SEO Mistakes – A Lesson Learned from the JCPenney Fiasco

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As recent as just a few years ago, creating a web presence simply meant creating a site, creating content, and publishing the site online.  Period. Individuals did not take into account how traffic would flow to their site or how it was supposed to get into the top results in page rankings by the top search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, and more recently, Bing.  Then in 2006, the words “search engine optimization” began to appear.  Since that time, SEO has become one of the leading strategies to drive traffic to one’s site for many companies across a wide range of industries.

SEO is a powerful method for companies to increase their flow of traffic and therefore increase their sales in the process.  Actually, it is fair to say that a company that does not use some form of SEO in their marketing strategy is somewhat foolish, as one can bet that the company’s competitors are using it.

As important as SEO is to a business, it is important to utilize this marketing technique in an ethical manner that follows rules that are created by the search engines themselves.  If a company does not follow rules that have been created in order to minimize unfair competition, they find out, much the same as JCPenney’s did, that there are consequences to breaking the rules.  It is important to maximize one’s potential with relevance, not with deception.  For instance, JCPenney recently had created SEO in such a way that for many unrelated items, they would be the top ranked result.  For example, when searching for Samsonite Luggage, a user would find JCPenney in the top ranked position, thereby beating out the luggage maker’s own site.

The bottom line is that JCPenney had employed the SEO firm known as SearchDex to perform their search engine optimization tactics for them.  This firm proceeded, whether with or without JCPenney’s knowledge, to perform “black hat” techniques, also known as cheating one’s way to the top, which involved paying many sites to unethically link back to JCPenney.  In short, more than 80% of the links created had absolutely nothing to do with JCPenney.  Black hat techniques do not lengthen a business’ lifespan; in fact, this brand of SEO will get a company blacklisted from the search engines, as it did for BMW a few years prior.  What every business owner needs to know is how to avoid the crisis that befell both JCPenney and BMW.

For one thing, a company has to play by the rules to ensure a fair competitive marketplace for all industries.  Search engines will not accept ignorance as an excuse for ignoring these rules.  Know what one’s SEO company is all about, and keep tabs on what is going on with his or her company’s search branding.  Be sure to communicate upfront about what will be admissible and what will not be tolerated.  It can be tempting for an SEO company to want to impress its clients with great search results, so make sure that the SEO company with which one chooses to do business is reputable and understands what one wants.

As stated, keep tabs on the SEO company’s dealings with one’s site.  Even assuming that JCPenney really did not know what their SEO company, SearchDex, was up to, it is stated plainly in every law book that ignorance is no excuse.  For instance, if JCPenney was on top of their game, they would have found out long before the New York Times ran the story that something was afoul in how they were gaining visitors.  If one’s company decides to outsource their search engine optimization, it is important to keep tabs on how they optimize one’s site.

For all intents and purposes, take the high road, and acquire one’s visitors organically, or naturally.  It is unscrupulous and unethical to purchase links from link brokers in order to increase one’s site’s visibility.  In fact, the sale of links is an unethical practice in and of itself.

In order to optimize one’s site ethically and organically, use focused keywords as anchor text from external sites related to one’s industry to link to one’s site.  Focus on the popularity of external links that one has. Have a diverse source of external links.  Check into the trustworthiness of the domain of the original link based on the distance between it and trusted domains. And finally, simply stick to search engine optimization strategies that are legitimate in order to make one’s site visible.

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