NYT Article Response: Keep SEO Ethical

To Our Clients and Friends:

By now, you’ve probably seen or heard about the New York Times article showcasing JC Penney’s use of paid links to manipulate Google natural search results. While this unfortunate news has hit national headlines on a scale not seen before, it is not an uncommon thing for companies to look into purchasing links to artificially boost their relevance in search, and it’s not the first time a major business has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

At Search Discovery, we are proud of our 100% ethical SEO practices and even prouder to say that we have never strayed from this focus on ethical SEO in our company’s history, particularly around paid links.

A lot of people wonder whether ethical SEO can even work when competitors are cheating, as they appear to be today. Can an honest approach to this discipline actually work?

Not only do we believe that it’s possible; we’ve proven it many times. What we know, when we look at the big picture, is where Google is headed. And that is a future we can build web site experiences around. Google’s business depends almost entirely on their ability to deliver the most relevant and helpful results to their user base, or they risk users moving to another search engine that provides better results. As searchers and consumers of these tools, all we care about is relevant results, and great site experiences on the other side of the click.

The first result of Google’s focus on quality results is their relentless pursuit to comb out practices like these. Google has recently drawn particular attention to updates in both its ranking algorithm and the internal focus of its people (like Matt Cutts, head of their anti-webspam operation) for the purpose of not only  eliminating falsely-boosted search results, but also severely crippling the companies, agencies, and other practitioners who engage in these types of activities. Thus, the risk of these tactics is going up, exponentially.

The second part is something that these news stories don’t talk about, however: why did Google rely so heavily on links to rank JC Penney in search results in the first place? The reason is because none of these sites (JCP, or its competitors) actually invested in creating a good, content-driven experience around dresses, drapes, area rugs, or any of their products. These web sites are essentially window-dressed warehouses that don’t have a fraction of the information you could get by interacting with one of their salespeople in the store. Consider that their web site doesn’t help you pick out a rug in the way a salesperson would, by discussing your home, your lifestyle, your furniture, etc., or offer any real content around decorating. The site has nothing that tells you how to dress for your first job interview or what patterns of shirts go with which suits and ties. All these sites offer is their store without their salespeople. A list of products and product attributes is simply not enough for Google to really call any of these sites an “authority” on these topics, no matter how well it’s designed.

So what does Google have to compare this vast array of salespeople-barren warehouses to each other? All it has is links. External votes. In the absence of quality and assistive content, all that Google has is what other sites say.

So, the issue of companies looking to exploit bits of Google’s algorithm to win in search stretches far beyond unethical search engine optimization practices. Looking deeper into the issue, we see clearly that what is happening is companies are trying to take the easy way to differentiate themselves (through purchasing links), rather than blazing the truly helpful, but potentially more costly, path of building legitimate and helpful content that Google can “chew” on. In essence, many businesses are looking for the cheapest and fastest way to generate results, even if those results are just temporary or imaginary. The sad part is that all of the money, time, and people that were invested into this effort (that has imploded) could have been put into genuinely helpful content and improvements to their web sites; things that would earn them greater rankings and happier customers.

At Search Discovery, are proud to work on building a better experience for our clients’ customers by looking at content development and improvements to architecture and usability. These three things add up to better search results, greater visit volume, greater customer satisfaction, and ultimately greater engagement and sales, with zero risk of your business suffering when a momentary window of opportunity in Google’s algorithm closes or changes. We are fortunate to have clients who are committed to doing things the right way, so we just wanted to say, “thank you.”

All the best,

Evan LaPointe, Vice President
Todd Ramsey, Director of SEO
John Sherrod, Director of SEO

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