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And you thought J.C. Penney had SEO problems?

I figured that Sunday night would be a good time to catch up on all of the different opinion pieces (like this one) addressing the recent New York Times article on SEO. The piece focused on J.C. Penney but the underlying theme was mainly about black hat SEO techniques like the purchasing of links and Google’s efforts to combat them.

Those efforts have been about as successful as the US war on drugs, but I digress.

After reading up on the various opinions being offered about what happened (as well as Alan Bleiweiss and Jill Whalen’s entertaining back and forth on what SEO is and isn’t) I decided to work on a post explaining to Google how they can rid themselves of this pesky little paid links situation that they’ve got going on.

And it was while performing a bit of preliminary research for that post (which I plan on publishing later this week) that I came to realize that the entity that published the original piece – The New York Times – has an arguably bigger problem than the subject of the article.

Here’s what I mean.

I performed a quick search for “JCPenney SEO” thinking that would be a quick way to pull up the original article, so that I could copy the URL for later reference and usage. But sadly, the article did not show up on the first page of results.

“No problem”, I thought.

I’ll just add “nytimes” to the end of my search query. That should do the trick as far as getting the original New York Times article to pop up, right?

Wrong.

It still wouldn’t come up on the first page of results even after typing in “JCPenney SEO nytimes.” I finally got it to come up by adding “.com” to the end (e.g. “JCPenney SEO nytimes.com”) but even then, it still didn’t come up as the first result.

What did come up were various articles referencing the original article, including a New York Times competitor of sorts; engadget.com.

So basically, one of the most well-known and authoritative traditional publishing brands in the world (perhaps the most well-known and authoritative) has failed badly at driving natural search traffic to it’s viral post on SEO despite having a tremendous amount of domain authority as well as a plethora of inbound links to the article itself (due to all of the secondary sources that have cited it in their own pieces).

Pretty ironic stuff.

It doesn’t take one of those in-depth audits that Alan prides himself on to figure out why this is happening. For starters, the article’s title tag fails to include the main subject of the piece (JC Penney) nor does it include the term “SEO.” It also fails to use the phrase “search engine optimization”, opting for “search optimization”, but there’s no need to get nit picky. There are also other deeper, site-wide structural issues, but like Alan, I don’t give away my expertise for free because I value my time.

I’m fairly sure that just adjusting that title tag would do the trick, though. I’m also fairly sure that this failure to ingrain SEO as part of the fundamental culture at NYTimes.com is one of the reasons that they and the pretty much the rest of the publishing establishment are getting their lunches handed to them by newer, nimbler and more online marketing savvy competitors.

But this isn’t just happening to the New York Times. This is happening to companies big and small in every business vertical because they fail to fully buy into the concept of holistic, long-term SEO as being one of the foundations of their business as opposed to just a tantalizing yet obscure item on the marketing to-do list.

If you’re a marketing manager or business owner and you’re reading this right now, take a minute to figure out where you stand when it comes to this critical yet often overlooked decision.

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  • http://twitter.com/computerklaus Klaus Junginger

    Absolutely! News sites struggle with content theft way more than we think they do. In Brazil a pretty similar problem occurs with the most traditional sites as well. But over here, this issue is empowered by non outbound-linking policies supported by all major news sites. So, that “in a perfect world” which Matt brings up when talkin about the usage of cross-site Google News Meta tags (syndication and original-source) lies miles and miles and miles away. As an online news editor and seo enthusiast I’m one inch from starting some tests with other news-industry portals using this rather gentle exchange of tags. Serisously, I’ve got nothing to lose and much to learn.

    @computerklaus

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment, Klaus! Definitely keep us posted if you engage in those tests you mentioned.

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  • http://fr.imagineoutlet.com/Famille/Canapes-cuir-design-contemporain.aspx Lisa | canapé design

    Well, we’re in 2012 and another big one is caught red-handed. I just heard that Ebay was caught buying links through it’s SEO agency for a sister site..

    • Anonymous

      Can’t say that I’m surprised. Thanks for the heads up, Lisa!

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