5 Lessons Learned From JC Penney's Google Penalty

JC Penney logoBack in February, JC Penney was caught by the New York Times having been involved in a series of black hat SEO scandals. The story forced Google to act to manually shift Penney’s website way down in the rankings, but not before they were able to grab significant market share in a critical shopping period. Here are five lessons to be learned from the experience:

Black Hat Sometimes Does Pay

I’d like to be able to stay on high and say that the JC Penney scandal from a few months ago proves that Black Hat SEO never works. I’d like to be able to say that, but I can’t. The reality is that JC Penney got away with what they did for months on end and ranked number one for hundreds of search terms during the holiday shopping season. This meant massive returns on investment.

Now while Penney has been slapped by Google and likely won’t be able to get away with the same thing this coming holiday season, the fact remains that they did get away with it and they made millions of dollars in extra sales by doing so.

You Will Get Caught In the End

In this case, it took a New York Times investigation to catch up the Penney scandal; however ultimately, those who flagrantly violate Google’s rules will find themselves getting caught in the end. Of course, the cat and mouse game played between black hat SEO experts and Google keeps going on and there is frankly nothing Google can do other than to de-index websites they catch – it’s not illegal after all to manipulate Google’s rankings.

You Need to Keep a Close Eye on Contractors

This is a bone of contention in the SEO community. Some people are of the firm belief that JC Penney knew exactly what was being done in their name and agreed to have it done anyway because they would reap the profits. Penney insists they knew nothing about it and fired the firm who was doing their SEO campaign work.

If you believe Penney, then you need to take away the lesson that you need to watch carefully what your SEO company is doing for you so that you don’t get de-indexed or slapped by Google.

Organic Links are Best

The New York Times found in their investigation that many of the links that Penney had acquired came from link farms and defunct sites which had no real value other than to provide links. While Google supposedly filters for such links, the reality seems to be that they did help Penney, at least somewhat. The thing is though, had Penney gotten those links through organic linking (i.e. the links made sense to be pointing at Penney), they may never have been slapped to begin with.

If Caught, Be Contrite

When the scandal was uncovered, Penney announced that they were firing their SEO contractors immediately and apologized. A similar scandal a few years ago involving another major company, BMW temporarily saw their site de-indexed when they tried to defend their actions.

Bottom line, if you’re caught in the act, be like JC Penney – apologize, promise not to do it again and clean up your act. Google usually will let you back into their good graces after the first or even second time. However, do it repeatedly or be unrepentant and your SEO efforts, at least as far as Google are concerned may be for naught.

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4 thoughts on “5 Lessons Learned From JC Penney's Google Penalty

  1. Great points you make there. I think the JC penny scandal has hurt the white hat companies too. In the fact that as soon as businesses here the word “seo” they want nothing to do with you. This has happened to me… I have now started to tweak my sales technique to use different buzzwords to not scare away clients who now associate SEO with a negative connotation.

  2. I don’t know if that’s true necessarily. Everyone knows that you need SEO in order to build a successful website. On the other hand, it may be that those who engage in grey hat SEO are hurting more.

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