behind the streams: jc penny, we love your style
  • WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2011

  • Posted by: David Moffly

JC Penney is a cheat!! But do we really care?

The internet is a dark, dishonest and scam filled place engaged in a race to the lowest common denominator and we are all complicit in making it so.

We all know that this is the case — goes with the territory. I just re-upped my virus protection software to protect my PC from viruses spread on the net and aggressive third party cookies that allow marketers to haunt me wherever I may go. Who other than your sanctimonious friends who own Macs has not burned a weekend attempting to remove a virus from a PC? I visited a web re-targeting company's site last week (www.chango.com) to do a little research on this strategy and their crappy low rent ads followed me everywhere on the web for a week until I ran Norton Antivirus and dumped my cookies twice manually. Wrigley packs so much tracking code into their Gum ads that I wonder if they are trying to sell gum or are shilling for the National Security Agency. A nice regional music blog (www.electricmustache.com) over the last several months has engaged in some form of traffic gaming — there is no way a regional music blog should become a global top 2,000 site according to Quantcast in two month period. I feel dirty when we put "FREE download" into our YouTube stream in the description of the videos to drive traffic back to our site. We have always made a single song available to our audience through our Podcast for most of our shows. I feel cheap that I have to shout "FREE", but it works.

The New York Times set the internet buzzing Monday revealing that JC Penney had been involved in a systematic campaign on the web to game Google's organic search results. There were ugly assertions that Google was wise to the game and turned a blind eye because they were a top spender with Google for paid search advertising. Most importantly, this tells me that paid search on Google is not as effective as "organic" rankings and that people have bought into the mirage that organic rankings are themselves impartial and that the "best" result to a search naturally rises to the top. If this were true then why did Demand Media go public with a valuation of nearly $2 billion dollars and why did Yahoo purchase content mill Associated Content for $98 million. AOL is pinning its future on content mills and link farms like the Huffington Post and Seed/Patch.

So some marketing manager at JC Penney employed the services of a "Black Hat" SEO company named SearchDEX and engaged in a systematic campaign of link purchases on shady sites around the world to enhance its organic page rankings in Google. The result of this was massive: across a range of commercial words and phrases, JC Penney, in the crucial Christmas retail period, owned the number one spot in organic rankings in Google. This position was worth millions in new retail sales to the company on the web and in store. Senior management at the company, I am sure, was mystified by their sudden surge in organic rankings and more than pleased with the attendant additional millions in sales. Most likely no one in senior management ever asked a question as to how their rankings miraculously increased to number one — they simply accepted it as magic. The effort to scam the search rankings occurred and was directed at functional level within JC Penney and whoever is behind it deserves a promotion for their bold gambit. They deployed dollars to make a tired retail brand number one in a place that truly had an impact. Other than Google's rules, and the whiff of impropriety, what is different about their service than buying ads in the local paper or printing up circulars to be sprayed in everyone's mailboxes?

Search is not about great content rising to the top of organic rankings, nor is it naturally shepherded along by an impartial system that somehow judges content on its merits. Search and the Web is the world of search optimized, lowest common denominator content, pumped out en mass by the content mills/link farms of AOL, Yahoo and Demand Media and dozens of others. These companies employ editorial reach and technical sophistication under the disingenuous guise of "editorial" to achieve the same results as JC Penney which is to drive traffic to their sites. JC Penney did this in the hopes of a retail conversion and the other companies to fuel advertising revenue to meet the demands of the investing public.

JC Penney is a cheater, called out by the NY Times and now punished by Google, and the content mills are cheating by stuffing the web with an ever growing array of editorial designed to reach the top of search rankings regardless of quality or originality.

As a small business owner, I look in envy at JC Penney's boldness in deploying their "marketing" dollars to scam the system, and even at the content mills for their sophisticated tools to gauge potential demand for a story and its potential revenue yield. We at Baeblemusic make decisions on programming and editorial the old fashioned way as a group of people thinking about what best represents our brand and serves our audience. Sometimes we are right, and other times less so, but our approach works for us and our growing audience.

The objective at Baeblemusic is to build an enduring media brand that has a point of view and entertains you enough to come back. Call us the organic, free-trade music opinions of the internet marketplace. Just keep in mind we still grow our stuff on the farm.

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