J.C. Penney, Forbes, and Overstock.com Learn the Hard Way: Black Hat SEO is Bad
First of all, let me state very clearly that Infront Webworks, Inc does not participate in, or endorse, "Black Hat" SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tactics. What is "Black Hat" SEO, you ask? Simply put, Black Hat SEO is any attempt to fool, game, or "cheat" the search engines to achieve higher rankings on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Google draws a thick line in their Webmaster Guidelines between what qualifies as Black Hat, and what is acceptable.
J.C. Penney's Penalty
Recently, Google took what it called "corrective action" against J.C. Penney because it participated in Black Hat SEO. Thousands of links were created to the site from seemingly unrelated websites. There are links in to JCPenney.com’s dresses page, for example, from sites about dogs, fishing, snoring, jokes, diseases, and on, and on. Why does Google care about these links? Because one of Google's strongest indicators of relevance and trust come from the volume and quality of inbound links from other websites. When people game the system, Google's search engine becomes less accurate.
Forbes' Paid Listings
Shortly after the news of J.C. Penney's Black Hat tactics broke, Google sent Forbes a warning letter for breaking the rules laid out in the Webmaster Guidlines about selling links. This is not the first time Forbes has been warned or flagged by Google. Denis Pinsky, Digital Marketing Manager at Forbes.com, pretended to be ignorant of the wrongdoing in a post on Google's Webmaster Forum. Matt Cutts, Google's Webmaster Guidlines Chief of Police, posted the following response:
Hi Denis, thanks for asking about this. That message typically indicates that we believe a site is selling links that pass PageRank, which is a violation of our quality guidelines. As rustybrick and http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/16/forbes-accused-of-link-spam-plays-dumb-but-forgets-to-delete-all-the-links/ point out, the links at forbes.com/ebusiness/ are a specific instance that violate our guidelines. People on this thread have already mentioned Conductor, and I've confirmed multiple times that paid links that pass PageRank via Conductor violate our guidelines. My recommendation would be that Forbes remove the paid links that pass PageRank. I should mention that I believe we have another example of paid links that pass PageRank on Forbes which is similar to forbes.com/ebusiness/, so it probably makes sense to do a full check of your site for any links similar to that or powered by the same network. After the links are gone, you can submit a reconsideration request and we'll move forward from there.
Thanks for asking and I hope that helps.
Overstock.com's SEO Woes
Last, but not least, is Overstock.com. They got flagged for encouraging websites of colleges and universities to post links to Overstock pages so that students and faculty could receive discounts on the shopping site. This is essentially the same violation that got Forbes.com in trouble. But this strategy by Overstock.com was an especially effective short-term boost because websites with domains ending in ".edu" generally carry more trust and authority than commercial sites. It took fewer links to get the same amount of "Google Juice."
Online Marketing Done Right
The moral of the story is: If you want to boost your rankings on the search engines, it's best to spend your time, money, and energy on a long-term, sustainable inbound linking strategy. There are numerous White Hat internet marketing techniques that we have used to achieve fantastic results for our clients. Our team of SEO experts develops customized, strategic marketing plans that drive traffic to our client's websites, while maintaining strict adherence to Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Contact our Internet Marketing Specialist to learn about how we can help you with your online marketing and SEO efforts.