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Text links, SEO and stupid human tricks

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 - 4:26pm
Written By: 
Jill Notkin

Last month, retail behemoth J.C. Penney got nailed by Google for using black hat SEO tactics and was subsequently penalized for the under-handed methods in search. In other words, they were seriously busted.

But J.C. Penney is hardly alone in their foray into attempting to cheat the web.

The latest comes in the form of CSN Stores, an online conglomerate of 250 different shopping sites with individual names, and they are up to the same type of practice, only they are involving bloggers.

Last May, a member of the promotions team at CSN Stores contacted me to determine my interest in working with them to generate awareness for their stores. At the time, they were offering a $50 gift card to use on any of their hundreds of webstores in exchange for a blog review. I was swamped, and couldn’t find time to work the opportunity into my calendar.

Things eased up for me, oh, about a month ago and I returned to the CSN Stores team to find out what they were working on and how I could help. I was also curious to find out about their blogger outreach program since I kept seeing reviews and giveaways sprouting up on blogs everywhere (though no one I know well had worked with them).

The response I received was prompt and disheartening. First, they were asking for a pre-post (what’s a pre-post??) announcing my impending post. Ridiculous.

Then, this:

“When you are ready to do the initial post, please link the term 'office furniture' to www. csnofficefurniture. com as the FIRST and ONLY link in your post. I would just ask that you have it flow as naturally as possible within the context of the post.  I am currently responsible for improving traffic to that site, so it would be greatly appreciated if you could do that…”

I was provided examples of what this would look like and left with my thoughts.

I responded by letting the team member know that not only was I not interested in weird text link baiting within my post, but that I couldn’t imagine any self-respecting blogger actually engaging in this type of scheme campaign. I would buy my toaster elsewhere, thankyouverymuch.

So what does this mean for us bloggers? Well, it doesn’t mean that ALL text links are bad. Text links, in the form of an ad on a sidebar, carefully placed so as not to detract from your fantastic content, is fair game. Be sure to ask good money for a text link though, since their value to the brand is sky high.

Secondly, I would urge you not to engage in campaigns like this. While they’re not illegal, they could be considered cheating by Google. Do you really want to be an accessory to this bad behavior? For $50, I’ll keep my integrity and save myself available for real, solid opportunities. And who knows what gem the next email will hold?


Jill Notkin blogs at The Daily Grind of a Work at Home Mom when she’s not tweeting@AlexCaseyBaby. She is also the Managing Director of MotherTalk division at Mom Central Consulting.


Uh, did you even read the

Uh, did you even read the article you linked to? What JC Penney did (or what was done on their behalf) is not anything like what CSN is doing.

I used to do SEO for Yahoo (mostly the back end, sponsored search listings, but I did need to know all of the SEO rules) CSN isn't using "black hat SEO tactics" I have never even heard that term lol And, oh surprise, some guy created that term - I didn't think that was a real industry term.

That was an interesting article but it is not what CSN is doing AT ALL. CSN isn't having their site up on a bunch of bogus and link sites to improve SEO. They are having bloggers - "real" sites - write informative posts that are ads for the company. They tell you the topic and the links, and you add your own content about it. Then you post as disclaimer as required by law. There is NOTHING wrong with that, and it isn't against Google's rules nor is it shady.

You did use a few harsh words in your post. Nobody has mentioned that "integrity" part where you passively-aggressively make it sound like anyone who does this has no integrity. And BTW: CSN would be "preying" on bloggers, not praying on them. :)

(FYI I am not a CSN blogger and have never worked with them at all. There's my full disclosure!)

Jill was highlighting one

Jill was highlighting one really important point - when a company tells (not suggests) that you to link a certain way to their site, they're trying to manipulate the links and the SEO "juice" to their advantage. That's fine, but then it stops being a review and starts moving toward the realm of a sponsored, advertorial post.

There's nothing wrong with having those kind of posts on your blogs, but now they're ads not reviews. And you should be compensated accordingly.

Many bloggers feel if you're told to do "this and that" in your review, it requires more work and they ask for further compensation. Other bloggers are terribly uncomfortable being told to link a certain way for the reasons that Jill stated above, and refuse to take those type of posts.

Again, it's all about what you feel comfortable with hosting on your blog and what you feel is appropriate compensation for your time, influence and space on your blog.

