Any IT professional who’s spent time supporting websites has, at one time or another, been asked to help improve a site’s visibility. Some of the best-conceived websites around simply aren’t discoverable without some attention to SEO.
The situation periodically degenerates into a cat and mouse game, with tricksters (”black hat” search optimizers) trying to second-guess Google’s techniques, and Google responding by trying to defeat those tricks. The process, as Google’s core ranking team of Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts write in their blog, is “constant tuning,” since its Google’s Search technology is a major factor in fostering what they benevolently term “a healthy web ecosystem.”
A recent, widely reported (the New York Times headlined the story “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search“) incident concerned JCPenney’s search rankings during the 2010 holiday season. For the common phrases “dresses,” “bedding,” “area rugs,” and even “grommet top curtains” reporter David Segal mused, some sites other than JCPenney should have broken through, but JCPenney owned the top spot or was very near the top every time. This gaming of the Google Search system was achieved by proliferating external site references to JCPenney pages – most of them speciously connected to the subject at hand. Google calls this tactic “doorway pages,” but another way to think of the web roadmap created by such links (e.g., nuclear.engineeringaddict.com), is that they are anti-semantic networks. Google made “manual” corrections to its rankings of JCPenney pages after being contacted by the Times.