When Penguin, an update of Google's search algorithm, swam online five years ago, it just about sank StairSupplies.
"In the course of a week we went from 1,000-1,200 organic clicks a day [from Google search results] to 100-200," says Caleb Morris, marketing manager at the Goshen, Ind.-based vendor of stairway components for house remodelers. "The only traffic we had left was from paid ads."
StairSupplies was a victim of an ongoing, behind-the-scenes battle between search engines and the experts who try to decipher their algorithms — or game them, depending on whom you ask or the color of the expert's hat. Yes, hat, as in black hat versus white hat. Search engines to some extent operate in the Wild West.