Though unknown in Merseyside, Manchester or the rest of the United Kingdom, JC Penney is undoubtedly one of America’s largest department store chains.
However, during the run up to Christmas 2010, it came top with startling regularity in search engine queries such as ‘bedding’, queries for which other stores such as Bed Bath & Beyond would usually be expected to be found. In fact, the company beat millions of other sites to get to the top of the rankings from generic terms such as “tablecloths” to more specific ones, such as “grommet top curtains”.
This drew the attention of the New York Times, who called in an expert to investigate the company’s SEO.
Doug Pierce, who has an illustrious career in SEO, described the company’s methods as:
“the most ambitious attempt to game Google’s search results that he had ever seen”.
He found that most of the links to JC Penney’s site were from sites not relevant to their products in the slightest. For example, the keyphrase “black dresses”, and links to the site, were found on a website about nuclear engineering, “evening dresses” popped up on a casino website and “casual dresses” turned up on wlistofbanks.com.
This is the product of an obvious paid links campaign.
The paper sent their evidence to Google SEO guru Matt Cutts, who confirmed that it broke their terms of usage. It remains to be seen what punitive measures will be taken against J C Penney, but Cutts stated that it had been caught employing black hat SEO on three prior occasions, but refused to say what punishment was meted out.
However, Cutt’s team had not seen this recent attempt to top Google’s SERPS. He said:
“Do I wish our system had detected things sooner? I do, but given the one billion queries that Google handles each day, I think we do an amazing job.”
If JC Penny can’t get away with trying to game Google, what chance does anyone else have? By using ethical SEO techniques and natural link building methods you can improve your website’s search engine rankings without the risk of falling foul of Matt Cutts and his Google spam team.