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A hard lesson in SEO

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Thursday February 17, 2011 )

The incident was widely reported, but I thought I would make mention of it as it is important in relation to search engine optimization.

An article on the New York Times entitled “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search“, details the fall of a major retailer allegedly found to be gaming Google in terms of search engine rankings.

NYT asked an SEO expert to dig into why a particular merchant was ranking so well on a wide range of terms.

It turned out thousands of paid links were placed around the web to the company’s site. The links were from related, non-related and totally irrelevant sites. While inbound links can boost search engine rankings, particularly from related, high quality sites; Google frowns on paid links placed for the purposes of SEO and began taking action on them quite a while back.

It’s my understanding that in some cases where only links from a few sites are involved, Google is more likely just to devalue/dampen any link love, but if they discover a concerted effort to manipulate rankings; it may take further action.

And take action it did, “manual action” that reportedly sent the retailer plummeting down the ranks on some terms.

The retailer denies any knowledge of the linking practice and has returned fire, stating that the NYT article “is misleading and unwarranted“. I guess it’s possible the merchant’s management were unaware as their SEO work appears to have been outsourced and some SEO services don’t like to reveal their methods to clients – or it could be another scenario where clients often don’t know “black hat” from “white hat” SEO; but the damage has been done in terms of their rankings for now.

Imagine if the same happened to your web site. Would you survive such a hit?

There’s a few sites I know of that engage in this practice. It’s been interesting to watch them drop those masses of paid links very quickly since the story broke.

Best to play it safe, stick with “white hat” search engine optimization techniques and take heed of Google’s webmaster quality guidelines. Also beware of paid links related shifty cousin, masses of spam backlinks in forum profiles and blog comments.

By the way, Google recommends paid links should be accompanied by the “nofollow” attribute.


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