C. Penney, a company with more than a century of established trust in the marketplace, has been found to be participating in schemes normally reserved for purveyors of questionable health products and get-rich-quick schemes.