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This 158 message thread spans 6 pages: < < 158 ( 1 2 3 [4] 5 6 > >     
NY Times Article on JC Penney Paid Links
tedster




msg:4266212
 7:56 pm on Feb 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

The New York Times has quite an article about white hat and black hat SEO - entitled "The Dirty Little Secrets of Search."

It seems that all through the holiday season, Penney's website was at the top for all kinds of retail searches, including single keywords like "dresses". Given the amount of competition for all these keywords. something smelled funny to the Times. So they brought in an SEO consultant firm, and they found a large number of backlinks, strewn around thousands of nearly abandoned websites. It sounds like many of these were on abandoned sites - and possibly were parasite hosted, though that is not clear from the article.

Last week, The Times sent Google the evidence it had collected about the links to JCPenney.com. Google promptly set up an interview with Matt Cutts... "I can confirm that this violates our guidelines," said Mr. Cutts during an hourlong interview on Wednesday, after looking at a list of paid links to JCPenney.com...

On Wednesday evening, Google began what it calls a "manual action" against Penney, essentially demotions specifically aimed at the company. At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for "Samsonite carry on luggage." Two hours later, it was at No. 71.

[nytimes.com...]


A Penney's spokesperson denied that they had authorized those links - and they fired their search consulting firm.

 

PayMePerClick




msg:4266827
 3:29 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

@pageoneresults

Was just going to say something exactly to this point. In order to get big issues addressed by Google, maybe we all need to start lobbying NYT and other major periodicals to write more articles about specific problems and examples. Get your PR teams ready!

bhartzer




msg:4266849
 4:01 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

Penalties are not permanent. They will be back by next holiday season. No skin off their backs.

Actually, I give it about a month, at best. JCP will be penalized, the will say they have cleaned up their site, they will somehow get some special treatment, and the site will be back in a month or so, maybe less.

There are plenty examples of how big brands have screwed up organic search, gotten penalized, supposedly cleaned up their act, and then (rather quickly) got back into the organic search results sans the penalty.

The problem I have here is that there appears to be favoritism when it comes to organic ranking penalties and recovering from them. Big, larger brands tend to recover from penalties a lot quicker than the average small business site.

tedster




msg:4266877
 4:44 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

I really doubt that JCP will regain rankings on those specific keywords, especially because the backlinks that fueled those rankings are disappearing at rapid pace. And Penney's doesn't seem to have lost branded search rankings at all, the way BMW did years ago.

Still, I do understand the feeling. It can seem like big brands get special treatment. That's because they are big brands, the kind of names many users are looking for. If the branded search doesn't show the company's website, then Google looks bad, not the big company.

This will be interesting to watch, if anyone cares to, because we all know a good sample of the keywords involved and the whole SEO world is watching.

bears5122




msg:4266947
 6:29 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

Agree with you Tedster that it does make them look bad if a big brand isn't available in a search. On the same note though, it makes them look like hypocrites when they claim that the guidelines apply to all sites the same. So I'm fine with them giving special treatment to big brands as long as they acknowledge that they do so.

The only reason JC Penny was hit and will likely continue to be punished is because this was an article in the New York Times. It's an article that made Google look vulnerable to a large number of people. Large companies in almost every major industry do this on a daily basis (buy links that is).

tedster




msg:4266952
 6:39 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

I don't think it's a case of big brands versus little guys. I'd say it's MANUAL analysis versus algorithms. The reason JC Penney was hit was that someone first did the manual analysis and then publicized it.

A lot of members here do manual analysis, too and we see paid links all the time. Some of them certainly do seem to be "working", just as others seem to be having no effect.

Google tries to handle paid links by algorithm so they can have a solution that scales. So far that looks like a fantasy. Even if Google catches 70% of all paid links (a generous estimate), penalizing some and merely negating the ranking effect of others, that still lets a big batch of paid links into their webgraph, passing on anchor text and PageRank. The paid links market has not dried up.

talismon




msg:4266960
 6:54 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

I'd say it's MANUAL analysis versus algorithms.
\

This is an important point, particularly with JCP. After they clean up and the penalty is MANUALLY lifted they come back and they will still partially reap the benefits of their paid link strategy, here's why:

Let's say they have 20k paid links from different networks. They are able to remove 80% of them (they couldn't get in touch with the other 20%). Google is not going to go and manually devalue those 4k links. A portion of those links will still count for them.

