The Ramifications of Black Hat SEO

Posted on June 19, 2012

Last year, there was one notable company that seemed to be dominating search engines. They were tops with general terms like "bedding" or even specific phrases like "Samsonite carry on luggage." The list went on and on. "Furniture." "Skinny Jeans." "Area Rugs."

That one site was J.C. Penney. With $17.8 billion in revenue in 2010, surely they are a player in retail, but were they THE most important site for "bedding" and "skinny jeans" and "area rugs" against all competition? And how does "Samsonite carry on luggage" direct you first to J.C. Penney when an established website such as Samsonite itself is available?

Essentially, Google is a popularity engine. The more sites that link to you, the more Google sees that you are "popular" and ranks you higher. What J.C. Penney had done was purchase links from countless other sites to link back to them. For example, J.C. Penney had links to their dress pages from a nuclear engineering site, gambling sites, Bulgarian real estate portals, banking sites, and dozens of other completely irrelevant websites. This is a Google no-no and is enveloped under the generic phrase of "link schemes." We answered the question "What is Black Hat SEO" in our blog last week, detailing some of the techniques used by these shady SEO specialists. Now we get to what can happen when Google picks up on it.

Upon conducting their evaluations, Google began to levy "manual action" against J.C. Penney, essentially demoting the site on hundreds of search terms. One Wednesday evening, they ranked number one for "Samsonite carry on luggage." Two hours later, they ranked 71st. Their number one ranking for "living room furniture" plummeted to 68th.

A year later, doing that same search for "Samsonite carry on luggage" will reveal many of J.C. Penney's competitors. Macy's, Amazon, Sears and others all are ranked highly within Google. J.C. Penney isn't in the top 200 natural search results.

The long and the short of it is, black hat SEO practices do work. J.C. Penney achieved number one rankings they had no business in holding. But those temporary gains are long since gone, and they are having to work from behind nearly all of their top line competitors from an online perspective. Just like all of your marketing and business decisions, your search engine optimization efforts should be well thought out and implemented for both the long and short term.

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