J.C. Penny Pays The Price Of Using Black Hat SEO Techniques

>I just finished reading a fascinating article in the New York Times about Black Hat SEO techniques. These Black Hat techniques were used by J.C. Pennys during the holidays to secure top SERP on Google for hundreds of phenomenal keywords. It made them millions but may be costing them more today.

David Segal writes extensively about paid links. Buying links is a dicey game in which I don’t particularly care to participate. It is essentially the ultimate SEO gamble of high risk/high reward. The benefit of buying these links is that with enough good anchor links for relevant keywords your site will get bumped up in the search results on Google, Yahoo, etc. The risk is that Google does not allow it and if caught, your company could be toast.

According to this article J.C. Penny is a company that is currently paying for its sins. Once alerted, Google squashed their results from the top to way down the line. In my opinion, Google didn’t do enough. BMW got busted for Black Hat SEO and Google de-indexed their website completely. That has been the most common punishment I have come across from Google. In this case, Google left J.C. Penny online but pushed them further back down the results. The article points out that Penny is a repeat offender which begs the question as to why they weren’t blacklisted at least temporarily.

The author points to an article in Advertising Age that lists J.C. Penny as one of Google’s biggest pay-per-click clients. According the records, J.C. Penny spent $2.46 million on PPC with Google. The European Union is currently investigating this and whether Google favors larger advertisers. I don’t know whether they do or don’t, but it is tough to justify anything but blacklisting J.C. Penny for what they did. Punishing J.C. Penny simply by pushing their SERP from 1st to 7th for keyword “comforter settings” is really a slap in the face to the thousands of SEO agencies that work hard to do it right.

Of course J.C. Penny plead ignorance and fired their SEO company once the jig was up. J.C. Penny told the NY Times that they didn’t get that big of a bump from the top spots. I call bull on that one. Of course they will downplay it in order to avoid a harsher punishment. Yet the bottom line is that when a company owns the top spot for hundreds of keywords getting over 10 million searches a month you better believe they are cashing in. Talk about a gold mine!

The important lesson here is that you should really make sure you know everything that your SEO company is doing for you. At the end of the day any damage done to your website will be paid for by your company. The SEO agency will walk away disappointed they lost a client and go back to work on their next ten. At that point you are screwed and if you rely strictly on online business then you are in even bigger trouble.

I always tell my clients it is better to get steady results as opposed to fast results. The best results are organic SEO results. There are dozens of ways to achieve these results naturally and without penalty. It is important to review the SEO techniques of the agency you have hired so you know exactly what is going on with your website from month to month. Unfortunately like in every business there are good and bad SEO agencies. The bad will promise you fast results but the cost of those results could be your business.

The one thing I find a bit strange about Google’s position on paid links is that they index websites offering to buy and sell links. These are not just a few websites operating in someone’s living room, this is big business. If Google really wants to take a hard stance on this kind of technique, well then blacklist and de-index those websites. For every one of me there are probably dozens of small business owners that do not know the difference, search around for buying links, proceed, and get busted with no knowledge of the policies. Ignorance is not always a defense but it is like a cop handing you a drug and then handcuffing you for buying drugs.

Just remember if it is too good to be true than well, something is wrong. If all of the sudden you see your website overnight shoot up from the 150th page on Google results to the first or second page, start asking questions. Ask to review the entire course of action and strategy for your SEO campaign. Maybe you found a genius but chances are that you are walking into a danger zone and it is best to stay on top of things before it is too late.

Read the article in the New York Times.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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Welcome to the Camel Clutch Blog. The CCB was born in 2007 and features blogs from over 50 different writers. Articles from the Camel Clutch Blog have been featured by some of the world's most respected websites including;,, Yahoo News, Business Insider, MSNBC,, and more.

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