Yesterday, the New York Times published an article exposing the black hat SEO tactics of J.C. Penney , explaining how jcpenney.com was able to obtain #1 organic search rankings (unpaid or natural search listings) for virtually everything the retailer sold including searches for "bedding" or "dresses" or "Area Rugs," and enjoyed near-the-top first page rankings for searches like "skinny jeans," "home decor," "furniture," "comforter sets" etc.
The New York Times looked into JC Penney's link profile and uncovered a massive web of thousands of pages of blog spam and paid links linking to the J.C. Penney website, rich with relevant, descriptive anchor text designed to fool Google’s ranking algorithms.
The New York Times presented their findings to Google. Googler Matt Cutts, head of SEO webspam, who confirmed that the tactics violated the Google webmaster guidelines  and shortly after, the J.C. Penney website was nowhere to be found for the queries they had previously ranked number one for. Matt tweeted  that "Google's algorithms had started to work; manual action also taken."
JC Penney reacted to the Google slap  by firing its SEO consulting firm, SearchDex.
Analysis of the JC Penney SEO Link-Farm Fiasco
- The fact that google failed to uncover a link-building scheme of this magnitude shows just how vulnerable Google search results are to rank-manpulation schemes.
- JC Penney and SearchDex were just too greedy! They were only caught because they deployed such an egregious use of black-hat SEO  techniques on such a massive scale, to the point where a New York Times reporter started snooping. It would be like ... over-stating your business expenses on a tax return by 10,000x and hoping to get away with it.
- Despite this high-profile bust, the probability of getting busted by the Google SEO Web Spam Cops remains incredibly low, while the benefits are incredibly high. In the article, Mr. Cutts emphasized that there are 200 million domain names to police and "Spammers never stop." Meanwhile, 34 percent of Google’s traffic goes to the No. 1 organic result. I'm only aware of one other high-profile SEO spam bust (BMW, a few years ago).
- Sell JCP stock (NYSE:JCP)! Seven percent of JCPenney.com’s traffic comes from clicks on organic search results – I'd expect that to fall dramatically. And fewer people finding JCP through Google searches is a sure bet they’ll see far fewer sales from SEO in Q1.
- If you're outed for spamming Google, it sure helps to be a big AdWords customer. Matt Cutts said in the interview that he'd "circle back" to the company to see if it was still breaking the rules, he said. Presumably they don't want any hurt-feelings from a company that spends $2.46 million a month on paid Google AdWords search ads!
So what do you think? Is Black Hat SEO worth the risk? Should we all be looking to retain SearchDex as our SEO consultants? Write your comments in the fields below.
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