I saw this a few years ago with a site that had embedded links in a widget. Banned for one year, clean up and now they are dominating the results again. It's not all b/c of those spammy legacy links but they are certainly still helping.

mhansen




msg:4266977
 7:18 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

Until Goog finds an alternative to link popularity in the ranking mechanism, paid links (even as obvious as these were) will continue to work just fine. Otherwise, anyone can just fund the same type of scheme against their competition websites to rank well, then report them.

The penalty at this point is most definitely only manual (and not equally applied) as well... just visit some of the other sites buying links on the same pages as the JCP links. Many of them still rank very well... for anchors right next to the same ones JCP is being penalized for.

gford




msg:4266993
 8:01 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

I just see a lot of red flags from this whole episode.

1. Google says they never manually manipulate the ranks (for better or worse), but this just seems like a false statement (but maybe not, read on). If they manually de-value a sites rankings, there is no reason to think they dont manually increase the value of a client who spends 7 figures+ a month on adwords. We don't know if they manually dinked JCP as many state in this wonderful thread.

2. (see #4 before responding) This is soooo bringing back the google bombing potential. Albeit on a small scale. As some have said. Lets find someone ranking higher than us, send them all these "black hat" links then report them to the "spam police". Of course all companies will deny authorizing these types of links (just like JCP did) but hey, now your site will get manually dinked. Even though, as stated in #1, we are told rankings aren't manually adjusted.

3. The "we are really that good" scenario - Perhaps google did NOT manually dink JCP. Perhaps they are really that good and their new algorithm lowered JCP on it's own. It's a plausible scenario.

4. Now let us assume #3 is accurate and its truly an automated algorithm that has adjusted JCPs rankings. If one was to study the way JCP went from the pole position to 50+ on average, we could in theory apply these same type of links to a competitor and let the algorithm auto-magically lower our competitors rankings. Right?

5. FEAR -- Google loves loves loves this nyt article. They want all site owners to be quaking in their boots. But lets face it, most of the top ranking sites are BS web2.0 landing pages, or EMD's, and the like blasted to kingdom come with "black hat" back links even after this is done. They were yesterday, last week, last month, last year and so on.

And they will be tomorrow right next to the big SEO wallet sites buying links.

mhansen




msg:4267002
 8:19 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

We don't know if they manually dinked JCP as many state in this wonderful thread.


The manual penalty, or adjustment, was confirmed by Google and MC.

Referring to the convo with Matt Cutts...

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

And the company did. On Wednesday evening, Google began what it calls a “manual action” against Penney, essentially demotions specifically aimed at the company.


MH

ponyboy96




msg:4267006
 8:28 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

As some have mentioned on here before, the big thing that stands out to me here is not that JCP bought links, dominated the SRPs, and then got a penalty, it's the fact that NYT wrote an article about this and outed them. That in turn caused them a hit to their traffic and revenues. I smell a lawsuit here. Why of all people/companies is the NYT policing the search results and outing companies like this. What is their interest here? They didn't just do this an an expo piece I'm sure.

Paid links are just that, a risky SEO tactic. I'm sure JCP was informed of the risk before the campaign started. If not, then the SEO firm has some explaining to do.

gford




msg:4267007
 8:29 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks mhansen for pointing out the manual adjustment. I actually read that and forgot.

So it would seem "manual action" can therefore be applied as a "thank you" to well paying clients...?

tedster




msg:4267009
 8:42 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

The manual action Google toks could be manually marking those paid links as nofollow on Google's back end. Then there's no penalty, but no boost either. And there's no reason to give your competition a few weeks or months of improved traffic in that kind of situation.

-----

In my earlier comment about manual analysis, I meant the reason this happened is because an SEO consultant worked with the NYTimes - and he did the manual analysis. His manual work is what uncovered the pattern of paid links that had slipped right through Google's algorithm.

