• http://www.timkilroy.com timkilroy

    Content is king, and the growth of linking as informative as to relevancy and authority came out of the search engines having a hard time understanding the meaning of content. That opened the door to link spam.

    And everyone in the industry knows that it works. But only the bottom of the retail food chain would accept undeserved traffic. The transactional revenue certainly isn’t worth the ding to your brand. JCP is a really unusual case because a) their link spammers were VERY good, and b) JCP had relevancy for most, if not all of the categories that they dominated.

    So, why did the link spam win? Primarily because those merchants that have a targeted, truly authentic position in the discussion allowed a spammer to win. In order to win, content needs to position you to win. The effective retailer uses content to drive ahead its position in not only SERPs, but the consumer mindset. Good quality content makes you part of the discussion. And JCP, while relevant, did not have the authentic voice to own all of those conversations. But they were able to win because few merchants and marketers had the foresight to demand to own the conversation.

  • http://www.conquerortravel.org Victor Tuszing

    Very good point of view, obviously we all hard workers are cheated by these companies! I do not understand why Google doesn’t put few weight in links and more in the content’s quality?! However, this issue isn’t new and probably will continue without a serious approach from Google’s side…

  • http://www.searchworxx.com Marcus C

    The reason link spam continues is because it is rewarded by Google. Spammers have a better than average chance of escaping Google’s wrath. They will change when Google changes.

    For many us it is tough to discuss SEO with a potential client when they have a competitor with a lame site that ranks well due to link spam. Google doesn’t make it easy to sell a content program and link strategy to a client when their competitor doesn’t need it because they buy paid links from offshore sweat shops at 30% of the cost I would charge.

    It is easy to say that a client needs better content, but until Google enforces that it’s just idle talk.

  • http://www.jaankanellis.com Jaan Kanellis

    “Brands Are Missing Big Opportunities”

    Because they don’t like change or simply won’t listen to common SEO knowledge. Look at the URL structure, meta tag info and internal linking on their site. This is SEO 101 stuff they are doing wrong.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com George Michie

    Terrific and thought-provoking post, Evan. As I see it the problem is two-fold: first, it is VERY difficult (maybe impossible?) to algorithmically differentiate good content from bad content on a given subject. Links were supposed to be a proxy for separating the wheat from the chaff, but then we have to determine the value of the linking sites and on it goes; second, it’s much harder to be exceptionally good, and offer a truly unique experience than it is to cheat and simply throw money at a problem.

  • http://trafficsmack.com seth@trafficsmack

    Excellent article. I would LOVE to see more ethics put back into all marketing. When people / companies cheat and win, they will keep on cheating until they get caught.

    Our job as marketers should be to work fairly and responsibly for our clients, and foster long term relationships versus looking for the easiest possible path (read short term solutions).

  • groundhog24

    I have no doubt that google can ferret out virtually any scheme to improve a web site’s rating. It shouldn’t be all that difficult with google’s various techniques for mining information from sources which they alone have complete access to. Some sadly mistaken companies and individuals might see these different techniques as private enterprise in action.
    I also have no doubt that they will shake up J.C. Penney. I am less confident that they will use such a major customer as an example by actually removing them from the google search engine. That would likely be reserved for a minor member of no actual relevance if lost.
    Another more skeptical person, certainly not moi, might think that the mentioned news article is as much an unpaid warning (think threat) and free advertisement for google as it is front page news. The article would appear to that cynical person as a warning to the general public under the guise of an interesting news article. I can’t see where it would be of much value to bring this up with the news web page where this news article appears which is google news. I guess that I would tell that skeptical person to just buck up and keep her-his nose clean. You wouldn’t want to run afoul of Google’s private laws (think imperial decrees). The designation laws seems apt since google can mete out a more or less fatal penalty all by its’ own volition via its’ arbitrary definitions and self prescribed arbitrary penalties without benefit of the courts which are provided by our government.
    To some, a company which provides linkage to over a trillion websites would not be seen as an entity which should be allowed to make up rules and penalties which they would never have any intention of applying evenly or fairly and which they could never apply evenly or fairly due to the webpage owners being from every conceivable point on the globe thus falling under the auspices of the many different countries in which they reside. Power unchallenged probably feels good, very good.
    Do I think that I am safe from google? No I do not, not in the least. Actually I don’t expect to see this opinion see the light of day on this site. If this opinion does show up here don’t expect this line of thought to be treated very well since everyone commenting on this news article seems to be deriving their separate incomes from some faction of this mega-business.

