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JCPenney gets busted cheating Google

Published
today Feb 14, 2011
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JCPenney’s website has been caught by the New York Times. The paper describes the illegal tricks that the company was playing in order to get its name to show up at the top of Google’s search box.

The affair began when journalist David Segal remarked that JCPenney.com was constantly showing at the top or at least near to top if he typed in words like dresses, bedding, rugs, home decor, or even tablecloth and curtains. However, something did not make sense. Even though the American retailer is big, consisting of 1,100 stores, Segal noticed that even if you searched for a specific product, JCPenney would come before specialists in the sector. One day, on a search for a Samsonite carry on luggae, the journalist saw JCPenney’s name again on top of the list, before Samsonite’s own website. It was with the help of a specialist in online search that the evidence came to light: there was a cheat.

To understand what they did, one must know the way Google’s search engine works : in order to determine the importance of a website, Google uses more than a dozen criteria, one of which is the number of links that redirect people to your website. A high ranking in this category can be obtained if the brand company creates lots of other websites with the sole purpose of having links to its brands. However, these kind of optimisation techniques, which Google likes to call “black hat” optimisation, are of course considered to be cheating. In fact, BMW had already been caught doing something similar before, and the company had its website temporarily removed from Google. And JCPenney.com had around 2,015 pages redirecting to its website.

After verifying the evidence collected by the New York Times, Google said that it had already caught JCPenney.com cheating in the past, but never to this scale. When confronted with the evidence, the company accused its search engine consulting firm of having done this without their consent. Some specialists even think that Google might have been aware of what was happening, given that JCPenney spends millions a month on paid Google search ads.

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