The New York Times did a little undercover work in the world of search and discovered that JCPenney was benefiting enormously from paid links. They ranked number one or close to it for some very prominent search queries including “skinny jeans,” “home decor,” “comforter sets,” “furniture", “tablecloths” and many other highly searched for terms.
(Note: Tweets regarding this from Google's Matt Cutts can be viewed below.)
The JCPenney links take consumers directly to the appropriate sections of their site. This lasted for month including the Christmas holidays according to the article.
A spokeswoman for JCPenney, Darcie Brossart, told the New York Times, “JCPenney 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,” She added, “We are working to have the links taken down.” Apparently the actual blackhat SEO work was done by the company's SEO consultant firm SearchDex which it has since terminated.
The New York Times secretly contacted Google with their information about JCPenney and also arranged an interview with none other than Google's Matt Cutts who is famous in the search world and well known to the readers of WebProNews. Cutts told them, “I can confirm that this violates our guidelines". He added, "Am I happy this happened? Absolutely not. Is Google going to take strong corrective action? We absolutely will.”
Once caught by Google, JCPenney moved from an average search position of 1.3 to a rather low 52. What are your thoughts?
According to the article JCPenney dropped from an average search result position of 1.3 on Feb. 1 to an average postion of 52 on Feb. 10. Unlike what happened to BMW.de a while back, Google did not remove them from their search index but with an average search result position of 52 they might as well have.
Update: Since this article was published, Matt Cutts posted some tweets as seen below:
@arrington left a comment: I really wish that our algorithms or other processes had caught this much faster--I'm definitely not celebrating.
@arrington the newer/most recent spate of links happened in the last 3-4 months; not over a year. JCP still ranking on [dresses] on eg Bing.
Vanessa Fox covers the tech aspect of SEO story in NYT: http://goo.gl/x4XHd A must-read for companies thinking about SEO.
David Segal of the NYT discusses some blackhat SEO: http://goo.gl/RdnTi Google's algorithms had started to work; manual action also taken.