Search Engine Optimization and Marketing for E-commerce

Google restores J.C. Penney’s rankings after link-bait scam

by Andrew Kagan 7. July 2011 09:32

After removing most of J.C. Penney’s links from search results after it found Penney was engaging in a link-bait scam to improve SEO, Google finally restored much of the company’s links after a 90-day period.

Recent tests of keywords J.C. Penney had previously ranked well against show Penney’s SERPs creeping back up, for both long-tail and short keyphrases. The penalty, imposed after the all-important holiday shopping season, had significantly impacted Penney’s online sales.

Penney had always proclaimed ignorance of what it had empowered it’s search marketing firm, Searchdex, to put it on the first page of Google’s organic SERPs for high-value keywords, such as “furniture”, “skinny jeans” and “comforter sets”. Searchdex abused a weakness in Google’s ranking algorithm that placed a great deal of weight on inbound links, regardless of their source. By seeding tens of thousands of websites with links back to Penney’s product pages, those pages rose to first position in Google’s results.

A report of the successful grey-hat manipulation in The New York Times Feb. 12 this year led Google to accelerate it’s latest series of algorithmic changes, commonly known as “Panda”, which better filters irrelevant links from skewing SERPs. Google also imposed a steep penalty on Penney, surpressing its pages from the search results for hundreds of keywords.

Penney claims to have fired Searchdex, and recently has been revising it’s website pages, most likely in an effort to better meet Google’s website guidelines. Google, however, is still returning old page links that Penney previously ranked for, not the new links, indicating that Google has restored some of the company’s rankings without have updated it’s own indexes.

Clearly it was in both companies’ best interest to restore Penney’s rankings. Penney had been running a multi-million dollar AdWords campaign prior to being penalized, and had likely suspended that campaign until Google lifted the penalty.

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