As a web marketer, I know the value of ranking high in Google's search rankings. A simple shift in position can result in the loss or gain of tens of thousands of visitors a month. Hence, a lot of time is spent by companies to optimize their sites to appear higher in Google search rankings. This is difficult as Google doesn't share the specifics of their algorithm, and while Search Engine Optimizers know things like number of inbound links will be good for them, they don't know most of the hundreds (thousands?) of variables like the optimal numeric use of keywords on a page, for example.
Google has been active in changing their algorithm in the past, and made a major change last week in an effort to drive better results for their users' searches. Unfortunately for some sites (The Huffington Post being one of the more higher profile), their SEO activity was penalized in Google's most recent release. Likewise, two major retailers (JC Penney and Overstock) were found to be acquiring inbound links in a fashion that Google deemed inappropriate and contrary to their Webmaster Guidelines, with both being issued Google's "death penalty," - both have basically been buried in search results.
This action will literally cost each company millions. Some in the SEO and business community bemoan Google changing their algorithm, as even slight shifts can have massive impact in website performance. To them, I say "tough bounce." The Webmaster Rules are fairly clear, and should you choose to tread into a grey or black area, you'll eventually be found out and punished. As you're not paying Google for the service of appearing in their natural rankings, they owe you nothing, and you'll be the one that needs to explain to your stockholders what happened (and in
JCP's case, blame all of it on their agency while unbelievably disavowing any knowledge of how their SEO rankings got so good so quickly). Those of us playing the game correctly by building our content appropriately will ultimately leapfrog you in the rankings, and will ultimately reap our rewards.