JC Penny - SEO Scandel

JC Penny SEO Scandal Exposed

On February 12th, 2011, David Segal of the New York Times, broke the story The Dirty Little Secrets of Search.  David worked with SEO Expert Doug Pierce of Blue Fountain Media.  What they found is shaking the foundation of the search engine marketing world and very quickly even further dividing the line between “Black Hat” and “White Hat” SEO practitioners, not to mention flat out embarrassing Google to the core.  The way the story reads is that JC Penny hired an SEO firm who then allegedly performed a big SEO “no-no”. 

According to the New York Times, JC Penny, hired the SEO firm SearchDex who then proceeded to “buy” links on JC Penny’s behalf.  That is a cardinal sin in SEO according to many previous interviews with Matt Cutts, Google’s chief search and anti-spam cop.  Here is a quick video from over 3 years ago, illustrating Google’s policy on buying links way back when:


The New York Times got Matt’s take on the whole JC Penny Scandal.  Matt was visibly upset that it took a media icon like the New York Times working with an SEO expert to expose this scenario.  He towed the company line though and did his best to reassure the rest of the search engine world that Google is working hard to prevent situations like this from occurring.  He was quick to remind us all of the fact that the internet is enormous and policing it is not an easy job.  In fact in my opinion, Google and Matt get a pass on this one. 

“For those that think Matt’s response was ‘canned’ or very ‘corporate’…well of course it was!  Did you honestly expect anything else?  Google is trying very hard to preserve it’s ‘Fair and Impartial’ perception to the world.  Having Matt go off about this and permanently banning JC Penny would not quite send that message would it? ”

I prefer to take issue with JC Penny.  They have promptly fired SearchDex, claiming they had no direct knowledge of the link buying campaign.  Ok so what?  They are not guilty, just incompetent?  Which is it?  There is no way you can justify not being one or the other.  JC Penny either had direct knowledge of the link buying scheme or they are totally incompetent marketers and executives who cannot manage a contractor properly.

“Simply claiming you knew nothing about the link building scheme and promptly firing your SEO contractor does not relinquish your responsibility to know what your employees and your contractors are doing on your behalf.”

In the end, JC Penny had a responsibility to KNOW what their contractor was up to prior to the New York Times exposing this scandal.  A very quick and superficial check of SearchDex reveals the following items:

URL: http://www.searchdex.com/
Title: SearchDex – Search Marketing Company – Software & Service
Meta keywords:  None
Meta description:  None
Internal links: 28 (0 nofollow)
External links: 2 (0 nofollow)
Server: Apache/2.2.4 (Unix) mod_ssl/2.2.4 OpenSSL/0.9.7a PHP/5.2.1
Links to Domain:  163
Google Indexed Pages:  51
PageRank:  2
Last Site Update:  July 14, 2008

I found all of this information within 4 minutes, so any SEO worth their salt can see that this site has been around since 2001 and was updated pretty regularly until 2008.  But since then has not been updated at all.  You can also see that with only 163 incoming links, they certainly are not practicing what they preach about internet marketing.  They also only rank for only one of the two search terms that their web site is optimized for as it relates to internet marketing.  You do not have to be an SEO expert to see that they probably are not the horse you want to ride.  You do have to know a little bit about SEO and the SEO process to see these things and that’s were JC Penny had an obligation to make sure they hired a quality contractor to perform this work.  So who was the executive that hired them and exactly what process did they go through to qualify this firm?  This is where they failed miserably in my opinion. 

“The only other scenario is that JC Penny ‘used’ SearchDex as a patsy.  By that I mean that they hired SearchDex and told them to buy links for them and then through plausible deniability at the highest levels, promptly fired the so called ‘dirty’ SEO firm.”

Either way, looks like we may never know the real deal.  SearchDex has remained quiet (as of the time that this post was written) and is not saying one way or another whether or not JC Penny had knowledge of the link building techniques being used.  So we are left in the dark and JC Penny gets a slap on the wrist.  The rest of us go back to work and see if we can’t make a difference in this wonderful world of Search Engine Marketing.

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Who is king of search engines?