  • http://tatermarketing.wordpress.com tatermarketing@twitter

    I agree with you and we have truly tried very hard to focus our time on the user, not Google over the last 6 months. While conversion rates have risen, Our ranking have sunk!

    Google may want to rank better sites higher but they don’t have the ability to.

    So, Google is the real culprit sapping resource that could be used to create better websites.

  • http://www.webrockstars.com Web Rock Stars

    I shop online, read online, do banking and finances online, pretty much everything online. But Google will never know my favorite websites because I don’t link to them.

    I fully agree that Google is putting way too much focus on links time to get away from links. If Google algorithm goes away from links and puts less focus on them and other signals and factors, then it wont have to worry about link spam.

  • Ian Williams

    I think this is part of the greater distinction between sales and marketing. Marketing is about identifying and then meeting the needs of your customer, thereby developing a mutually beneficial relationship.

    The vast majority of search/digital marketers I’ve met have previous little knowledge of marketing, and operate far more from a ‘sales’ type of mindset, doing whatever is required to make the numbers add up, irrespective of benefit to the customer.

  • http://en.gravatar.com/rasculous David Knockton

    The human experience of buying from a salesperson in a store who understands your needs with warmth and care is what the canny consumers do first. They then go online and try and find it cheaper.

    If I already know what I want to buy then I want a site that delivers it quickly, at the cheapest price, with the fastest delivery, that I can find on my first Google search query.

    Those sites are normally the ones that are fully optimised for receiving and converting my kind of high volume search traffic.

  • http://www.blackballonline.com blackballonline

    Here Here and Well done. JCP chose to farm out (with or without oversight) their Brand and rep. Do you think they’d hire folks off the street to work their cash registers? No! But that’s what happened here. On a larger scale Google was blackened by this as well; this story cuts to the core of the user search experience. Yes, I’m sure I heard about that somewhere before.

  • http://www.AtlantaAnalytics.com Evan LaPointe

    Too true. But we know that Google’s ultimate desire IS to be able to interpret sites at this level, and inch by inch, they’re getting there. We do see sites with more and better content being rewarded, but maybe not proportionately, as you rightly say.

    I’m sorry to hear that! Obviously, you should be rewarded for doing the right thing by the user. But remember it’s not just a matter of making better interfaces, but truly fleshing out relevant and informative content. So hopefully that will improve rankings, and keep your conversion rate rising like it has!


    I agree with the process you describe. People do it all the time. But I don’t think what we’re talking about here has to get in the way of fast sites that get to the point quickly, any more than planting beautiful hedges along your driveway makes your driveway longer. Good content just further legitimizes the site for people like you, maybe even steering you better into a high-value product or service that the salesperson wasn’t able to articulate. And for people who are higher-funnel than you, the sites will be much easier for Google to credit and for users to learn from. That’s the hope!

  • Jeff Simon

    ” . . . These people will talk to you about what bedding will look good in your home. They will help you dress for your first day at the new job. They will tell you what the bulleted list of product features on a steaming iron actually does for you and your clothes.”

    Spoken like someone who hasn’t patronized JC Penney. The philosophical problem you speak of . . . not identifying the needs of customers is not web-borne. . .

    It’s part of the dna of JCP. They are a commody, transaction-oriented market. They don’t aspire to anything higher, regardless of what heart-strings their branding may pull.

    The the 80/20 Rule says this is the true for all other companies attempting to game search engines.