J.C. Penney has just been caught in the middle of a very ambitious search-engine manipulation scheme, and Google isn't thrilled to learn about this issue.
Google has just caught and cracked down on what is arguably one of the biggest attempts at manipulating the company's search engine rankings. While stories like this aren't uncommon when it comes to spam tactics from, say, certain dubious web games and the like, the accused party behind this scam might surprise you: It's retail giant J.C. Penney.
According to a recent New York Times article, suspicions were raised when it was revealed that J.C. Penney was the top result for a wide variety of searches that most people wouldn't necessarily associate with the company (examples include "dresses", "bedding", and "area rugs"). The Times asked online search expert Doug Pierce of Blue Fountain Media to help them figure out how this could be, and the man's answer was enough to upset Google it was forwarded to the company.
Pierce discovered that, when he searched for "dresses", there were over 2,000 sites listed that referenced dresses. However, many of these sites had nothing to do dresses, but they included text links to J.C. Penney. In fact, many of these sites were nothing but link farms.
The Times contacted Google with this information and wound up in an interview with Matt Cutts, the head of Google's webspam team. Cutts clearly wasn't happy about the issue, which was a clear violation of Google's advertising terms. Cutts also mentioned that jcpenney.com had previously violated Google's guidelines three times in the past (the most recent time being in November). Accordingly, Google took some pretty immediate action to correct the search engine manipulation:
On Wednesday evening, Google began what it calls a "manual action" against Penney, essentially demotions specifically aimed at the company.
At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for "Samsonite carry on luggage."
Two hours later, it was at No. 71.
At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Penney was No. 1 in searches for "living room furniture."
By 9 p.m., it had sunk to No. 68.
In other words, one moment Penney was the most visible online destination for living room furniture in the country.
The next it was essentially buried.
J.C. Penney, of course, isn't happy about this. The retail chain fired SearchDex, it's search engine consulting firm. A spokeswoman for the company denied any wrongdoing in the matter, and the company issued the following statement following Google's response: "We are disappointed that Google has reduced our rankings due to this matter, but we will continue to work actively to retain our high natural search position."
This is a very public black eye for J.C. Penney, but I can't exactly bring myself to feel sorry for the company when it was pretty obviously involved with something so shady.