In search of the truth about Google search
Once or twice a day, Bitterwallet is asked by marketing agencies if we'll take money to add a hyperlink from our site to an external website. Sometimes the requests are dressed up as guest posts, other times they're more blatant - add a link, take the coin. Bitterwallet is moderately well indexed by Google - because we've a reasonable Google ranking, if we link to a third party site then the search ranking of that site benefits.
Unsurprisingly Google frowns on this type of behaviour, because it can manipulate search results and make websites appear artificially popular. It misleads the consumer. It goes on regardless because the results are subtle and billions of sites link to billions of others as a matter of routine - who's to say whether a recommended link is genuine or paid for?
That's what makes the case of JC Penney so outrageous. Over the weekend, the New York Times published allegations concerning the US-based chain of superstores, about the wholesale manipulation of search results in the lead-up to Christmas last year. In a number of instances, the store was listed first for seemingly innocuous searches and specific products. For example, JC Penney somehow ranked above Samsonite for their own luggage. "Dresses", "bedding", "furniture", "skinny jeans" - all were either top or in the top handful of results.
The reason is that somebody had apparently approached over 2,000 external sites and had them link particular keywords back to the JC Penney site. According to the NYT, “black dresses” and a link were found on the site nuclear.engineeringaddict.com, while the phrase “evening dresses” was linked from casino-focus.com.
Since the newspaper published their story, Google has taken action - in a search for "Samsonite carry on luggage", JC Penney had sank from the first result to the 71st. JC Penney has also taken action - they've sacked their SEO company and denied having any direct involvement with the activity.
This sort of activity is nothing new, of course, but it's worth looking out for as a consumer - if an unexpected search result appears at the top of the pile, it isn't by accident.