Beware the Black Hat: How Shady SEO Can Destroy Your Rankings

The following is a post from Brian Fitzgerald, TIG Global Director of Search and Social.

It is rare when the SEO industry gets mainstream coverage and attention. It is even rarer when that coverage goes deep into the advanced, and often shady, underlying tactics and techniques behind getting top rankings for top keywords. Recently, The New York Times did exactly that with a story about how JC Penney achieved top rankings in Google for certain keyword and how it all disappeared in the blink of an eye once Google uncovered what JC Penney was up to. I would encourage you to read the entire article on The New York Times website as it is a fascinating look at Google’s algorithm and the “black hat” methods that can be used to game it.

“Black hat” refers to SEO tactics that are either frowned upon by search engines or explicitly forbidden. JC Penney, or more accurately their search agency, was in violation of Google’s guidelines through many of the tactics they were using to achieve top rankings. As you hopefully know, inbound links from other sites to your site are the number one factor for SEO. The good way of attracting links is to create great content and information that creates value for others, resulting in them linking to your site. Strategies around how to do this have been covered on the TIG Global Blog many times. However, this is not the approach JC Penney was taking. They were securing links through link brokers, link schemes and other tactics that are not “allowed” by the search engines, in order to keep results accurate and relevant.  (Be sure to check out our post from Nikki Johnson, TIG Global’s VP of Copywriting, on accepted, or “white hat” methods.)

The most unfortunate part about this whole incident is that the search agency involved in this has now tarnished JC Penney’s rankings and SEO reputation for what will likely be a long time. They’ve cost JC Penney millions in natural search visitors and millions in revenue. In my opinion it is a complete breech of their fiduciary responsibility to JC Penney to engage in these kinds of tactics. Even if JC Penney explicitly asked for these types of tactics to be deployed, it is the agency’s responsibility to provide the background and reasoning for why it is simply not worth it in the long run.

TIG Global offers link building services for all our clients, but we would never use tactics like link schemes, link wheels, link farms, etc. So, my word to the wise is to be proactive and look out for your own interests.  Ask the right questions to ensure that your online strategy is on the up-and-up to avoid major headaches, and a potentially tarnished brand reputation that could result in significant financial losses.  If you are ever talking to an agency and they use any of the aforementioned phrases, run for the door. Even if your agency doesn’t use these phrases in regular conversations, you should ask them about their point of view, they should definitely have one, and they should be educated and articulate about the downsides that exist.

Have more questions about faulty SEO tactics? Have you been a victim of such activities? Let us know your thoughts and questions.  Sound off in the comments section below to start the discussion.

Interested in ramping up your search engine strategy? Learn more about the full suite of interactive services offered by TIG Global, send us an email, or give us a call at 301-841-4700.

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