co Is SearchDex A Scapegoat? |

The New York Times published a story on Saturday about huge retailer J.C. Penney getting caught buying links. The interesting part of this story from a small business standpoint is what happened to J.C. Penney’s search firm, SearchDex, after Google discovered the paid links. You might have guessed. They were canned.

I’m not here to beat up on SearchDex. They took a huge risk and it didn’t pay off. J.C. Penney will be penalized for its indiscretions, but once they fix the problem they can pick up and go on with what they do best. SearchDex’s name, however, has now been blighted and it will forever be known as a shady SEO firm. Is that well deserved?

Two possibilities exist here. Either J.C. Penney directed SearchDex to buy links, in which case, both companies are at fault. Or SearchDex bought the links without J.C. Penny’s authorization. J.C. Penney is claiming the latter. SearchDex isn’t talking.

Don’t think the company’s silence means that J.C. Penney is right. If they’ve decided not to disclose embarrassing information about their relationship with their clients, that’s a smart business decision, paid links notwithstanding. The problem is, we might never know. And we don’t really need to know. It’s not our business. But as a small business person who is seeking coveted search rankings, what should you do if you discover your SEO firm is engaging in practices not approved by the search engines?

That’s an important question. Can you take the risk?

I think this story illustrates how important it is to check out your SEO firm before you hire them. Find out what practices they use and ask them what they plan to do for you. If paid links is mentioned, run – don’t walk – the other way. If you deal with firms that are above board and use only search engine approved practices, then you can’t go wrong.