The New York Times reported on SEO this weekend. This was not your average search engine optimization piece. In this article, the New York Times reported how J. C. Penney used extremely aggressive SEO tactics to race to the top of the organic search results. At first blush this sounds like a strategy you would want to emulate, until you hear the end of the story. I'll cut to the punch line in case you are in a hurry:

J. C. Penney used aggressive SEO tactics that Google does not support and was severely penalized

Now the specifics: J. C. Penney claims they did not know the specifics of what their SEO firm was doing. This is entirely possible. And we won't ever really know the truth. I talk to business owners every day and can easily see how the specifics of your SEO's activities become murky. As we've discussed so many times in our SEO reseller community, transparency is a key component of any high quality SEO program. It's one thing if you explain things to your client and they forget, but withholding important information about how you are gaining links is another thing entirely. This is why you need to explain, and then follow-up with a report showing exactly what you did. In fact, in my opinion,

Transparency with your client defines an ethical SEO

In the J. C. Penney case, if the search engine optimization firm was not forthcoming with their strategy, and initiated these aggressive SEO tactics without prior approval, then their dismissal was warranted. But the story gets even more twisted the further you read. More specifically, the aggressive tactics this SEO firm used for J. C. Penney's website were actually VERY effective. In time for the Christmas shopping season, the SEO firm had placed J. C. Penney at the very top of the rankings for many very valuable terms. Sales were up. How exactly did they do this?

J. C. Penney engaged in link buying and joined a link trading club

Anyone who has read the Google webmaster guidelines knows that this is a big no-no. Google sees these activities as purely manipulative and says, in unequivocal terms, that you should not do them. If you have spent any amount of time in the forums, then you are have already been solicited for both activities. There are many, many clubs you can join that allow you to earn credit for links given and then spend those credits to acquire new links to your website. Additionally, there is an army of people (mostly off-shore) selling links from crappy, low page-rank, websites. Read this for more details on the low-quality link broker J C Penney was using.

Something we've talked a great deal about for a number of years is the idea of temporal consistency and link relevance. See this post I did back in 2008 where I tried to answer the question "How many links do I need?" Here is another dusty blog post that is a few year's old where, again, we talked about the importance of consistency in your link building. If you want to know more about the dangers of sudden link acquisition, I would suggest you see the awesome data just posted at SearchEngineLand related to the JCPenney link buying case.

To be clear, Semify has never included link-buying, link-trading-club or link-farm strategies in our SEO programs. We have never even used directories, although most people would say they are safe (though not effective). The point is that we made a conscious decision years ago that we wanted to be on the right (or should I say "white") side of Google when it comes to the entire white hat SEO / black hat SEO debate.

Semify believes that the syndication of unique content wins the day

As you know, we favor article syndication, press releases and high-quality / user-oriented websites as the recipe for maximum exposure and high rankings. Sure, we believe in creating buzz - and then using that buzz to gain as many backlinks as possible. That's white hat SEO. Combine that with cutting-edge email marketing, a credible social media presence and pay-per-click advertising, and you have a rock-solid Internet Marketing Strategy. And that's what our programs are. No spinning. No scraping. No link trading clubs. No bought text links. Sure, this approach may take a little longer to work. But you are never looking over your shoulder or laying awake at night wondering if the next New York Times article will be about you as your SEO rankings plummet.