Last month, the New York Times outed retailer JCPenney for engaging in “black hat optimization” — the practice of buying or placing links designed primarily to improve a site’s standing in Google search results.
While JCPenney did a quick mea culpa and fired the SEO consultants responsible for the links (and had its search standings plummet for all the keywords involved), there is also a flip side to the story: a cautionary tale for news sites and bloggers — indeed, for anyone operating a reputable website that looks for advertising revenue.
A number of high-profile news sites, in fact, still carry links of the offending variety, potentially to the detriment of their own standing in Google search results. In a survey last week, we identified a variety of news sites publishing paid links that lack Google-required HTML formatting designed to avoid negative SEO results. The list includes GlobalPost (which has since removed the links), the Jerusalem Post, the Christian Science Monitor, The Monthly (of Australia), the Gotham Gazette (which has since made them Google-compliant by adding nofollow tags — see below), the Charleston (WV) Daily Mail and its JOA partner the Charleston Gazette.