netmeg - 2:25 pm on Feb 13, 2011 (gmt 0)
If I were with either JCPenney or the SEO firm, my Monday morning post mortem would be pretty positive.
For JCPenney, it was a calculated risk and they won big. They got Christmas. I've worked in one form or other of catalog sales and/or ecommerce since I'm 15 years old. Don't underestimate holiday sales for a big retailer (versus the rest of the year) They very well could have figured it was worth it to go for the holiday spike; even if they got shot down afterward, they still have months and months to come back. (And if G warned them three times but they never got permanently slammed, they could well have thought they could get away with it endlessly)
The SEO firm got outed as the one that brought them the success. In our world, what they did was "black hat" but in the retail world, they gained a competitive edge for their client during the most crucial time of year. Of course JCP had to fire them - "on paper". There are lots of ways to disguise a relationship, though, and the cynic in me wouldn't be at all surprised if they still end up working together. After all, taking the public fall doesn't hurt them much either.
The only thing they probably didn't count on was the NYT article, but when all is said and done, it's Google with the egg on their face. So JCP may have a more difficult time next Christmas trying the same idea. ("Don't make Google look stupid") JCP might have to get a little more creative this year. Don't think they won't try.