JC Penney found themselves in hot water back in February as a result of a large scale black hat SEO debacle. The New York Times divulged the details about JC Penney buying massive amounts of links in order to dominate Google’s organic search results. The well known retailer cornered the market on an array of highly competitive as well as perplexing keywords, which raised instant red flags. Their actions violated Google’s policies, and they were officially placed on a 3 month time out period as punishment for attempting to game the system.
Now that enough time passed, analysts decided to check back on the company’s progress. Surprisingly enough, they’ve regained many of their devalued positions without modifying the associated URLs. In fact, most of these links now redirect to the site’s homepage, which renders them essentially useless. These points likely sound irrelevant, but it illustrates the fact that the ranking isn’t coming from Google’s spider crawling the pages in question. SEO experts believe Google simply lifted the penalty without bothering to follow up on the matter. Google’s been accused of issuing empty threats when it comes to high profile brands, and this incident attests to the validity of such rumors.
Credible evidence demonstrates further foul play. For instance, onlookers observed little movement from the other top 10 listings for JC Penney’s high performance keywords. It appears as though Google merely laid out the red carpet for JC Penney to return to its pre-penalty places. Google doesn’t make any promises about what happens once someone returns from the time out box, but this strikes some as unethical behavior. Overstock.com suffered a similar fate for their own link scheme, but they made their path to redemption public knowledge. Google refuses to comment on the current JC Penney scandal, which is a far cry from their Twitter post about the previous incident. There’s no definitive proof to go on, but it’s fair to say that a less prominent business would still be stuck somewhere around page ten for engaging in this type of behavior.
Of course, some argue that there’s really no reason to punish people for exploiting flaws in the algorithm. Businesses need to increase their visibility, especially online. Google must not take this offense very seriously and JC Penney’s profits actually went up despite the bad press. As the saying goes, no harm, no foul.