There was an article in the Times around how J.C. Penney (JCP) has been cheating Google’s (GOOG) search system. Search terms like “dresses”, “bedding”, “area rugs” were all coming back with the same result at the very top of the list- J.C. Penney. Other generic terms like “skinny jeans”, “home decor”, “comforter sets”, “furniture”, “tablecloths” were bringing up J.C. Penney’s website near the top of the search results. Furthermore, specific terms like “Samsonite carry on luggage” were returning J.C. Penney, even ahead of Samsonite’s website itself. The retailer’s holding the top spot lasted for months, and notably during the holiday season when online shopping becomes a more popular activity.
At first glance, one might applaud J.C. Penney for having great search optimization techniques. In the SEO world, there exists what are called “white hat” vs. “black hat” approaches. The former are acceptable tactics, the ones used by marketing/consulting firms to increase visibility. The latter are techniques that are not necessarily illegal, but frowned upon, designed to cheat the system.
Now, Google does not discuss in detail how their search algo works. But they do mention that one of the main criteria is links from one site to another. J.C. Penney’s “black hat” approach exploited this very idea. Supposedly, someone paid to have thousands of links show up on hundreds of various websites, and all of them linked directly to J.C. Penney’s home page. J.C. Penney denied it was done internally and that they are currently working on taking down the links (I’m sure they’re taking their time with that).
So, clever or just wrong? If searching the internet is supposed to represent relevancy, then I say, yes, “black hat” strategies are lame, cop out approaches.