Not only are paid links always a short term way to rank on keywords, they can also explode into a PR nightmare if you are a Fortune 500 company. David Segals article The Dirty Little Secrets of Search details how JCPenney’s has managed to rank on thousands of generic keywords by buying links from spammy services that anyone calling them self and SEO would stay away from like the plague. How much did JCPenney pay their SEO firm (not even going to mention their name here, read the NYT article) for this disaster? You can bet it was in the hundreds of thousands for sure.
So did the people at J.C. Penney realize what was going on? They say no and I kind of believe them. Executives often only care about results and don’t ask about the details which they probably wouldn’t understand anyway. I can tell you first hand that many Fortune 100 companies have only 1 person that handles SEO with little to no oversite and they tend to outsource everything. Hopefully J.C. Penney will realize the folly in this and bring their SEO in-house. There is no reason a company this size cannot just buy out a small, reputable firm and have an instant in-house SEO department.