Is Google corrupt? Search me

Google was thoroughly conned by SEO experts hired by JCPenney. Can we trust its search result rankings at all?

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SEO is in the news more than ever thanks in part to AOL's swallowing the Huffington Post last week for $315 million. HuffPo is many things (not all of them printable on the pages of InfoWorld.com), but one thing for sure is that it is SEO-driven. HuffPo owes much of its success to its ability to manipulate the treatment it receives at the hands of Google (and Yahoo and Bing).

Slate's Farhad Manjoo wrote a funny piece last week discussing how HuffPo's SEO success isn't going to last forever. He was immediately attacked in the comments by SEO professionals defending their turf.

Hey, everybody does SEO, or tries to, InfoWorld included. There are perfectly legitimate things you can do to make your site more Google-friendly. On the other hand, many SEO "pros" are the cockroaches of the Internet -- turn the light on them and they all scatter.

Operate any website for any length of time and you will be approached by one of these bottom feeders. They will offer to "exchange links" or even pay you about the cost of a nice lunch for placing an article on your site or even just a few link-rich sentences. Many people do this, because they figure, why not? Nobody else is paying them to write this stuff.

The downside: If Google catches you, it lands on you like the circus fat lady falling off a high wire. After the New York Times revealed just how thoroughly Google had been punked by JCPenney, it manually "adjusted" the PageRank for all of those terms that used to be number one down into the boonies of Googledom.

In other words, JCPenney isn't feeling lucky any more.

If you're relying on page rank to drive business to your site, then you probably want to play it safe. But if you already don't get any Google love, it's a no-brainer -– take the money and the spammy links and run.

This is a war Google won't win. Or, at least, Google's users won't win. Because on the Web, the search race is not to the swift or the strong but to those who are willing to pay a dirty SEO firm to cultivate link farms. And you know what link farms require? A whole lot of manure.

Do you trust Google search results? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Is Google corrupt? Search me," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringeley's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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