A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Black Hat, White Hat, Known Hat – How Search and Social Media Will Evolve

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

I know I’ve posted a few times recently about things in the New York Times, but I swear, the Times is not the only thing I read. They’ve just been on a roll lately with articles about online marketing.

Front page of the Business section on Sunday was an article entitled The Dirty Little Secret of Search. It outlines how JCPenney managed to show up first across dozens and dozens of retail search categories.

The article explains black hat vs. white hat SEO efforts, and Google’s views (and reaction to) black hat techniques.

More interestingly, it points to the conflict of interest inherent in Google’s position major organic search provider and major paid search provider. JCPenny just happens to be a major paid search client of Google’s, so their months-long run at the top raises some eyebrows: why didn’t Google catch on to their tricks earlier? They an entire department devoted to sniffing out exactly that sort of behavior.

Google doesn’t come across badly in all respects, though. The article points out (rightly, I think) how sensitive Google is about its role as  “judge, jury and appeals panel” in all things search. The search giant may have outgrown its “don’t be evil” mission, but it still seems to be trying to do the right thing.

For everyday online publishers, what’s interesting is what happens if more stories like this come to light. It’s possible that general organic search becomes less trusted as the intersection of search and social becomes more established. Why trust an algorithm you don’t understand when you can get advice from sources you either trust or, at least, whose biases you know.

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