The manual action that Google then took was a different kind of "manual".

gford




msg:4267013
 8:53 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

hi Tedster -- this seems like the classic, lets use some putty to plug the leaky pipes, meanwhile 5 more holes appear. If this is the path G took than drop all those paid links and pick up another fresh batch! :)

natim




msg:4267016
 9:08 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

Does anyone have actual experience with recovery of a site that has incurred a -50 penalty. Steps taken and how long recovery took?

thiefware




msg:4267021
 9:32 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

Too late now that google removed the listings (or demoted them). JC Penney already benefitted from the black-hat tricks. I wouldn't be surprised that Penney had the whole thing planned to go this way from the beginning. They made their wind-fall online--holiday season is gone now. New trick to be installed for this year's coming holiday period.

Reno




msg:4267036
 10:06 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

They made their wind-fall online


And imagine what it would cost for an ad that's the size of the article in the New York Times! This was mostly win-win for JCP ; mostly lose-lose for Google.

"I don't care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right." ~ George M. Cohan

..............................

mhansen




msg:4267049
 10:23 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

This was mostly win-win for JCP ; mostly lose-lose for Google


Agree.

All I keep picturing is that old lady in the Chiffon Margarine commercials who used to say (you have to go back a few years for this one)

"Its Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature"

Planet13




msg:4267061
 10:52 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

Why of all people/companies is the NYT policing the search results and outing companies like this. What is their interest here?


There interest is to sell more newspapers / get more readers, so they can charge more for their subscriptions and charge more for their advertising space.

Although often accused of being a socialist front, the New York Times is definitely a celebration of capitalism. They exist for the sole purpose of making money, which is absolutely fine; they are a business, first and foremost, and making money is what a business is supposed to do.

I smell a lawsuit here.


Exactly who would sue whom?

JCP might have a case against the SEO company if they can prove that the SEO company did something that was explicitly forbidden in their contract.

I don't see how JCP could sue the NYT. The NYT basically said that JCP's rankings in google were suspiciously high in the google SERPs, and that some of their links were paid for, in violation of the google terms of service. This was confirmed by a google employee (Matt Cutts), and by a web publisher who acknowledges that we was remunerated for linking to JCP.

CainIV




msg:4267062
 10:53 pm on Feb 14, 2011 (gmt 0)

There are a number of other websites that are big name competing in all of the same spaces, doing much of the same things (like purchasing domains to "rebrand" as a specific relevant 'landing page' and sending nice links to their brand)

Seems like it takes knocking on a big scale to get noticed.

Eurydice




msg:4267110
 12:53 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

Yes, there are lawsuits.

1) JCP could sue the SEO company if the tricks were not disclosed. However, I doubt JCP didn't know.

2) The real lawsuit will come from investors. If you hold JCP stock and you find out the company did unethical things that caused your stock to fall, then you have a strong reason to sue the company.

The VPs who approved the deal with the SEO company will likely be fired. They'll never get a job at a major company again. Their careers are ruined.

Google will trace down all of the SEO company's clients and review them. If there are tricks, those too will lose ranking.

When revenues fall, many of the staffers at the SEO company will be fired.

bears5122




msg:4267125
 1:44 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

2) The real lawsuit will come from investors. If you hold JCP stock and you find out the company did unethical things that caused your stock to fall, then you have a strong reason to sue the company.

Google isn't the law. Just because they consider buying links to be unethical doesn't make it unethical. You can argue that their marketing team took unnecessary risks, but the same can be said anytime a company rolls out a controversial ad campaign.

Unethical to me is breaking a law of some sort or coming close to that. Breaking a search engine's TOS does not fall into that area.

wheel




msg:4267129
 1:52 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

heck yeah, give these folks a raise.

Lots of complaining from google. So what, Google's complaints don't pay the bills.

The only measure JCPeney et all cares about is the bottom line - and in this case it would seem they did very well indeed. They made lots of money - that's the success. Hurting Google's feelings as a result isn't something anyone's going to complain about around the boardroom table.

