Posted on October 25, 2012 in Search Engine Optimization, SEO by cmblogger
Want to know the differences between black hat and white hat SEO practices? Ask the marketing department at popular retailer JC Penney, who now are undoubtedly experts in the nuances of each. In early 2011, the New York Times published a lengthy article on the topic as it related to JC Penney’s mysterious presence at the #1 organic search spot on Google for seemingly thousands of popular keywords. At the time, reporter David Segal described typing in everything from relatively competitive terms like “casual dresses” and “bedding,” all the way to the extremely specific, “grommet top curtains” into the search engine, only to receive results with JC Penney at the top of the page. While JC Penney does in fact sell these products, it was noted within the article how the retailer bested sites that conventional wisdom would have suggested they wouldn’t. For example, JC Penney ranked #1 for the term “area rugs,” even ahead of a URL with the keyword in its title, arearugs.com. Confused, Segal approached both Google and several SEO consultants for their opinions on how the company could have possibly “won” so many keywords across hundreds of product areas. Unfortunately for JC Penney, the answer turned out to not only to illustrate what black hat marketing is all about, but to also mean serious consequences for their future on Google.
Black hat marketing is not illegal. However, as a set of techniques for gaming search engine results, it is frowned upon by Google et al., to the point that once the practice is detected, it can mean your company is banned from the search engines entirely. In JC Penney’s case, their marketing department swore complete ignorance to these devices being in place at all, but the proof, to their obvious dismay, was in the results. JC Penney links were attached to thousands of incongruous websites, seemingly without their linking partners knowledge. Links, for example, to the JC Penney dresses page were attached to mostly defunct websites devoted to various medical issues, cameras, dogs, glass shower doors, Adobe Flash, dentists and financial commodities. Without any real or current purpose to these URLs other than appearing to prop up the JC Penney links, they fell into the black hat linking category. The article uncovering the JC Penney SEO issues ran in February. By March, JC Penney had fired its marketing team, and sunk into the deep waters of the results pages’ triple digits.