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