On February 12th, 2011, David Segal of the New York Times, broke the story The Dirty Little Secrets of Search. David worked with SEO Expert Doug Pierce of Blue Fountain Media. What they found is shaking the foundation of the search engine marketing world and very quickly even further dividing the line between “Black Hat” and “White Hat” SEO practitioners, not to mention flat out embarrassing Google to the core. The way the story reads is that JC Penny hired an SEO firm who then allegedly performed a big SEO “no-no”.
According to the New York Times, JC Penny, hired the SEO firm SearchDex who then proceeded to “buy” links on JC Penny’s behalf. That is a cardinal sin in SEO according to many previous interviews with Matt Cutts, Google’s chief search and anti-spam cop. Here is a quick video from over 3 years ago, illustrating Google’s policy on buying links way back when:
The New York Times got Matt’s take on the whole JC Penny Scandal. Matt was visibly upset that it took a media icon like the New York Times working with an SEO expert to expose this scenario. He towed the company line though and did his best to reassure the rest of the search engine world that Google is working hard to prevent situations like this from occurring. He was quick to remind us all of the fact that the internet is enormous and policing it is not an easy job. In fact in my opinion, Google and Matt get a pass on this one.
“For those that think Matt’s response was ‘canned’ or very ‘corporate’…well of course it was! Did you honestly expect anything else? Google is trying very hard to preserve it’s ‘Fair and Impartial’ perception to the world. Having Matt go off about this and permanently banning JC Penny would not quite send that message would it? ”
I prefer to take issue with JC Penny. They have promptly fired SearchDex, claiming they had no direct knowledge of the link buying campaign. Ok so what? They are not guilty, just incompetent? Which is it? There is no way you can justify not being one or the other. JC Penny either had direct knowledge of the link buying scheme or they are totally incompetent marketers and executives who cannot manage a contractor properly.
“Simply claiming you knew nothing about the link building scheme and promptly firing your SEO contractor does not relinquish your responsibility to know what your employees and your contractors are doing on your behalf.”
In the end, JC Penny had a responsibility to KNOW what their contractor was up to prior to the New York Times exposing this scandal. A very quick and superficial check of SearchDex reveals the following items:
Title: SearchDex – Search Marketing Company – Software & Service
Meta keywords: None
Meta description: None
Internal links: 28 (0 nofollow)
External links: 2 (0 nofollow)
Server: Apache/2.2.4 (Unix) mod_ssl/2.2.4 OpenSSL/0.9.7a PHP/5.2.1
Links to Domain: 163
Google Indexed Pages: 51
Last Site Update: July 14, 2008
I found all of this information within 4 minutes, so any SEO worth their salt can see that this site has been around since 2001 and was updated pretty regularly until 2008. But since then has not been updated at all. You can also see that with only 163 incoming links, they certainly are not practicing what they preach about internet marketing. They also only rank for only one of the two search terms that their web site is optimized for as it relates to internet marketing. You do not have to be an SEO expert to see that they probably are not the horse you want to ride. You do have to know a little bit about SEO and the SEO process to see these things and that’s were JC Penny had an obligation to make sure they hired a quality contractor to perform this work. So who was the executive that hired them and exactly what process did they go through to qualify this firm? This is where they failed miserably in my opinion.
“The only other scenario is that JC Penny ‘used’ SearchDex as a patsy. By that I mean that they hired SearchDex and told them to buy links for them and then through plausible deniability at the highest levels, promptly fired the so called ‘dirty’ SEO firm.”
Either way, looks like we may never know the real deal. SearchDex has remained quiet (as of the time that this post was written) and is not saying one way or another whether or not JC Penny had knowledge of the link building techniques being used. So we are left in the dark and JC Penny gets a slap on the wrist. The rest of us go back to work and see if we can’t make a difference in this wonderful world of Search Engine Marketing.