NYTimes has uncovered a pretty significant link-scheme that was used to make JC Penney the number 1 search result for a number of keywords including “bedding”, “dresses” and other household products. Even though JC Penney claims no knowledge of it, the scheme has been going on since last 3-4 months and worked very well during the peak Holiday season.
One of the things that Google bases search engine ranking on is the number of incoming links to your website. However, the links should be genuine and come from genuine websites; even a slight deviation from these guidelines can land you in a lot of trouble even if you are as big a brand as BMW. There are certain SEO strategies that have been termed as Black Hat and it is not worth getting involved in those, as JC Penney has recently learned.
According to the investigative report, over 2000 pages that had little or no related content to clothing, posted links pointing to the dresses section of the JC Penney website. This included sites like bulgariapropertyportal.com , bulgariapropertyportal.com and many others including some that had no other content. Owners of some of these websites are paid rewards or even cash by link exchange companies like TNX.net. Once this scheme was discovered by a researcher hired by NYTimes, the results were forwarded to Google’s webspam team, headed by Matt Cutts. Since there is no direct proof of JC Penney being actually involved in the shenanigans, there website was not removed from Google’s index, however, a corrective action was taken that brought JC Penney website from #1 down to the 5th or 6th page in many instances.
More interestingly, JC Penney has already been penalized a couple of times by Google in past few months for violations of its guidelines. Even though Google has a team of experts that are continuously monitoring and putting solutions in place to stop such schemes, it is clear that given their limited resources they can only stop so much. This gives encouragement to many Black Hat based SEO experts who are paid big bucks to land a premium spot on Google.