Case Study: Gaming Google

Getting more hits on your website has become an obsession with many companies. Making good on that obsession can mean doing bad, bending and even breaking the rules.

The New York Times ran a piece a while back about JCPenney. Seems that over the past holiday season, a lot of the time you searched for a product on Google, it came up JCPenney.

How to Get Busted for Gaming Google

JCPenney, or someone acting on their behalf, gamed the system by posting thousands of web links back to the JCPenney site. This changes the way Google measures the popularity of a site and increases that site’s ranking. As the Times put it, “In a way, what Google is measuring is your site’s popularity” by counting links to your site as votes of approval. You have a lot of links, you look popular. You can get sketchy links from company with sketchy morals, and it works wonderfully until you get caught. Then Google drops the hammer.

They send someone to your office to pour maple syrup on your computer keyboard.

Actually, it’s much worse than that. They bust you down in the rankings or even remove you from search results altogether. It’s happened to big companies, even BMW.

Clever Ways to Use Google Backwards

Google’s web cops won’t be busting down my cyber-door because I can improve your search results, and mine, by using Google backwards. Let me explain. If you start up a Google AdWords campaign you will get noticed, particularly if you write a good ad. But you get something more.

AdWords campaigns are like research projects.

Scan the results and you’ll see what people really type when they’re looking for you, and also what they have no interest in. Using the Google Keywords tool (part of AdWords) you’ll see the competition for keywords. If a zillion people are already using your favorite, it shouldn’t be your favorite any more. You will ever be heard amongst all that competition. Even if you don’t use AdWords, you can always use Google’s Insights for Search. It allows you to test a search term, like your name, or the name of your business or a product description, and see the popularity of searches for it.  It really helps me when I am looking for keywords or to help nail down a client’s online brand.

Find Out Who You Are

Clients are always working to define and redefine their brand. What message am I putting out there? Who am I? Did my mother really like me or was she just being nice? Well, without getting too deep, I can answer the first question, and that answer will help a lot toward formulating your brand. The easy way to get this started is to take a look at the brand that is already out there. Check out a site like socialmention. Put your name or your company name in the search box and see what comes up for top keywords.

Those top keywords are a reflection of what the web sees when it looks at you.

I did this recently for a new client. We ran her name and her company name in socialmention and a few other search bots I use. It turned out that her name was connected to a clearer expression of her brand than the name she’d chosen her company. We got keywords like helping, inspired, Buddhist, beautiful and authentic. That’s about a clear as statement of her brand as I could want. Her company name brought good, but less focused results. Your own name might be your secret weapon. But it doesn’t always work that way: My name brings up keywords related to John Schneider and Dukes of Hazzard.  Since I don’t want people thinking about an old TV show when they think of me, my company name Red Cup is much stronger, as is my film production company name, DocuCinema.

The take home? You might be spending a lot of time trying to focus your online brand without first asking, What about the brand that’s already out there?

Follow me on Twitter.

Photo Credit:  Search Engine People Blog via Creative Commons License.