JC Penney may not be the first retailer that comes to mind when you think of dresses, rugs and skinny jeans. However, the company’s website (JCP.com) was performing so well, you would think that the former catalog retailer was number one in the country.
The company website was ranking so well on Google that it caught the eye of an investigative reporter for the New York Times. What ensued led the company to fire its search optimization firm and led Google to demote the company site across many topics.
The article exposed a bevy of black hat marketing techniques that one SEO expert called, “the most ambitious attempt” at manipulating Google’s search engine results that he had ever seen.
Among the tactics described in the newspaper’s exposé is the practice of burying links on low-profile sites around the Internet, tricking Google into seeing relevant references where none existed.
According to the New York Times report, most of the more than 2,000 links back to the JC Penney website were located on sites that had nothing to do with clothing. The phrase “black dresses,” with a link to the retailer, was located at the bottom of a nuclear.engineeringaddict.com; “evening dresses,” with a link to the retailer, was found on casino-focus.com; and “cocktail dresses” showed up on bulgariapropertyportal.com. There are links to JC Penney pages on sites about diseases, dogs, travel, snoring, bathroom tiles, hotel furniture, online games, glass shower doors, and dentists, to name a few.
Matt Cutts, part of the Google team that uncovers black hat SEO techniques, confirmed that JC Penney had violated Google’s guidelines on manipulating rankings. As a result, Google manually dropped the rank that JC Penney had been enjoying from the tactics its SEO firm had employed.
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