JC Penney & SEO Before Google (with apologies to @AndyBeal)
Apologies upfront for not being able to make fully informed posts this week. You see my house is a temporary renovation disaster and I’m working double-time these days and I just can’t find the paper that I need to do this right. That’s right I said PAPER. More on that in a minute. Here’s the nut:
We’ve heard a lot lately about the JC Penney/Google fallout as originally reported in the NY Times. I’m not going to launch into a morality tale of white hats and black hats. Rather instead, there’s more you should know about JC Penney and SEO. Wait for it….
JC Penney was among the first companies to exploit search engines for commercial purposes – before Google.
Gasp! Yes, dear reader, there was a time before Google. And most of us in the early days of the Internet used a search engine named Alta Vista. Alta Vista did not even have ads of any sort. In the mid-1990s, JC Penney commissioned a research project from its digital agency. And yes a few real digital agencies existed then (remember the Zima campaign?), though they were few in number. As I recall, the research focused on one question: how can a company exploit the Alta Vista search engine to drive traffic to its website. The report featured a detailed review of the search engine, how its indexing process worked and actions the company could take to take advantage of the search engine’s design.
I know all this because I have a copy of the 15-year-old-report – a PAPER copy. Unfortunately, given the state of my home, I am not exactly sure where it is. But I will look for it as soon as I have a floor on my first floor (see photo).
Here are a few key takeaways from thinking about the report now:
1. JC Penney has made untold millions of dollars over the years taking advantage of the web as a marketing and distribution channel, to which SEO has made a major contribution. They have achieved this outcome because they recognized the potential early, committed the resources and made it work. How much is your company leaving on the table?
2. Search engines – whether Google, Bing, Yahoo! or others – define their own rules of engagement. It’s always been open season for companies and their agents to explore and exploit the rules, but they must understand that rules violations (perceived or actual) have consequences.
3. I am an idiot. If I had realized the power of what I had in my hands 15 years ago, I might be the “king of SEO” (LOL) instead of great guys like Andy Beal (who also has a cool moniker like “the Indiana Jones of reputation management“). The report was a blueprint for an SEO industry yet to be born. What was I thinking? Oh well…I was young, it was springtime, the lilacs were in bloom….and her father had a little bit of money.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to dig up that paper and get back to you if I find something particularly compelling.