JC Penney Busted for Paid Links

The New York Times recently exposed JC Penney for using paid links to gain top rankings in hundreds of keywords. In the NYT article, Dirty Little Secrets of Search, JC Penney was revealed to have used thousands of paid links from unrelated sites, each tarted at different sets of keywords.

Matt Cutts from Google was interviewed in the story saying,

“I can confirm that this violates our guidelines.”

“Am I happy this happened?” he later asked. “Absolutely not. Is Google going to take strong corrective action? We absolutely will.”

We’ve discussed before the danger of paid links, and JC Penney now provides us with a stellar and high-profile example. While they didn’t receive the harshest possible punishment — being banned from search engine results entirely can happen — they saw all those page one and number one ranks fall off to page 5, or page 8, or page 10, across all those dozens and hundreds of top organic search results.

JC Penney claimed that they didn’t know, nor did they approve of these actions and they promptly fired their SEO firm and are now working to get those paid links removed. But Doug Pierce, who was also quoted in the NYT article, notes that JC Penney has other shady SEO practices, including doorway pages and blatant (and hidden) keyword stuffing.

As always, while the shortcuts to rankings often fail, they can also work well… for a while. But when Google notices you fall hard.

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