The Dirty Little Secrets of Search

15 February 2011

It seems not a week goes by without us being asked about SEO or Search Engine Optimisation, mostly from people who’ve attended seminars and heard people speaking at Chamber of Commerce meetings etc.

Before proceeding, I’d like to point out that what I’m referring to here is not the legitimate SEO performed during the design and coding of a well-built website or the general guidelines you can follow to help your website become more relevant and thus provide better search results. No, unfortunately, what I’m referring to are the snake-oil salesmen doing the rounds who can automagically guarantee your site will be ‘#1 on Google’.

In fact, they have billboards running this claim and tele-market small businesses now hocking their garbage and add to the piles of emails most website owners receive weekly offering ‘link exchanges‘.

I’ve been considering writing and de-bunking some of this nonsense for a while now but thankfully someone better qualified than I has done it for me in The Dirty Little Secrets of Search featured in the New York Post and its one every website owner should read.

Doug Pearce explains how J.C.Penney managed to game Google’s search results, for months consistently ranking at at or near the top in searches for €œskinny jeans, €œhome decor, €œcomforter sets, €œfurniture€ etc etc.

According to Pearce…

the intrigue starts in the sprawling, subterranean world of €œblack hat€ optimization, the dark art of raising the profile of a Web site with methods that Google considers tantamount to cheating.

Despite the cowboy outlaw connotations, black-hat services are not illegal, but trafficking in them risks the wrath of Google. The company draws a pretty thick line between techniques it considers deceptive and “white hat” approaches, which are offered by hundreds of consulting firms and are legitimate ways to increase a site's visibility.

Penney's results were derived from methods on the wrong side of that line, says Mr. Pierce. He described the optimization as the most ambitious attempt to game Google's search results that he has ever seen.

“Actually, it's the most ambitious attempt I've ever heard of,€ he said. €œThis 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.

But, this is a good thing right? Isn’t that the kind of results we’re all striving for?

Well, it is if the means by which you gain those search positions are legitimate and relevant.

Virtual Concrete Shoes

Be warned however, exploiting these methods to game Google’s search algorithms is a serious no-no with Google’s guidelines warning clearly and unequivocally against using tricks to improve a websites search ranking. As the article explains, getting caught out can have dire consequences – BMW were removed from search results altogether in 2006 for employing such methods.

In relation to J.C. Penney, Google was no less enthusiastic with its remedial action.

“On Wednesday evening, Google began what it calls a “manual action” against Penney, essentially demotions specifically aimed at the company.

At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for œSamsonite carry on luggage.

Two hours later, it was at No. 71.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Penney was No. 1 in searches for €œliving room furniture.

By 9 p.m., it had sunk to No. 68.

In other words, one moment Penney was the most visible online destination for living room furniture in the country.

The next it was essentially buried.”

So, what’s the answer?

Well, the answer is to follow Google’s own guidelines and advice. By ensuring that you have a well built site with relevant content, using semantic structure and promoting your site in the right way, you will naturally attain the position you deserve. Attempts to game the system may just lead to the ‘virtual concrete shoes’ the article warns of.

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