When it was noticed that J.C Penney was outranking Samsonite’s website for the keyphrase “Samsonite carry-on luggage”, the New York Times started an investigation on how the retail store was ranked number one in Google for hundreds of other search terms as well. The retail store also held the number one ranking for other highly competitive terms like area rugs, bedding, furniture and more. Had J.C. Penney just run one of the best SEO campaigns ever? Or was it something much less than that?
Much to J.C. Penney’s chagrin, it was the latter and Google didn’t like it. The investigation revealed that J.C. Penney had engaged in a massive link buying campaign where thousands of websites carried links to the store’s dress section even though the pages where the links originated had nothing to with dresses. It’s unclear how a nuclear engineering site has any relevance to J.C. Penney’s dress section but that didn’t stop the inbound link with anchor text related to dresses. Other sites linking to the dress section covered topics including diseases, cameras, cars, dogs, aluminum sheets, travel, snoring, diamond drills, bathroom tiles, hotel furniture, online games, commodities, and fishing.
The investigation also found that J.C. Penney had a doorway page and engaged in “anchor link keyword stuffing”, both of which are considered pure black hat SEO techniques. Not surprisingly, J.C. Penney denied any knowledge of the scheme and immediately fired their SEO company when the New York Times story was released. “J. C. Penney did not authorize, and we were not involved with or aware of, the posting of the links that you sent to us, as it is against our natural search policies,” Ms. Brossart wrote in an e-mail to the New York Times. She added, “We are working to have the links taken down.”
Google wasn’t buying J.C. Penney’s line and took what they call “manual action”. Within a couple of hours top listings for the black hat SEO’d terms had fallen to the sixth page and below, also known as “search Siberia”. The next phases in the drama will cover whether Google gave J.C. Penney preferential treatment because they are a huge advertiser with Google. Stay tuned.