By now you have possible heard and read about the New York Times story by David Segal, which talks about how JC Penney cheated Google’s ranking system to become the number one spot for several keywords and phrases.
David Segal contacted me in mid of January about a “dresses” link to the JC Penney website on this blog. At first I was highly skeptical if this is some sort of joke. A little research later and I was ready to talk to David. Over a day or two I explained to him, how that “dresses” link appeared on my website, who put it there, for how long it was there and why somebody would put links like them.
I have a rule: If you get caught, tell everything.. And I am somebody who likes to share my learnings and knowledge. So why not share what I know with David then and with his readers now?
I use a system called TNX.net. They are like a marketplace for buying backlinks and selling adspace. As a publisher (website owner) I include a little PHP script to my website or WordPress installation. This scripts then connects to the TNX servers and requests links to be included to the current website. Those links are then included as HTML in my blog. What this means, is that it is without knowledge of the PHP code not possible to determine, if the links were added manually or with any kind of system. This makes the links viewable for the Google Indexing Bots. But for this to work, those links are expected to not have the rel=”nofollow” tag defined. The idea of the nofollow-tag is, that if a website owner/editor/writer links to another website, the nofollow-tag tells the indexing bots to ignore and not follow those links. If used, the whole TNX and paid backlinks eco-system would not really work.
The TNX system trades points for each link added to the publishers website. Some links on cocaman.ch generate 9 points/month, others up to 810 points (see “Google Testing Platypus“, my most successful entry).
This blog currently hosts 307 links. So over 100 links less then in mid January.
These points can be exchanged in two ways:
- You can either request a payout. Every TNX point is worth $0.95. The money is transferred to your PayPal account.
- You can exchange your points for own backlinks.
I only did the second option. I am an experimenter. In the past couple of years I played with different things. And for such things to be successful, you need traffic and users. Because most of website users come from search engines, you need to rank very high for a given keyword. So I used the TNX system myself to create backlinks to my site. I exclusively used it for my cooking websites. TNX offers you a small convenient wizard, which sets up your backlink texts including anchor text, the amount of backlinks you want and how many TNX points you want to spend per month.
From here on the system is automatic. It now distributes your backlinks on the sites, which fit your selection (eg. category, Google PageRank, …). After a couple of days you can log in to TNX and check out the results.
A total of 9 backlinks was placed to my site. Not so much. But at its highest, I had a couple of hundred backlinks. And this worked very, very good. In a highly competitive query with over 2 million results, I have managed to grab the positions around #6 on Google and position #2 on Bing. And this over a long period of time.
You see, the “playing Google” system is pretty effective. For me personally this is of course good and bad. Good because I could make a few dollars a month while being a full-time student. On the other hand, as a Google user (and fan) this is worrying me. Very often it happened that I did not get the results I was actually looking for. And I really hope Google can fix the whole “black hat SEO game”. Including those eHow, HuffPo, Demand Media guys, who do this kind of search engine optimization on a much, much larger scale.
As promised, I will remove all those links from my websites and blogs. I knew it was wrong. I knew I can get caught. But as so often, you tell yourself “nobody will notice” and “oh that ain’t so bad, others do the same”. But I got caught and burned. Of course Matt Cutts is right, I violated Google’s guidelines. Of course they can and possible will drop me from their index. But differently than others, this is not my business, it is only a hobby and a learning experience for me. I am just a small fish.
JC Penney got burned to. And their agency SearchDex got burned. Have you checked out their website? Last news was from 2007, were they talk about signing up JC Penney for four years. Funny, the contract is up next month. Hey, I am just saying ;-).
Final words. Congratulations to David Segal of the New York Times on this great article. I have never expected it to be such a long article, with so many interview partners and technical details. And it is good to see that Google tries to fight shady black hat SEO. It is of course pretty hard, but I believe in the smart people at Google to solve or dramatically reduce the problem.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate and add your comments and input.