I've worked with CSN stores

I've worked with CSN stores several times and always enjoyed the experience. I guess I need a better understanding of why using their seo word choice when linking back to their site is such a horrible offense. For example, I think the last time I worked with them I was linking back to wooden swingsets. I mean, they DO sell them (lots and lots of them, actually)! Could you help me understand better how it is cheating?

@Tiffany, If you are cool


If you are cool text linking, then by all means, do it! It's not illegal (no one called it a "horrible offense"), it provides you with a little cash, and if it works for you - awesome. My point was that while it's not illegal, it's a generally frowned upon practice by Google. For more info on it, check out the NYT's piece I linked to in the first paragraph. I'm sure you could find a ton more info by searching J.C. Penney text links or something like that.



Well, this SELF-RESPECTING blogger takes complete and utter offense to the wording of this post. How dare you blanket every blogger who has worked with CSNstores as anything less than self-respecting. I would like to say in my defense that I take any reviews or giveaway opps with complete seriousness and have never had a personal issue with creating a pre-post. You don't like it? Fine and dandy, but don't start flinging snarky remarks like you did at bloggers who have worked with CSN. I find it inappropriate and uncalled for. I suggest you relect on your posts before you have them go live or share them with someone else so that you don't offend others like you did with this post.

You should have just kept to the facts instead of making it a personal opinion piece.

@Mimi I'm sure you saw my

@Mimi I'm sure you saw my response below, where I apologized for the words I chose. As for keeping to facts, the fact is that this is a blog post, and my opinion is what makes it so. You don't have to agree with me, in fact, I welcome a healthy discussion where we disagree!

PS - it has occurred to me that not every blogger who engages in text link campaigns lacks self-respect - the post was slightly tongue-in-cheek. Also, I don't believe I blanketed every blogger who has ever worked with CSN Stores as anything less than self-respecting - it's the text link campaign I don't support.

In my opinion your statement,

In my opinion your statement, "but that I couldn’t imagine any self-respecting blogger" is a "blanket" statement. With the word "ANY" you are pointing out any blogger who has worked with CSN. May not have been your intent, but that's how I received it.

As for my participation with CSN, I have been forthright with my posts, before and during the event. I let people know there's a CSN giveaway coming up and I talk about personal experience I've had with a product in my OWN life. Not ever with their specific product, but with ones I've used. I'm going to use a link in a review anyhow and I don't mind using a link in my prepost either. Same difference to me. My followers and anyone that shows up to read that post knows I'm doing this prepost for CSN and don't try to make it some slick post with the information hidden within it.

The first time I worked with CSN was back in the Summer and I did receive something for participating with them. Since then any time I've worked with them it has been only a giveaway. I haven't received anything. I won't say that's how it will always be, but that's how it's been up until this point. I honestly don't think anyone who enters these giveaways have an issue with it at all. No one has ever shown up protesting that I let them know I was going to be having an upcoming giveaway for THEM.

I understand your point is the "cheating" in SEO, but I don't see it that way if my post is honest and clear. This is entirely my opinion.

@Lindsay - I'm sorry you took

@Lindsay - I'm sorry you took offense. You're right, and the point of the post really is to teach, not lecture. This brand is preying on bloggers, self-respecting or otherwise - who may or may not be aware of what they are trying to pull-off. I would like to believe that those who engage with them just don't know about the SEO tricks, but I'm pretty sure others who do know do it anyways, for the payment or giveaway opportunity.

Again, the intention here is to teach, not preach. Thank you for reading!!


I always read, Jill. :) You

I always read, Jill. :) You share such great insight and wisdom with the less-experienced blogger and I always learn something new from you. Even if I am a bit of a lurker. :)

I wouldn't say I took offense...I was just surprised at the terminology used I think :)

I have to admit I'm a little

I have to admit I'm a little put off by "I couldn’t imagine any self-respecting blogger actually engaging in this type of campaign." I am a self-respecting blogger. I blog with the highest integrity and always disclose any affiliations with a company. However, I simply didn't know better when I worked with CSN Stores. I didn't even know what link-baiting was and I don't think I'm alone in that. To imply that the *many* bloggers that work with CSN have no self-respect or anything of that nature is a bit short-sighted in my opinion. I think the key here is to educate bloggers about what link-baiting is and what it looks like in the real world (maybe even using this as an example). This is the perfect opportunity for Mom Central Blogger University to live up to its name and educate bloggers who don't have the experience and expertise of someone who has been blogging for years and knows the ins and outs of SEO and the tactics out there. Just my opinion, of course.

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