J.C. Penney

Image by Michael R. Allen via Flickr

JC Penny’s situation is fairly common—black hat techniques are used to exploit a loophole in Google, but Google eventually finds the loophole, patches it, and applies a (search) penalty to the exploiter, usually knocking them well down in search rank so that they don’t get as much traffic.  What was remarkable is how well JC Penny was able to pull of this stunt, and how widespread and effective they were able to make it.
The story of all this, I heard about from a friend, and then was able to find reference to in an online news source… It looks like they had a huge number of incoming links from other sites.  Remember how I mentioned link-building?   But, it wasn’t a genuine natural process…it was something fake/forced, which though not illegal benefits only JC Penny, and not the larger crowd that Google is trying to service (in other words JC Penny wasn’t actually being good high quality contributors to get those results, they were just finding a shortcut)…now they disavowed their involvement in this process…but I’m not so sure.  There was a slightly scandalous viral video that was circulating (and got a lot of exposure) with their name on it, and they disavowed it too.
We don’t know, but it’s possible that this was a carefully orchestrated gambit—knowing how much traffic was out there in the holiday season, and weighing that against how little traffic there is available after the holiday season.  Maybe they just knew that if they could even get a fraction of a percentage increase in traffic during the holidays for their online sales, it would far outweigh any penalty Google could impose in the post-holiday season when there’s so little traffic to be had anyways.  That’s the wager you have to make when doing black-hat stuff—usually short term gains vs. long term stability.

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