Google Strikes Back Against Black Hat SEO

Many people in the SEO/SEM community are talking about the recent article in the New York Times titled: "The Dirty Little Secrets of Search".

A quick synopsis of the article is that J.C. Penney hired an SEO company to help it rank as high as possible. The SEO company (unknown to J.C. Penney according to the company) implemented a wide range of black hat techniques including placing possibly tens of thousands of backlinks all across the internet in an attempt to game Google's algorithm. However, after Google finding out that J.C. Penney was ranking so high for so many top keywords, Google has been forced to reprimand J.C. Penney releasing a statement against the company and ensuring that none of the black hat SEO tricks influence the results. Since the discovery, J.C. Penney has dropped precipitously in the rankings for many of its keywords and effectively disappeared for many others. It should also be noted that there is a possible side story (a controversy) that since J.C. Penney is one of Google's largest advertisers, it is, of course, possible that Google may have looked the other way until it couldn't look away any longer.

Google States Publicly that it Will Now Refocus its Efforts on Black Hat SEO

One of the main grievances that Google has with J.C. Penney is the obvious use of paid backlinks. What was discovered was that thousands upon thousands of backlinks were created - in quick succession all over the web. While J.C. Penney does have deep pockets, these links were mainly posted on random sites - many of them quite spammy and outside the category for their intended keyword or url. In fact, most if not all of the backlinks pointed directly to J.C. Penney's home page. With this much publicity around the web, you can be sure that Google will try to ensure that other big sites are not gaming their algorithms and that many of the spammy link farms will be uncovered and their page rank dropped.

Building Backlinks

It should be noted that paying for a backlink on someone else's site is not illegal. You can't be prosecuted or go to jail - but it is against Google's fair practices, or code of honor, so to speak. Obviously, when conducting an SEO campaign you want to make sure that all of the strategies you use are white hat and ethical. There are many ways to build backlinks ethically. It will be much more time consuming and most likely warrant more in resources, but you'll have peace of mind and your improvements should be permanent. I won't get into how to build backlinks in this article, but I will give you some tips on how not to build black hat backlinks.

Clearly, for the most part you cannot control if another individual posts your link on their site, but if you are actively building natural backlinks, you should try to choose sites that are in your category or industry and that will be posted on legitimate websites. Sites that look spammy, cite hundreds of links, and that don't offer quality information or media, are sites that you should stay away from. We most all know the difference between link farms and spammy sites - so if you have any reservations, then I would say that this alone is enough to help you make the decision to encourage the other site not to post your url.

In addition, Google will now be on the lookout for unnatural back-link creation. This can include an unnatural amount of links being created in a single month. Most sites would never naturally gain one hundred, several hundred, or thousands of new links in any given month; So - always keep this in mind.

SEO/Client Relationships

According to the article, J.C. Penney states that they were absolutely in the dark about what their SEO company was doing on their behalf. My opinion: this may be true, if no one in their IT department had any knowledge of SEO either. It this possible? Perhaps. Though as always in business, keeping a client in-the-know is the best policy. So – even though they were paying for this, I guess that no one from J.C. Penney management or their IT department even bothered to ask – right?

While black hat SEO specialists do exist and many clients are happy to use them, for the vast majority in the industry practicing white SEO, it is always the best policy to explain to clients what strategies we have implemented and to ensure them that they are based on industry standards and are ethical.

About the author

Roger Janik is the President and Founder of – The Web Marketers.
He began working as a professional web designer and web marketer in 2001, holds a BA in Communications from UHCL and sits on the marketing committee of the Houston BBB. In addition Roger is a frequent guest on Houston FOX News and CBS Talk Radio discussing the current trends in website marketing and social media. He founded ServerSideDesign in 2004 and has established his company as a leading provider for Search Engine Marketing Services in Houston, TX. as well as on a global scale.


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