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