The Times today has a fascinating account of the lengths some companies go to game Google's search algorithm and get their websites listed higher on results. Times reporter David Segal looked into why J.C. Penney was ranked No. 1 in a suspiciously high number of searches. Turns out they, or someone working on their behalf, were paying to have thousands of links to J.C. Penney planted on spammy backwater websites. Google unwittingly took these links as legitimate and J.C. Penney was catapulted to the top of the search ranks, just in time for the 2010 Holiday shopping season.
The J.C. Penney Affair has scandalized some Google watchers and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) freaks. It's playing out like the tech version of a doping scandal: SEO industry insiders reveal that everyone does it; critics blame Google for not doing enough to crack down on cheaters; The Times wonders if J.C. Penney's large Google advertising buy might have helped Google turn a blind eye.
And it feeds into a larger crisis surrounding the usefulness of search. As content farms and the Huffington Post churn out spammy articles like "What Time Does the Superbowl Start" just to attract Google searches, we wonder: Why even Google, if Google is just a dumb competition between Google juicers trying to gin up their results with shady tactics? We'll hang out on Facebook. J.C. Penney's not paying our high school friends to post stories about their bedsheets... yet.
Before any companies succumb to the black hat's siren song, we'd urge you listen to Chuck the SEO Rapper's jam "Page Rank," a heartfelt ode to boosting your Google results fairly:
some people swap links I don't recommend it,
others buy links well I wouldn't spend it,
keyword stuffing is not a good practice,
if you doing that you'll get stuck like a cactus,
do it the right way and be enthusiastic,
and over time your results will be fantastic