Oh my! We made 10 million, but broke Google's guidelines!

Robert Charlton




msg:4267135
 2:10 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

A short interview on Public Radio today with David Segal of the New York Times, who wrote the story. Fairly basic, but to the point. It includes a few details not mentioned (as I remember) in the article, like the number of pages linking to JC Penney's "dresses" page....

How JCPenney possibly rigged Google's search algorithm [marketplace.publicradio.org]
Marketplace
American Public Media
February 14, 2011

Also includes MP3 of the interview, and answers a question I'd raised earlier, which is how the story came to the NYT....

From the interview transcript...
Ryssdal: Not that this was any of my business, but were you just randomly searching for dresses and bed linens on Google one day and noticed that everything was coming up JCPenney?

Segal: No, a reader noticed. A reader who is in the retail business, although not in a field that is a competitor to JCPenney. He actually makes signs, of all things, and just had taken an interest in the world of search engine optimization and had noticed there were three to four of these anomalous results....

Olney




msg:4267138
 2:19 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

The VPs who approved the deal with the SEO company will likely be fired. They'll never get a job at a major company again. Their careers are ruined.

Google will trace down all of the SEO company's clients and review them. If there are tricks, those too will lose ranking.

When revenues fall, many of the staffers at the SEO company will be fired.


This sounds like a TV show. A brand like JC Penny most likely hired a larger Global SEO company. They loose & win clients all the time.

People who approved the SEO company may not even be in the same position as when the contracts were signed SEO is usually longterm.

SEO companys don't disclose their clients to Google.

But on the other hand how many companys reading this will be massively buying bad links for their competitors? What if NYT parent company owns stock in a JCP competitor & they knew their Christmas sales were affected?

crobb305




msg:4267146
 3:18 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

SEO companies don't disclose their clients to Google.


It was mentioned earlier (by Jonathan on page 2 of this thread) that this particular SEO company had a client list/portfolio on their website (which has since been taken down). As foolish as that was to do, the client list out there, cached/archived.

JohnRoy




msg:4267158
 4:14 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

The real lawsuit will come from investors. If you hold JCP stock and you find out the company did unethical things that caused your stock to fall, then you have a strong reason to sue the company.
1) JCP is not an online based business.
2) Organic search is not the only venue for online success.

JohnRoy




msg:4267162
 4:17 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

JC Penney Fires Back at Google and New York Times Over SEO Controversy
[pcmag.com...]
What flashed while reading, was how this PC Magazine writer is far from the issue being described.
Using a well-known trick called "black hat"optimization

JohnRoy




msg:4267163
 4:23 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

SearchDex Code of Ethics
[searchdex.com...]
  • SearchDex Pledge to the Search Engines

    SearchDex does not engage in or do business with companies that engage in any tactics that may cause a loss in effectiveness of search results, or in any methods that may cause a negative effect on search engine operations.

  • SearchDex Response to Google Quality Guidelines
    [searchdex.com...]

  • nuthin




    msg:4267209
     7:33 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

    That made me laugh.

    That code of ethics is nonsense and simply says they can do whatever they want as the site has content which is related to the users query, so in theory it isn't a negative effect for 'search engines' if the user is returned to a site with related information on a product/service.

    It's how they do it which isn't ethical and funny as they contradict themselves with having those 2 pages. Very hypocritical. :d

    Thanks for the daily dose of laughter JohnRoy.

    driller41




    msg:4267238
     9:18 am on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

    All this means is that rather have Amazon at the top for a term JC got a slice of the cake, good on them.

    indyank




    msg:4267307
     12:47 pm on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

    This issue gets more "interesting" with JCpenny's strong denial ([searchmarketingwisdom.com ]) and a denial to JCP's accusations(find below) by the one that claims it was not "hired" by NYT - [bluefountainmedia.com...]

    The New York Times failed miserably in neglecting to disclose that it hired a competitor to the search firm working with us and used that competitor firm as the primary source, as well as in its description of our business...

    This 158 message thread spans 6 pages: < < 158 ( 1 2 3 [4] 5 6 > >
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