Search Marketing

Oh Uh… Google Just Launches the SEA Industry

Search Engine Assassination. Have you heard about it? You will.

This week, the SEO world was turned upside down when Google decided to drop JC Penney off the index because of spammy, keyword-rich backlinks found on sites other than its own to push up ranking.

While the entire industry is acting shocked, most of us within the industry know that this was pretty common practice. The fact is that this gaping flaw in Google’s Page Rank algorithm left a door so large, that it’s pretty much nearly impossible that your SEO firm didn’t take advantage of it. Those within the industry are calling them stupid, lazy and dishonest. I’d bet that many of the critics who practice SEO have some keyword rich backlinks somewhere on another site that helped drive their ranking up.

Backlinking is a huge industry. Companies can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars with backlinking organizations and make millions of dollars in sales. Keep in mind that however immoral it might be to cheat like this, it’s not illegal. In all honesty, I can’t blame companies for paying for backlinks.

I currently work with one client who is watching as their competition is amassing thousands of spammy backlinks every week. They beat my client on thousands of terms and make their money, ironically, off of Google Ads. To add insult to injury, their flamboyant founder is constantly kissing Google’s butt and taking about how dishonest the SEO industry is – all while he’s buying backlinks.

What do I tell my client? I advise them to devote more resources and more time to engaging prospective visitors in social media. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, and doesn’t nearly have the return that simply buying backlinks would. That’s a hard pill to swallow when backlinking industry folks are coming out the woodwork offering them services at a fraction of the cost of my consulting.

The fact is that this isn’t an SEO industry issue, it’s a Google issue. By weighing rank so heavily on backlinks, Google has poisoned itself by launching a billion dollar industry where professionals can easily game them. Google’s answer may even be worse, though. By dropping JC Penney from the index for black hat backlinking, Google has spawned a far more evil industry, the Search Engine Assassination industry.

This is an industry that will flourish if Google takes this approach with more and more companies in the near future. The backlinking industry will continue to grow – but this time it won’t be to backlink to your site, it will be to leave a trail of spammy, keyword-rich backlinks to your competitors site. SEO consultants will be working hard not to leave a trail that Google can pick up when ranking their customers, but can begin leaving a more obvious trail to competitors.

Now black hat SEO consultants have another weapon at their disposal. While working to increase their client’s ranking, they can pursue destroying the competition’s ranking. This is not good for the industry.

UPDATE: SearchDex, the SEO company targeted by the investigation and subsequently fired by JC Penney has announced the following:

SearchDex has not participated in, nor endorsed the linking schemes mentioned in the New York Times article. Our company is built on the highest ethical standards and at no point have we incorporated the use of improper linking schemes or other gaming techniques into programs for our clients. SEO tactics employed by SearchDex for all of our clients, past and present, have been compliant with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. As a result of the NYTimes story, SearchDex is verifying that all strategies employed for our clients continue to comply with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. We are also conducting a formal investigation in order to attempt to determine the source and motivation of the links cited in the article. – Dave Chaplin, CEO

10 Comments

  1. 1

    Can you explain what exactly these other sites have done in laymans terms?
    Are you saying that thousands of sites have linked to the JC Penney site and that JC Penney have paid for this privilege through a 3rd party?

    Isn’t that just another form of advertising?

    • 2

      Hi Robert,

      Yes, you are correct. JC Penney (knowingly or unknowingly) hired an SEO firm that got them ranking by distributing very concise back links – that is the text within the anchor tag was perfectly conformed to the keywords that would attract traffic to the page.

      Doug

      • 3

        Thanks for the explanation. I just went to the JC Penney site. They currently have an Alexa page rank of #695 – not a bad rank considering there are millions of internet sites in the world all vying for your eyeballs. I personally don’t see an issue with using SEO to backlink to sites as you have explained it.

  2. 4

    We all need to begin to reference what is about to come.

    In reference to that article… Google did not bust JC Penny. The New
    York Times did. Google did not do anything until the press found it.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html

    The difference is a few high ranked PR valued blogs with industry
    reference versus thousands of irrelevant links.

    What we need to worry about is the next evolution of SEO.
    Google is going to reference downloadable content before they reference
    articles and blogs – in the very near future.

    • 5

      Jross,

      The New York Times exposed it, but it was still Google that buried JC Penney once it had evidence. As I state in the post, that’s a scary proposition since there’s no evidence linking the backlinks directly to JC Penney. That means other SEO companies could deploy similar tactics to damage the reputation and rank of their competitors. You don’t think that Sears and other companies that just found themselves at the #1 position aren’t already reaping the benefits?

      Why did David Segal, New York Times, pick JC Penney? Perhaps it was a mention from a competitor?

      Doug

  3. 6

    SEA as you call it, has been around for quite a while… I recall it being discussed at a mainstream SEO conference in 2008 (not as a valid strategy, but as an underhanded way to game the system).

  4. 8

    The technique is legal almost in every part of world this is practiced to promote you keyword in the search engines, a back link with anchor text keyword from other domains is very effective method to build links and promote your website but now there ll be always a threat to every one who do SEO for their business that Google can do any thing time to their business.

  5. 9

    How long before we see lawsuits against a site’s competition accusing them of SEA?  And how many such lawsuits will we see before legislation is passed to outlaw the practice.

  6. 10


    To add insult to injury, their flamboyant founder is constantly kissing Google’s butt and taking about how dishonest the SEO industry is – all while he’s buying backlinks.”

    I think I know who you’re talking about 😉

    Great post.

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