You can fool some of the people some of the time….

But doing so could get you reported to Google.

One company is finding this out the hard way. In a recent article by the New York Times, it seems the website of one of the longest standing department stores in the country, JCPenney, is under fire for black hat SEO tactics in their backlink acquisition.

Reportedly, was ranking consistently for extremely broad searches during the holiday season such as “dresses” and “furniture” and even outranking Samsonite for “Samsonite carry on luggage”. Generally, a large and popular site would not be under scrutiny for ranking for a variety of terms, but the consistent top placement for such broad categories is what sent a red flag to a noted Internet marketing specialist . Further research using backlink checking tools showed a ton of the links pointing to the site were from poor quality websites, as well as “portal” or “gateway” websites that were soley keyword focused, and then redirected to the corresponding page (such as the “dresses” section). Google was then alerted of these Black Hat tactics set off by JCPenney’s online marketing team. Google is now “taking action” which likely will result in an algorithm change that could impact the way Google views links all together.

So what is Black Hat?

black hat tactics

In the world of technology, Black Hat refers to computer hackers that are able to break into computer systems with malicious intent. In the world of SEO, Black Hat (also known as spamdexing ) is used to describe Search Engine Optimization tactics that are deemed “spammy” and for the sole purpose of tricking the Search Engines to believing the site is more authoritative, thereby creating higher rankings in the Search Engines. Basically “cheating.” Such tactics include content spinning, hidden links, mirrored websites, keyword stuffing and in this case with JC Penney, link farming. Black Hat tactics, when caught, are generally penalized by search engines and the sites using them can be banned from Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) all together. (Image Source: Article Layers)



Google Doesn’t Like Smoke And Mirrors

Google doesn't li ke smoke and mirrors

In short, search engines such as Google do not like to be fooled. Their whole business model is based on the relevancy of a user finding what they are looking for and when you try to circumvent that outside of Google’s suggested practices, they get pretty peeved. Taken from the NYTimes article: “Exploiting those hovels for links is a Google no-no. The company’s guidelines warn against using tricks to improve search engine rankings, including what it refers to as “link schemes.” The penalty for getting caught is a pair of virtual concrete shoes: the company sinks in Google’s results.”





I personally have seen this happen firsthand to websites that have deplored such tactics. Pointing an enormous amount of bogus links to a website sends rankings up temporarily, but it also sends up a red flag to Google.  If further research proves that they are indeed bogus, you get dinged and rankings will decrease dramatically. It’s a fickle game because sometimes Black Hat practitioners get away with it. But when you get caught, there is often a harsh sentence which may include the Google Death Penalty – Your listing will not appear in Google search results. This can be disastrous for businesses, considering Google houses more than 60% of the total online search queries.

Doug Pierce, an Internet marketing specialist contracted by NYTimes: ““Actually, it’s the most ambitious attempt I’ve ever heard of,” he said. “This whole thing just blew me away. Especially for such a major brand. You’d think they would have people around them that would know better.”

Recently Darcie Brossart, a representative from JCPenney, issued a statement claiming that they were unaware of the bad links, and subsequently have fired their search marketing firm allegedly responsible.

What Is In Store for JCP?

It’s hard to say right now how this will pan out, but it is noted by Google guru Matt Cutts, that “corrective action” will be taken against the retail giant., the german website for BMW, felt the wrath of Google in 2006 for a similar incident to JCPenney, however the harsh “death penalty” of removing JCP all together from the  SERPs may not be implemented. In any case, this incident is a wise lesson to be learned by both small and large companies to stay clear from such techniques to increase rankings. Be an SEO hero and wear the White Hat. Read the full story here.


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