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Has SEO Finally Hit the Mainstream?

It’s pretty easy to smile if you’re working in SEO right now. Demand has finally reached the point that SEO appears to be atop many people’s “What should I ask my marketing manager about in 2011?” list. (Where have you been all these years?) It seems SEO has gone mainstream over the last few weeks, even though it hasn’t been in the most positive light. Whether it’s getting dissed on CBS primetime or highlighted when a seemingly reputable retailer gets nailed for questionable SEO tactics, I believe in the philosophy that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
Why is SEO being cast in a negative light?

This past weekend, the SEO industry was abuzz with The New York Times’ article regarding shady SEO practices on the JCPenney website. Long story short: JCPenney was ranking for some competitive keywords, several of which raised a few red flags since they appeared to not only outrank some industry leaders, but also didn’t get the basics of SEO right on the website.

So how exactly would the company rank so high for so many competitive keywords? Links, of course. Link building is the most difficult, and as a result, most rewarding aspect of SEO. It’s no secret that external links are arguably the most important ranking factor when a search engine is a deciding which site to rank for a given query. But like every rewarding aspect of SEO, link building has been misused and abused, and in JCPenney’s case, it apparently went a step further when the company allegedly participated in link buying. It appears its SEO firm bought links with customized anchor text on several websites that had very little relevance to what they were selling – clearly, this is not a recommended practice.

Here’s the bottom line … If you want to succeed in SEO, understand two things:

  1. It’s all about long-term growth. Insert any SEO metaphor here you’d like – SEO is like healthy dieting, not a crash diet; Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was your website; SEO is not a sprint, it’s a marathon; etc.
  2. Play by the rules. I’m not a brown noser, really, but I’m not willing to sacrifice long-term success for quick bursts of site traffic. I recommend investing in a few months of Pay-Per-Click for that. Google has outlined SEO rules and guidelines and have a crew led by Matt Cutts who are striving to make the internet a wholesome place. In less than a day, they did push JCPenney’s website from page one to… well, nowhere to be found..

Link buying, exchanges and other tactics have fallen under the black hat umbrella and Google appears to be working hard to fix its SERPs. All on the heels of Google finally tweaking its algorithm to take on site scrapers, content farms and automated content and all of their link benefits.

Sure, I shake my head at some of the sites that slip through the cracks on almost a daily basis. I see sites all the time with hidden content, questionable link tactics, SPAM, SPAM and more SPAM, but I’m not willing to participate in it. If you want to read more about this, I highly recommend Alan Bleiweiss’ post on Black Magic SEO.

The Truth about SEO

It’s not an easy thing explaining exactly what it is I do for a living. I’m pretty convinced most friends and family members have no idea either. But that, along with questionable SEO tactics, comes with the territory and I’ve accepted that. Working in the SEO field is rewarding, made up of a great community and its challenges are what make it truly exciting. We’re doing our part to create better websites that are not only valuable to the users we’re targeting, but will hopefully answer the question of whatever it is they’re typing into the search engine bar.