If you want to game SEO, think again. I recently wrote about the growing importance of content and the constant SEO crackdown coming from major search engines like Google. Organic growth, viral links, and a natural progression are revered in today's SEO world. (See: The Changing Face of SEO.)
Major enterprises like JC Penney have failed miserably at gaming SEO in the past, so I thought it would be useful to showcase what's gotten several blue chip brands into trouble. After all, it's not just smaller companies that want to grow their businesses; large retailers covet a prime position on Google as well.
Last year, JC Penney committed a huge blunder when SearchDex, the contractor it hired to handle its SEO, committed a major error. As PC World wrote:
Thousands of links were placed on hundreds of sites across the Web - many of them completely unrelated to the keywords in question, some apparently abandoned, but all leading to JCPenney.com.
The retail chain claimed it didn't know anything about SearchDex's activities. But was that the case? Right after the holiday shopping rush, The New York Times wrote a story claiming that JC Penney bested its competition for an array of search terms, including "skinny jeans," "home decor," "comforter sets," and "furniture."
The JC Penney scheme included putting links on sites like Casino-Focus.com, BulgariaPropertyPortal.com, and even USCLetterman.org. Google struck back, sending JC Penney plummeting for a variety of keywords it once held the top spot for.
But was the scheme worthwhile? Remember, JC Penney reaped the rewards during the holiday season, so did it cash in?
The NYT cited a JC Penney spokeswoman:
While the collection of links surely brought in additional revenue, it was hardly a bonanza. Just 7% of JCPenney.com’s traffic comes from clicks on organic search results, she wrote. A far bigger source of profits this holiday season, she stated, came from partnerships with companies like Yahoo and Time Warner, from new mobile applications, and from in-store kiosks.
Ritzy auto manufacturer BMW also drove into some SEO trouble with Google, according to the NYT. The car-maker acknowledged it created "doorway pages" that only exist to attract search engines. BMY then redirected traffic to an alternative website. At the time, BMW said it had no intention of deceiving users, pleading ignorance: "If Google says all doorway pages are illegal, we have to take this into consideration."
It's not as if Google is innocent in all of this, either. The same New York Times report revealed that JC Penney spent nearly $2.5 million per month -- yes, per month -- on Google search ads. Other companies that spent a fortune on Google during that period included AT&T and eBay.
Overstock.com also found itself in the crosshairs for gaming SEO. The online retailing giant procured links from college websites specifically, according to The Wall Street Journal. Why? The news outlet explained:
Internet search experts say that sites associated with educational institutions, which come with .edu in their Web addresses, are often considered by Google's search algorithm to be more authoritative than commercial sites.
Overstock allegedly offered discounts on merchandise in return for the links. Keywords like "bunk beds" and "gift baskets" were among the ones mentioned.
What has been your experience with SEO? Do you have any horror -- or success -- stories to tell? Share them here.