Search Engine Optimization and Marketing for E-commerce

JC Penney Linkbait Scam Exposed, Penalized by Google

by Andrew Kagan 14. February 2011 09:08

The New York Times reported on Sunday that J.C. Penney had been exposed for implementing link-bait on an unprecedented scale, skewing search results and leading Google to levy severe penalties on the company's page rank against important keywords.

The article, titled The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, detailed how Penney had enjoyed 1st position results for highly competitive keywords like "dresses", "bedding", and "area rugs". and more valuable terms like "skinny jeans", "home decor" and "comforter sets". What was revealed was a widespread campaign of seeding thousands of links to J. C. Penney on largely irrelevant and unrelated, even obscure, websites. This process, commonly known as "link-farming", is a well-known black-hat technique for gaming Google's search results, even though Google publicly announced several years ago that it was preventing this techniqe from skewing its search results.

Apparently, not so...while Penney feigned ignorance about the use of link-farming, it summarily fired its search company, and Google proceeded to take punitive action by de-ranking the company for various keywords.

While Google insists that external links have less importance to a web page's SERPs than content, it is an inextricable component that Google can't ignore, especially as a gauge of momentary popularity. While Google claims to monitor SERPs for evidence of link-farming, it is a larger problem to identify social-media link abuses, as these results are critical to Google's "real time search" rank that takes into account social media links from Facebook, Twitter et al.

What's chilling for most white-hat SEOs is that black-hat techniques are alive and well, and put white hats at a competitive disadvantage. A black hat interviewed for the article implied that "S.E.O. is a game, and if you’re not paying black hats, you are losing to rivals with fewer compunctions." Even Matt Cutts, Google's top search-spam cop, noted that it's impossible for Google to police every link scam, although they do red-flag suspicious things like rapid growth of inbound links. It shows, however, that any proactive action on Google's part requires manual intervention by an employee; there is no automated process in place yet to deal with this type of exploit.


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