Rex Hammock blogs: “Don’t do anything you’d be embarrassed to read about on the front page of the newspaper,” is one of those truisms I picked up early and used a lot back two decades ago when I used to run a PR firm and needed to have such quips in my back pocket. #
This, his reaction to a fascinating article about JC Penney gaming Google: The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, in The New York Times:
“When 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.”
Rex, like myself, like to play things clean. Most of us do. But sometimes the temptation is too great, and the line too grey. Link building? Sure all SEOs do that. Link farming becomes a whole ‘nother strategy at some point … but when?
Sounds like JC Penney was contracting-out their optimisation, and probably not paying too close attention to what was being done. The link-farming is nearly invisible. Heck, Google even has a hard time detecting it.
Over the years, we’ve all had competitors just too willing to see what they can do to rank higher. It started with meta-tags, keyword stuffing, then doorway pages, and today link-farming.
The thing is, our bosses have no understanding of how SEO works. They have no idea if we are cheating or not. Likely, quite a few bosses can’t tell the difference between a paid link and an organic link in Google SERPs.
So, really, the decision (and responsibility) is ours as marketing managers. As Penney’s learned, and Rex said, you never know when what you do may end up in the paper. Play clean, play smart.
First step after setting your moral compass, is to get educated. NYT can’t cover the nitty-gritty, but Rex was nice enough to add a bonus link. Start here:
(And, yes, you can turn in a competitor who isn’t playing by the rules. Obviously Google can’t catch them.)