Google is arguably the #1 Search Engine in the World.

There are literally hundreds of Search Engine web sites out there.  Arguably, Google, Yahoo and Bing claim the top 3 spots.  So the question for internet marketers becomes, “who should I optimize my site for?”  Of the 3 top Search Engines, Google continues to own the lion’s share of internet searches.  There are thousands of web sites and statistics you can dig up to read more about the Google domination in the search engine world…just “Google it”.  Google is the #1 search engine in the world and with their other divisions (mobile search, Chrome and Android) exploding onto the scene in 2010 and 2011, Google is poised to be the next giant.  They are not without controversy though, from allegations of manipulating search results to unfairly penalizing or banning “innocent” web site owners, Google is constantly under attack from consumers and competitors alike.

“The rise of Google seems very familiar to me.  The love / hate relationship they have with consumers is very reminiscent of Microsoft prior to the monopoly law suit and trial.  Since that trial, we have not heard a whole heck of a lot from Microsoft or Bill Gates.”

Will the government step in with Google like they did with Microsoft?  Time will only tell.  One thing for sure, they drive the search market right now.  Business owners who hope to be found on the internet either follow their rules or suffer the loss of traffic that Google can bring them.  Love them or hate them, Google is still on top! 

As an SEO Services provider, it makes no difference to us who is on top as far as the search engines go.  Whether it’s Google, Yahoo or Bing, we will simply make adjustments to optimize sites for our customers that get the results on the top search engine…PERIOD.  That’s our job.  We are a small “boutique” firm that cannot afford to fight the fight against Google, nor would we want to.  Our job is to optimize for the top Search Engine and ALL of the search engines to benefit our clients.  We would do the same for Bing or Yahoo (or any number of other search engines) if they find themselves on top.

“There are many SEO’s out there that spend their day’s blogging about the unfairness of Google and how they change their algorithms to often and without warning. “

What they really mean by that is that they were not really optimizing the clients site under a truly “white hat” strategy.  They were probably using “gray” or even “black hat” strategies that Google caught up with.  That’s why selecting an Organic Search Engine Optimization company that truly understands internet marketing and the search engines, is your best bet to have success with your internet marketing strategy.  The search engines are just trying to give their customers (the people performing the searches) the best possible user experience.  Understanding that philosophy, is the key to developing a natural search engine and internet marketing strategy.

Image Source:  Geeky Gadgets

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google vs bing

Search Engine Wars

There has been a lot of press the last two days about Bing using Google results to rank their own search results and the reported sting operation by Google to catch them.  Search Engine Land first broke this story on February 1stGoogle’s official Blog post  also detailed the sting operation complete with screen shots and all the documentation that goes along with a well orchestrated corporate spy mission (on both sides).  Bing then responded multiple times and was reported here by ZD Net.

So what’s the gist of the story?  Supposedly (or allegedly depending on how you look at it), Bing, owned by Microsoft, was using click-through data collected through their IE toolbar to help rank web sites in their algorithm. 

“This is nothing new folks!  Google and Yahoo do the exact same thing.  I think the difference may be in how much weight Bing assigned to the data collected versus the other factors that are supposed to be used to rank web sites.”

In other words, they manipulated the results to be more in line with Google results based solely on click-through data collected by their tool bar agent.

What does this mean to you the user and average searcher?  Not a whole heck of a lot.  Basically Google will use this discovery to propagate their position that Bing is not playing fairly and Bing will say they are only doing what the other Search Engines do and that Google is making a spectacle out of a common practice.  In the end, Google is the King of the search realm.  They have been for some time.  The problem with that is that every second place and third place competitor is going to try and knock them off that thrown.  That’s their job.  What’s Bing supposed to do?  Sit back and say…”meh, 3rd place is good enough for us, let’s not try and improve our results”.  Come on Google, you know when you’re #1, everyone wants to take you out, get used to it, I’m sure it won’t be the last time someone try’s to gain an edge on you.

“For the record, all of the Search Engines collect and use data through their own custom add on tool bars and browsers.  Remember, NOTHING in this life is free.”

Image Source:  SEO Lair

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