And like a puff of smoke, Home Depot’s Web Site is all but invisible in Google.

Last year, JC Penney found themselves penalized by Google. Penney’s Search Engine Optimization had become too aggressive, and the search giant slapped JCP on the wrist. Now, it’s happened to Home Depot.

The subject of what Google allows and what’s considered grounds for penalty is one that fascinates me, both because my mind loves puzzles like this one and because The Answer Guy does Search Engine Optimization. And Home Depot did something last week that falls right into puzzle territory. They asked contractors to link to the Home Depot web site, which isn’t actually forbidden, but then suggested that the contractors could hide the links, which is.

It’s almost enough to lend credence to the assertion that SEO is a Vile, Disgusting Idea.

In fact, when Mark Schaefer at suggested that last year, his point wasn’t that there’s anything wrong with the idea of Search Engine Optimization so much as he meant that SEO’s nebulous nature makes doing it sketchy. It’s a fair point; if you don’t know the rules, it’s hard to play the game.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play, does it? I mean, even Dilbert does SEO.

The issue, as we all learned very young, is that it’s how you play the game. OK, so you want to win, too, but still . . .

The most important determiner of your SEO status is the number and quality of links that point to you. This is simply “true”, whether or not Google is willing to specifically admit it. And it will remain true even after Google’s new algorithm for semantic search takes hold. At the end of the day, links are what makes Google think you’re important.

Obviously, that means that you want links. But Google has a lot of rules about the kind of links you can have pointed at you. You can’t buy links, for example, and Google knows the difference between a link that’s bought and paid for versus one that’s more natural.

That last paragraph is troubling, to say the least. Google thinks they know the difference between natural links and paid links, and they police the matter accordingly, but they also make mistakes on the issue, all the time.

And it’s OK to ask people you do business with to link to you, but isn’t there an implied payment in that? Where does the line lie, really? As Mr Schaefer pointed out, there are so many rules with so many interpretations, Search Engine Optimization can’t help but be a big ugly minefield.

So to do Search Engine Optimization you need to either do what Google says is right, which is create great content and let the chips fall where they may, or you need to get educated enough about what will work and what won’t and what’s allowed and what isn’t, and craft your great content based on those rules.

And that’s why you can do SEO yourself, but probably shouldn’t. Head spinning? It could be worse. You could work in the IT Department at Home Depot.

Want to talk Search Engine Optimization Philosophy? Contact me, here.

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