Have you heard about what happened to major online retailer JCPenney? After a report was published in the New York Times outlining its incredible dominance for strangely specific search terms, a Google investigation determined that the company had gone against Google’s search engine marketing guidelines, using what the industry calls “black hat search engine optimization” to obtain an unfair advantage. As punishment, the retailer’s links were buried in the rankings. Within a few hours, JCPenney went from tops in the results for desirable terms like “dresses” to buried at #57 or even lower.

JCPenney claims that they were unaware of the black hat search engine marketing techniques. They blame a subcontractor, a search engine optimization company that they hired which acted without JCPenney’s permission. Google still sunk them in the results just the same.

The entire episode should be a cautionary tale for anyone who is looking for website marketing through search engine optimization. When done right, search engine marketing is a great way for sites to reach customers. But if you get in touch with the wrong people who use the wrong type of search engine marketing, what begins as a well-intentioned website marketing plan can quickly backfire.

Understanding Black Hat Search Engine Optimization

Black hat search engine optimization is a term derived from a longtime computer industry definition. Black hat, white hat, and grey hat have long been used by programmers to define how they used their knowledge. Black hat techniques were risky, possibly illegal, and definitely against the terms of service. Grey hat was borderline. White hat techniques are always on the right side, well within the terms of service, and produced programs that were within the terms of service. In the world of website marketing, white hat refers to proven techniques that are Google-approved. Grey hat doesn’t really apply; because the codes guiding search engine optimization are so specific, it’s not worth it to toe the line. Black hat search engine optimization is clearly immoral. Google and the other search engines would call it exploiting, and good website marketing companies avoid it completely.

Black Hat Website Marketing Techniques

The most common form of black hat search engine optimization is link farming. Link farming is what got JCPenney in trouble. Because Google does use the number of links pointing to a website when they consider its rankings, some black hat search engine marketing firms will pay completely unrelated websites to link to their client’s sites. These paid links often appear on pages that are otherwise empty, or on so-called search engine optimization link farms, large directories which serve no purpose apart from building backlinks. This activity is a direct violation of Google’s search engine optimization guidelines, and will absolutely get your website buried in the search results, just as happened with JCPenney.

Avoiding The Dangers Of Black Hat Search Engine Marketing

While there is no surefire way to determine that a company engages in white hat search engine marketing before you begin working with them, beware any company that promises a certain number of backlinks built. The natural way of building backlinks involves the creation of a lot of content in articles, press releases, blog posts, and interaction on other relevant sites. While these quality backlinks are exactly what Google wants to see for search engine marketing, they also can’t be built overnight. If a company guarantees you any number of links to your site — particularly if they’re claiming more than 40 or so per month — they’re almost certainly going to use black hat search engine marketing and go through link farms to get it.

At Upton Technology, we have always been firmly against black hat website marketing. We achieve great results through search engine marketing, but we do it the right way. Our quality content earns us backlinks, not any link farms or other black hat sources. When you trust us to become your website marketing partners, you can rest assured that you’re getting confirmed white hat search engine marketing: strong results using Google-approved techniques.