The latest high-profile Google penalty affects one of the largest retailers in the world as JCPenny.com was penalized for using link farms to boost its organic results. The Dallas based retailer was caught using keyword rich links on sites about everything from snoring to online gaming to boost its individual product pages. The New York Times gathered the data and presented it to Matt Cutts who claimed that Google had previously detected and acted on similar violations in at least three previous occasions.
However he admitted they had not seen an apparently fresh purchase of links that lead to the NYT article and within hours Google took swift action against the site:
J.C. Penny responded by immediately firing their search firm and issued a release that played off the penalty by claiming that just seven percent of their traffic comes from organic search. Despite the text of their response, losing sales traffic during the economic downturn is a big blow and who knows how long they will be penalized. Google penalties can last anywhere from six months to two years based on my experience and JCPenny will have an uphill battle once Google removes their block. (It should be noted that Bing does not appear to have taken any action against the site)
This isn’t the first time Google has penalized a major brand. Four years ago BMW was penalized for creating doorway pages on their German site in an attempt to game the system and Google temporarily removed the site from their index. There is a misconception among the search community that because big companies often come with even bigger law firms that Google is resistant to issue penalties fearing legal action. Let this penalty serve notice to any big brand that may be engaging in questionable search practices.
The penalty also highlights the disconnect between brands and their SEO firms. While big brands like JCPenny will take months to select an ad agency, selecting an SEO firm is often a much quicker task and many companies don’t have c-level executives that are able to manage or even understand SEO tasks. Their directives are often “get us to number one” and they measure a firm’s performance by reviewing their rankings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but they often look at the final product rather than what actually goes into it and in this case JCPenny got number one rankings but their SEO company achieved them through methods that violated Google’s terms of service.