JC Penney Takes the SEO Shortcut and Proves it Works – Temporarily

In the SEO world we see untoward activities on a regular basis. Mostly folks trying to game the system for themselves or their clients to increase rankings or decrease competitor rankings. It can get pretty nasty with so much at stake and not a whole lot of governance short of the Google web spam team who are probably spread pretty thin. So word came through over the weekend (via NYT) of some nefarious SEO activities by large US retailer JC Penney, or more specifically their SEO company SearchDex, who appeared to be employing Black Hat techniques to boost their rankings. And boost their rankings they did!

SearchDex employed a well-known link farming methodology of placing relevant anchor text links (like “Casual Dresses”) on hundreds of websites that are paid (many quite handsomely) for listing these links. Most of the website have nothing of note on them aside from these links that point back to the JC Penney website.

For many SEO’s, we’ve seen this type of activity ever since the inception of the search engine. Many of us have tried these techniques as a matter of course and have probably been pinged once or twice along the way. As one of the higher profile cases, this JC Penney situation has once again shed light on SEO and SEO’s.

1. There is a great deal of pressure for “quick” results and some companies will do whatever it takes to get these results.
2. Search rankings can be very valuable
3. Off-site SEO (specifically incoming links) is very powerful.

Forums have always been filled with companies requesting the services of black hat SEO’s to bring a competitor website down and I wonder if this NYT article will spur companies to be on the lookout similar impact. We’ve seen this problem for years and have always supported Google in their attempts to combat it. It’s gotta be a hard job. Unfortunately, all of our attempts to inform Google when we stumble across some nefarious activities mostly goes ignored which doesn’t give us a great deal of confidence with the process.

Ever so slowly the black hat’s chip away at us. Clients put pressure on us to deliver faster results. We see JC Penney for several very valuable months get some prized placement and most likely a fairly significant boost in revenue, no matter how much they try to deny this as the case. And so for a minute we throw our hands in the air. Then we get back to work.

While this information may be shocking for those who don’t understand how search engines work it really is par for the course in our game. There are a couple of real standouts for me.

– why didn’t JC Penney build their website correctly if they knew SEO was important? Even a cursory glance will reveal that no SEO’s could possibly have been consulted during its build.

– I find it hard to believe that JC Penney didn’t know what they were doing or have someone on staff who didn’t know what was going on.

– All of my points about On-Site SEO seem to be moot in light of how well the website performed despite how few “best practices” it follows.

We’ll be curious to see how G handles this in the coming days.

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