White Hat/Black Hat SEO and PR: Is Any Press Good Press?


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Like everyone and their brothers this weekend, I pored over the New York Times article on J.C. Penney’s rather amateur attempt to game Google search rankings. And coming on the heels of the @KennethCole #Cairo tweet and Groupon’s Super Bowl ad strategy, it made me wonder: In the increasingly active and competitive market of communications, do companies think, à la my 2-year-old, that any attention is a good thing?

Inbound link cheating, deceptive hashtag use, and offensive marketing efforts all have one thing in common: an effort to get attention that has nothing to do with quality. Sometimes that may be innocuous (I actually feel for Groupon, which came off like an awkward nerd trying to make friends with unintentionally offensive jokes), but in the most egregious cases, it’s a cynical attempt to defeat the central mechanism of online promotion, whether it’s search-based or socially structured — the fact that cream, in every variety, rises to the top. Tricking that system may get you a temporary boost, but is that bump worth the reputational risk?

In most cases, I’d take a long-term view and argue a resounding, “no.” In the case of search gaming, Google can always come back and wallop you, as they’ve done now with J.C. Penney. But in the arbiter-free world of social reputation, I suspect the penalties are less immediate, but no less detrimental. Kenneth Cole actually gained Twitter followers last week, but also received a startling number of comments on Facebook and Twitter to the effect of, “I will never buy your products again.” I’m not sure under what circumstances that could be seen as a marketing win.

My crystal ball is busted this week, but my brain tells me that negative attention-seeking has a way of backfiring; Kenneth Cole is probably not going to go down in flames like American Apparel, and J.C. Penney won’t go out of business (just) because they’re now on page 4 for a good list of search terms. But both of their efforts — the latter, stupid, and the former, just barely clever and in-joke enough to sound cynically adolescent — seem like major zeitgeist misreads; cynical old marketing ploys in a developing public relations environment that’s a little wide-eyed, even a little innocent. It’s just like the sandbox: the kids who can’t play nicely are the ones who end up without any friends.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kate Schackai
Kate combines a technical understanding of web 2.0 with classic PR savvy, resulting in online communications that both humans and Google love. She joins Crawford from WordPress development firm TCWebsite, where she worked in online marketing and search engine optimization.


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