BrightHaus Digital Marketing Agency

How to Avoid Google SEO Penalties: Following JC Penny and Black Hat Search Optimization

February 14, 2011

The whistle’s been blown on JC Penny, which apparently has a guerrilla SEO team working under management’s radar using classic black hat SEO tactics to maintain their top positions in Google’s search engine results page rankings. On February 13, the New York Times opened up this rather large can of worms with a lengthy article focused on how the company had been spamming Google for months so that it would consistently land right at the top of Google’s search results.

What Black Hat SEO did JC Penny get away with?

What exactly did JC Penny do that Google apparently ate up like a favorite dessert? Whatever agency they have or in-house SEO team they compensate created thousands of pages with top-searched keywords (such as “winter boots”) all over them and directly linked them to the JC Penny website. But what’s the problem with that?

Every one of those wonderful little pages was fake.

Google, along with the other search engines for which websites fight for attention, assumes that if a website is popular, it must be useful. And of course, when Google thinks that people are using a site and it appears worthy, it’s going to shoot up those results pages. There is a spokesperson who has denied that the company knew what was going on with this black hat search engine campaign tactic. True? Maybe.

What’s the Big Deal? Companies try Black Hat SEO constantly…

There are hundreds of black hat SEO tactics that are no-no’s in the world of search engine optimization, but what is really newsworthy is not the fact that JC Penny’s SEO team duped Google with black hat; it’s the fact that it was done using one of the oldest, most “classic” tactics in the book. This kind of black hat SEO has been around almost as long as Google itself.

If that wasn’t worthy of an eyebrow raise, here’s something that is: Google let JC Penny get away with it for months, and until the New York Times put it all out in front of Google, did nothing about it. The head of Google’s anti-spam department had told the New York Times that the world’s most popular search engine had caught wind of many previous efforts by Penney, the most recent of which was just this past November. Google never put it on their calendar, apparently, to circle back and see if the black hat SEO tactics were still being used or not. No one ever checked to see if the rules were still being broken. It wasn’t until last week that the gamed results were manually demoted by Google.

What does this all mean for other Companies and their SEO Campaigns?

The current SEO buzz now begs the question, “If Google let a mega site like JC Penny get away with this, and if Google was ‘unaware’ of what was going on, is it possible for it to even catch thousands of other smaller sites that may be doing the same thing?”

Keeping your SEO Campaign Tactics Clean and doing it Right

With Google being on the defensive ever since the search engine’s usefulness had been questioned by articles appearing in several different publications early this year, the search engine giant has been trying to deflect attention from accusations that Bing was cribbing from Google search results. But Google’s little spam problems are not fading from the spotlight:

A study that was done recently by Experian Hitwise recently revealed that more than 35% of Google searches display results in the leading SERPs that are so bad that users don’t ever click on a single one of them. Where do those garbage results come from then? How do they manage to reach the top of Google?

Whatever the answer is, however the SEO teams of those websites are doing it, you can bet at some point it’s all going to come crashing down, just as it has with JC Penny. Whether or not corporate management is aware of any black hat SEO that is going on doesn’t make a difference. It’s a classic lesson that people just don’t seem to really ever learn: You play with fire, you’re gonna get burned. Maybe not today, maybe not next month, but it’s going to happen, whether you are a billion dollar merchant or a tiny eggshell in the omelet of eCommerce.

This all is precisely why it is critical that search engine optimization teams work to build natural, organic and viral links and that they NOT pay for links. Sure, the organic and viral links take more effort, more time and more work, but paying for links (although in itself is only considered to be “grey hat” with SEO) can quickly get out of control like a bad habit, becoming a runaway train that eventually derails.

The Judgment stands that the Best Links are not Paid Links; the Best are those that are earned.

Google and every other search engine out there use hyperlinks to determine a site’s popularity and reputation. Organic links are like votes, given by choice. Paid links muddle the quality of a site’s link-based reputation and makes it pretty challenging for search engines to present relevant results on the SERPs. It makes it difficult to determine which links can be trusted and which can’t.

Link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking on the search engine results pages have always been and still are considered to be outside of quality SEO guidelines. It’s that simple. Your paid links are going to be the house of straw that the three little pigs built, while your earned, viral, organic and natural links in your SEO campaign are going to be the house of bricks that stands solid with the search engines.