J.C. Penney's pervasiveness online may have less to do with its popularity than with its ability to game Google. The New York Times reports that Penney's rise to the top of the search giant's rankings came from so-called "black hat" optimization — creating hundreds of pages of spam links to Penney's website which fool Google's computers into thinking the store is popular. The Times reports that this "gaming" went on for several months, and Google only became aware of it after the newspaper presented it with its findings. Tech bloggers hailed the Times' discovery of Penney's "tawdry" technique as proof of "how truly broken search is." Is Google really failing?
Yes, "search still sucks": Google was the first company to perfect the search engine, says Michael Arrington at TechCrunch. But lately, "it sort of feels like pre-Google again." Whenever I need to find something using the search site, I have to wade through "layer upon layer of SEO madness vying for my click" before getting to what I want. Google needs a real competitor that forces the search king to "up its game."
"Search still sucks"
No, Google is doing the best it can: Don't blame Google, says Fred Oliveira at HelloForm. The truth is, search will always be a "cat/mouse game." As soon as you build an algorithm to find content automatically, you'll find someone like J.C. Penney trying to "game search results." In reality, you can normally find what you're looking for on Google in a couple of clicks. "Sure, search is far from perfect" but unless you're a picky tech blogger, "Google isn't doing a bad job."
"On Search and spoiled bloggers"
We're all to blame: "Tens of thousands" of sites are doing exactly the same thing as J.C. Penney, says Matt Rosoff at Business Insider. And that includes The New York Times, whose editors, "in a fitting bit of irony," used some SEO magic on this very article about J.C. Penney. In the newspaper, the piece was headlined "The Dirty Little Secrets of Search." But on the web, it was titled "Search Optimization and its Discontents." Those two words — "search optimization" — are among the most searched on the web. No one is innocent.
"Google let J.C. Penney spam search results for months"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The 10 best networking tips for people who hate networking
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- 11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Why the West should accept ISIS as a sovereign nation
- Why baseball is America's most dangerous spectator sport
- The real reason conservatives should be outraged that police killed a white youth
Subscribe to the Week