Friday, February 18, 2011

Why Searching for Jewelry on Google Uncovers Some Ugly Stuff

Posted By Rob Bates
Last week, The New York Times, in a fascinating article, charged that JCPenney had improved its rankings in search engines like Google by engaging in “black hat” Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics, such as having pages of spam links. In response, the company fired its SEO firm, and Penney’s ranking was reduced on the search engine.

But it got me thinking: What happens when popular jewelry terms are googled?

I started with Pandora. According to Google, “Pandora charms” and “Pandora jewelry” are among the most frequently searched jewelry terms for Valentine's Day.

And yet, when an SEO blogger googled “Pandora jewelry” a few weeks back in a well-worth reading article, he received mostly spam links. Perhaps google took action, because my recent search found slightly better results, at least on the first page. Still, at least one link didn’t seem to sell beads, and the second and third search pages are mostly spam, including several links for Pandora-like beads, and one page devoted to hair restoration. The “Pandora charms” search yielded similar results. Considering those are among the most-searched-for terms in our industry, that is not great.

(Among the signs of a bogus site: poor spelling/grammar, an emphasis on discounts and sales, and the absence of a physical address. Most of these sites are apparently based overseas.)

The SEO blogger also turned up mostly spam when he googled Thomas Sabo. Most of the online UK stores the blogger complained about now seem gone, but there was at least one replica site among the first listings.

David Yurman was one of the worst searches I did, yielding a scary amount of bogus sites on the first page of listings.

Googling “Tiffany & Co.,” another leading search term, turns up a mix of the valuable and the dubious, including one sale and another replica site. Tiffany has always been vigilant about protecting its intellectual property, and it recently sued a bunch of soundalike sites. Let’s just say, sadly, it seems like its work is not done. Cartier has a similar problem.

The search results for synthetic diamonds have always been an issue, since they show mostly companies that primarily sell diamond simulants, or a combination of “genuine synthetic” stones (if that’s even a term) and simulants. And one pretty bad article. What's worse, Gemesis—the biggest synthetic producer, which says it will begin targeting online consumers—doesn’t even show up until page 3. Even more embarrassing, some of those CZ links show up on Google AdWords. Another weak showing.

Now, this isn’t a problem just for the jewelry business. It apparently impacts just about every known brand name. And while Google is aware of these issues, they are not so easy to fix, the blogger notes:

It’s not like Google is not penalizing or de-indexing any of these sites. I see them come and go on a daily basis (although some actually seem to stick for weeks or even months).

However, these people (or rather organizations) push such huge amounts of these sites into the web that Google - obviously - is having quite a hard time catching up.

But, regarding jewelry, the industry needs to invest in better SEO and become more search engine–savvy. It also should communicate more with Google about some of these misleading searches. Because, right now, it seems, the “black hats” are winning.

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