Google’s SEO Game: Judge, Jury, and Executioner

As has dominated the technology and business blogosphere / twittersphere in recent weeks, jcpenney was ‘outed’ by the New York Times for the unsavory tactics of its SEO firm SearchDEX. The retailer appeared among top rankings for a plethora of terms through the 2010 holiday season as a result of links built in ways that Google deems disingenuous. The story broke in mid-February.

On January 31st — two weeks prior to the jcpenney debacle — I discussed the problem of SEO at length here on Succincity. Jcpenney was generous enough to illustrate my point.

Say what you will about my clairvoyance, but the cracks in Google’s game are becoming more visible to everyone. My advice to the current SEO players: make as much money as you can now, because Google’s autocracy is coming under pressure to tighten the screws. The game will soon be changed or completely replaced.

Hammer, meet Nail-head.
Barbara Farfan, a retail industry blogger for, echoed my sentiments in her recent post on the issue. I found them to be poignant and relevant. Here are a few excerpts:

“At issue is the integrity of the Google search results. As an avid searcher and a search engine consultant, I am compelled to ask who is trying to fool who about the “integrity” of Google search results? There is little purity or integrity in Google search results when commercial e-tailing sites are part of the search engine mix…

“Every Google search result that returns a for-profit commercial result is more of a “paid” result than an organic result. No matter what combination of proactive SEO strategies a company uses, they paid for them somehow. And if Google expects any company to just sit around and hope that bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers will organically mention their company name and products without the company doing anything proactive to get the attention of bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers, then the Google search engineers are living in a virtual dream world…

“In Google’s view, the “illegal” and junky links that were hooked up to skewed the “relevance” of the search engine algorithm, and inappropriately moved jcpenney to the top of Google page one results for search terms like “bedding,” “skinny jeans,” “furniture,” and “samsonite carry on luggage.” The fact of the matter is that jcpenney does sell bedding, skinny jeans, furniture, and samsonite carry on luggage. So, what’s so “irrelevant” about jcpenney being associated with any of those products?

“One of the search terms that the media focused on as being inappropriate for JC Penney was “little black dress.” At the writing of this blog, here are the companies that show up on Google page one organic search results for “little black dress,” along with the number of little black dresses that they have for sale on the landing page linked to those Google page one search results:

(Those are probably the only unsolicited, truly organic, non-affiliated incoming links those six e-tailers have received this year.)

“These are the websites that the Google algorithm tells me are the most “relevant” to me when I’m searching for a little black dress. However, the jcpenney website has 29 little black dresses for sale, so doesn’t that make a more relevant website than Ann Taylor, Boston Proper, and Banana Republic?

“Really, if I was standing in any average mall and I was looking for a little black dress, would Banana Republic be one of my top six destinations? Would I look there before I looked at jcpenney? Doubtful.  So how come the Google algorithm thinks Banana Republic deserves a spot on page one and not jcpenney?

“Reportedly jcpenney currently has no little black dress page one placement because jcpenney – or someone associated with it – allegedly crossed the fabricated Google out-of-bounds line and got manually removed from page one. Google is its own judge and jury with the unbridled authority to decide that the 108 year-old company on the Largest U.S. Retailers list with 29 different style of little black dresses in inventory can no longer have a place in the little black dress page one search results.

“Jcpenney’s willful or unwitting culpability aside, does it make anyone else uncomfortable that the sole manipulator of the search engine rules also gets to act as its own omnipotent judicial body and unrestrained executioner? I think that it should. The Google corporate autocracy not only impacts a company’s revenue stream, it also manipulates the information that is and isn’t easily accessible to the world. Isn’t that something that Google fought against in China? In ways, Google itself is doing the same thing.”

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