Over the last few months, the New York Times has been publishing articles about the dark side of search engine optimization exposing companies that have used “dirty” tactics to improve their rankings. Last Friday, the newspaper published its latest story about paid links in the flower industry but unlike previous pieces, the response from both Google and those accused of buying links was indifference, not indignation.
Essentially the New York Times and writer David Segal have become a forum for disgruntled SEO professionals to air their grievances and hopefully see their competitors get demoted in the process. The paper exposed JC Penney’s use of link farms leading to a “-50” penalty that is still in place three months later. The total cost of the penalty is unknown but the longer it continues, the more revenue the retailer stands to lose.
When the NYT published their latest expose focused on the use of paid links in the floral industry (specifically for searches related to Mother’s Day), observers expected a similar reaction from Google with a sweeping penalty for multiple sites that could potentially destroy their brands. However, Google replied to the evidence by releasing this statement:
“None of the links shared by The New York Times had a significant impact on our rankings, due to automated systems we have in place to assess the relevance of links. As always, we investigate spam reports and take corrective action where appropriate.”
This statement was given despite evidence from SearchMetrics that one of the floral companies had risen in rank on page one from 7th position to 4th position following their initial link purchases. The flower companies that responded to requests for comment gave a similar shrug stating they didn’t buy links and that they owned the sites that had come up in the 6,000 or so sites submitted to the NYT.
Americans spend nearly $2 billion on flowers for Mother’s Day. IfGoogle had penalized any of the four brands included in the article, each company would stand to lose millions of dollars. So, after reading the article I was left with two major questions:
– How did Google completely miss the links to JC Penney if their automated process was smart enough to devalue the links from the recent article, many of which used the same strategy / placement?
– Why was Google so eager to send a message with their JC Penney penalty, yet when the opportunity arose, they shrugged at similar behavior?
I think Google decided to dodge the bullet on this one. The company has taken a lot of heat recently for their Panda update which has led many webmasters to cry foul over their algorithm and I doubt that Google and Matt Cutts want to be “called to the carpet” to explain themselves again. I hope one day Google will shed some light on its penalty system. Until then, we’ll just have to continue guessing at Google’s next action.