Google and black hat: The sinking of J.C. Penny


J. C. PennyIn the world of online marketing it is a constant struggle to get your website placed in the organic search results – especially for the popular high paying search terms.  We all know the importance of back linking and I’m sure we are all aware that these back links can be purchased.  But who knew that large department store chains would resort to such techniques in an effort to be found in the search engines?

Accord to a recent article in the New York Times it appears that large companies, as well as small personal websites, are willing to try and game the search engines in the hopes of driving more traffic to their website.  It also appears that Google is just as willing to punish websites – large or small – of those who engage in these ‘black hat’ practices.

According to the article, the retailer J. C. Penny hired a firm to handle their web presence.  This firm, likely not the most savvy available, took to black hat techniques on a large scale.  Their efforts resulted in tons of back links to the J. C. Penny website for keywords ranging from ‘dresses’ to ‘bedding’.  These back links could be found around the internet on any site that would offer a link.  Many of these sites, a lot of which were ‘spammy’, had nothing to do with J. C. Penny or the keywords they were targeting.

These efforts did have a very positive impact initially.  J. C. Penny ranked very high in Google for many popular search terms.  However, this victory was short lived as in a matter of months Google took ‘manual corrective action’.  The result of which caused the offending retailer to sink in the search engines – typically from the first position for a given keyword down to somewhere on the 6th or 7th page of results.

In the end, J. C. Penny’s marketing efforts, which I’m sure cost them a fortune, ended up backfiring.  Furthermore, they have been portrayed in the New York Times as a company who engages in questionable marketing tactics.  Some argue that even bad press is good but this doesn’t help J. C. Penny’s search engine ranking.  Furthermore, if the average blogger attempted this I don’t think the New York Times would write a five page article.  All that would happen is the blog would quietly disappear from the search engines one day leaving the blogger to dig his way out of the ‘Google sandbox’.

I have heard of people who buy links and actually see good results from it (at least in the short term).  I, personally, don’t buy links (I get them the old fashioned way – manually).  If you are considering buying links make sure you do your research, understand what kind of websites your links will show up on, and how fast they will appear.  These are all factors that can tip off Google that you are doing something that they don’t approve of.

Also keep in mind that getting more back links is not the only way to promote your website.  I’ll be writing about other techniques in an upcoming post.  In the meantime, you can sign up for my free marketing course to the right to learn about acceptable marketing techniques to promote your website.

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