Bill Hartzer

Top 10 Search Engine Optimization Blunders of 2011

It is that time of year, the end of the year where we see all sorts of top 10 lists. I have my own lists, like the one that I like to post from Fineman PR about the top 10 Public Relations Blunders of the year. This year, though, I thought that I would come up with a new list, the Top 10 Search Engine Optimization Blunders of 2011. This year was especially good for search engine optimization mistakes and blunders–and I had to narrow down the list quite a bit.

We started off at the beginning of the year with some pretty irresponsible search engine optimization tactics performed by some major brands on the web. Overstock.com was penalized for their shady search engine optimization tactics, JC Penney was caught gaming the search engine optimization system, and Google penalized Forbes.com for selling links on their website. We then had some Google hypocrisy, an SEO firm liable for their client’s website content, and a sketchy search engine optimization firm forcing Google to Out them. I cannot possibly forget Robert Scoble’s apology to the SEO community as a whole, saying that he was wrong. Then there’s the very weird but timely $1,000 reward offered for the proving of link value. And finally, We cannot possibly forget Yahoo! shutting down their free Site Explorer service, and locksmiths using local SEO spam tactics to embarrass Google Maps.

1. Overstock.com Gets Penalized
In February, 2011, Google penalized Overstock.com for links to their website–which were determined to be what I would call “unnatural” in nature. In exchange for a link to their website (which would boost Overstock’s search engine rankings), colleges and universities listed a discount for students. This practice has been going on for years, and many websites have been benefiting from these links related to discount codes that retailers and other websites offer. Google determined that this was unnatural, and thus penalized Overstock.com as a result. I am listing this as the number one blunder of 2011 since this affected not just Overstock.com. I have been seeing hundreds of websites take advantage of these links over the years.

2. Forbes.com Penalized for Selling Links
Google does not like it when a website sells text links. Google informed Forbes.com that they are violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. According to Search Engine Roundtable, “Google told Forbes that they have “artificial or unnatural links on your site pointing to other sites that could be intended to manipulate PageRank” on their web site. In other words, they are selling links, which is against Google’s guidelines.” This is the number two blunder–especially because Forbes has been doing this for years and they should have known better than to sell text links.

3. J.C. Penney Banned for Gaming Google
One of the biggest search engine optimization news stories of the yearhas to be J.C. Penney being banned in Google. Well, only for a short time, that is. The New York Times had a big story called “Search Engine Optimization and Its Dirty Little Secrets” that caused quite a stir in the SEO world. Even though J.C. Penney claimed that they did not know (or did not actually acquire the links themselves), that is truly no excuse. The J.C. Penney website was banned in the Google search engine for a short time.

4. Google Accused of Hypocrisy Over Grooveshark Ban
The number four SEO blunder for this year is Google’s handling of the Grooveshark ban. While not directly related to Search Engine Optimization, the SEO industry is much more critical when it comes to Google. And the timing of the Grooveshark ban is certainly not to be taken lightly. According to the EFF, the takedown timing was not very good by Google: “Did Google’s takedown intentionally coincide with its appearance before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on (intellectual property) in an effort to make itself more sympathetic to Congress?”

5. SEO Firm Liable for Client’s Website Content
In March 2011, a company’s SEO firm was held responsible and liable for what was being sold on their client’s website. The SEO firm was ordered to pay $770,000 because the SEO company “provided marketing and web hosting services was financially responsible for the sale of counterfeit golf clubs by a client e-retailer. This is the number five on the list of search engine optimization blunders in 2011 because the SEO firm obviously knew what their client was selling–because they promoted it.

6. SEO Company Forces Google to Out Them
In January 2011, Search Engine Roundtable discovered a question on the Google Webmaster Central Help forum about an SEO firm “to be the first company authorized to work directly with them to roll out some new program that allows them and only them to allow companies that can be verified 1st page ranking within a 50 mile radius.” The SEO firm responded, and essentially forced Google to not recommend doing business with the company.

7. Robert Scoble Apologizes to the SEO Industry
In July, 2011, Robert Scoble apologized to the SEO Industry, and some thought it was just link bait. But in any case, link bait or not, Robert Scoble apologized. It all started back in 2007 when he really liked Mahalo and when people used to respect his opinion. apparently that was because he had visited Mahalo and he was trying “to kiss someone’s behind and let that bias” his opinions. This is search engine optimization blunder number 7 on the list.

8. $1000 Reward for Proof that Links Count
In June 2011, you may have missed the $1000 reward offered to anyone who could provide a credible link value test. Michael Martinez offered $1,000 to someone–anyone who could prove that links help a website’s search engine rankings. And no one, absolutely no one, could prove it. So the offer expired and was closed. This is search engine optimization blunder 8 on my list because the SEO industry failed, as a whole. It was a great offer.

9. Yahoo! Site Explorer Shut Down
Many SEOs, including myself, have used Yahoo! Site Explorer to view a quick list of the links to a website. After being in use for several years, Yahoo! decided to close this tool, and shut it down. There are alternatives to the Yahoo! Site Explorer tool, and closing this tool may in fact be an indication that links might not be as valuable as the once were. This is number 9 on my list of Search Engine Optimization blunders for this year, since it’s closely related to number 8 on the list, and the fact that so many SEOs still rely on link building as their primary means of search engine optimization efforts to increase a website’s search engine rankings.

10. Locksmiths Game Google Maps
Number 10 on the list, lastly but not least on the list, is the fiasco with local locksmiths gaming the Google Maps system. The New York Times reported that Doug Pierce of Digital Due Diligence found that “lead gen sites use some interesting gimmicks to charm and hoodwink Google’s algorithm. Some basically hijack the local addresses of other entities in or near the middle of town”. Google responded, saying “We’re aware of the gaming practices happening in the locksmith industry – practices which long predate Google and have affected the Yellow Pages for decades. We’ve implemented several measures to combat this issue, including improving our spam-detection algorithms and working with the locksmith industry to find solutions.”

Well, there you have it. My list of the top 10 search engine optimization blunders of 2011. I am sure that there are other issues and stories that were just as popular and could have made the list. I personally had a tough time narrowing down this list to just 10 search engine optimization-related stories and items that were memorable enough. Certainly many of them had a lot of impact on all of us, whether you are in the search engine optimization industry or not. Are there any stories or news items that I missed?

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