At the end of last week retail giant JC Penney got the ultimate smack down not just by Google, but also in the press with a very public outing of its quite “unethical” practice of link buying written by the New York Times. To be honest, their link buying methods where just plain outright stupid. Any competent SEO professional or company knows better than to buy their links from the networks that were outlined in the New York Times article. It’s just plain rubbish links like those that gets any company who buys them in hot water.
General Keywords Don’t Necessarily Indicate Purchases
If you’ve been in online marketing long enough you learn that this industry has changed a lot since the early days of ranking for an all important general term like “skinny jeans”. Back in the early days of Google, ranking in the top 5 for that term would be a boon for sure. However, now that technology has progressed and searchers/shoppers have become much more savvy, ranking for a general term isn’t a “guaranteed sale” as it once was. Smarter online shoppers are refining their search queries to the very exact thing they are looking for. Today, size, color, brand and fit are now all important pieces of a search query to savvy shoppers.
There are so many factors that play into what is served up to the individual searcher that it really makes me scratch my head that the New York Times pinned everything on general key words. At any given time different people can end up with different search results. Consider these factors and how they affect your own search results:
- Physical Location
- Connection Speed
- Browser You Are Using
- Type of Device (computer, tablet, mobile phone?)
- Logged Into Your Google Account?
- Keeping a Browsing History?
- Been to the Page Before?
- Have Friends Recommended the Page?
- Got the Google Tool Bar Installed?
Taking all that into account, while what JC Penney did was really dumb, I don’t think it matters in the overall scheme of SEO. What it does do is demonstrate the need for companies to be a lot more intelligent about how they should put together more cohesive online marketing strategies.
Don’t Be Stupid with Your Online Marketing
The biggest crime I can see here is that JC Penney’s marketing team was just plain stupid and technically that’s not a crime or anything that can be fixed.
- They hired an incompetent search marketing firm (who’s other clients likely have a great big target on their back now too) to do really lousy link buying
- They put all their eggs in one basket rather than implementing at a holistic approach to integrated marketing. Banking all your efforts and/or resources into marketing tactics that Google clearly has labeled as violating their guidelines and/or terms of service is really just suicide.
Now that’s not to say I’m against buying links because personally I’m not. I’m against buying links in wasteful ways. Google made the mistake years ago by creating this Link Buying Eco-System and it’s been hard to stuff that genie back in the bottle. Companies have to be smart if they are going to invest money into purchasing links. This tactic also needs to be supplemented by other online marketing efforts so that if one card falls – the entire house doesn’t fall with it.
Integrating Builds a Better Foundation
Any marketing plan built on one particular tactic such as link buying has the propensity to come crashing down and not just crash, but burn up in flames and incinerate all of your efforts, goals and dreams. It may work great in the very beginning or for a short while, but by only focusing on that tactic in the here and now, you sell your company a very short marketing life cycle. It’s short because eventually the tactics wear out (either by Google booting you out of the search results, the New York Times outing you or your customers just getting very bored with seeing the same stuff over and over again). When you decide to integrate your efforts across different marketing channels, you’ll begin to build a more solid strategy that isn’t dependent on the success of just one thing.
If JC Penney had developed a plan to simultaneously invest in engaging with their customers, creating valuable content that customers could use, pitched the content to relevant bloggers and media outlets, while they still invested in stupid link buying, their fall from grace might not have been so hard, nor so fast. Sure, Google would see the footprint of those networks (they apparently had seen it well before the NY Times article), but Google would have also seen the relevancy from the other channels they were working to gain additional relevancy for the products they sell. Had that been the case, losing those lousy network links wouldn’t have mattered as much.