Seven Things You Can Learn From the JCPenney SEO Saga

Incurring penalties or getting banned by Google can happen to anyone, as this case with retailer JCPenney proves, we all have to be careful

Being penalized or banned by Google seems like an urban myth to most companies, something that happens to other businesses but here is a case study demonstrating the consequences of incurring Google’s wrath.

We have written previously about being penalized or banned by Google if you use black hat SEO techniques and the red flags to look for when hiring an SEO company but JCPenney shows the real-life consequences when the New York Times discovered the retail powerhouse in the United States was using link farms to artificially boost their Search Engine rankings.

Seven things you can learn from JCPenney’s SEO mistakes

Backlinks are a strong signal for ranking

The JCPenney case study shows that backlinks are a very strong signal when it comes to search engine algorithms. A high-ranking website typically consists of four main elements; researching and targeting the best keyword phrases; a search-engine-friendly website infrastructure, fresh and original content and a strong link-building strategy. The importance of white hat SEO link-building activities in improving your organic rankings cannot be ignored.

Only link to relevant, trustworthy websites with link authority

In principle, JCPenney’s SEO company activities were sound but where it crossed over into the murky depths of black hat SEO and violated Google’s guidelines and risked being banned from Google was when they were found to be using link farms to artificially boost JC Penney’s search engine rankings for relevant keywords. Link profiles should be built up naturally over time with backlinks from websites that are relevant, trustworthy and authoritative.

Don’t underestimate the power of anchor text

Another reason the retail giant became unstuck was the use of ‘too good to be true’ descriptive anchor text in backlinks. Anchor text is the actual text part of a link (usually underlined) and is used by search engines as a ranking factor – effective use of anchor text involves using carefully chosen and varied targeted keyword phrases.  Building thousands of backlinks with the same keyword in a short amount of time is likely to get you blacklisted by Google but the JCPenney fiasco does show us the weight of using keyword-rich anchor text in Google’s algorithms.

Expand your keyword portfolio

JCPenney caught the New York Time’s attention because they were ranking highly for a multitude of keyword searches according to the article such as ‘skinny jeans’, ‘home decor,’ ‘comforter sets,’ ‘furniture’ and dozens of other keywords and phrases. Although JCPenney’s practices are not encouraged, it shows the importance of increasing a keyword portfolio to include a variety of keyword phrases relevant to your business.

You will get caught … eventually

There are unethical SEO companies who are practising black hat SEO strategies and can give you a quick leg up on the Google ladder. However, as JCPenney publically and painfully learned, the penalties issued by Google can be quite swift. It wasn’t anywhere as drastic as when was banned by Google from its index for including doorway pages on its website but JCPenney’s rankings dropped as many as 70+ rankings for certain keywords in just a few hours.

Choose an SEO company wisely

JCPenney’s epic ‘fail’ more than ever highlights the importance of working closely with an ethical SEO company that is open, honest and transparent about the techniques they use to achieve SEO results. Online marketing teams need to have at least a basic understanding of SEO to be able to ask their prospective SEO agency-educated questions about their approach to link building, keyword selection, if they outsource their SEO activities to a third-party vendor and other relevant questions.

Keep your eye on the SEO ball

Once you have chosen an SEO company that you think meets your criteria, the JCPenney SEO debacle shows that SEO marketing is not a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. Most Internet marketing teams outsource their SEO but they still need to be constantly diligent and aware of the SEO strategies being carried out, have regular discussions with your SEO agency and play an active role in not only selecting an SEO consultancy but management of the relationship.

Contact us if you want to hire an ethical SEO company that uses white hat SEO strategies and plays by the search engine rules, has proven experience in increasing companies’ organic search results and growing online revenues for small, medium and large businesses. JCPenney’s SEO debacle serves as a timely reminder that there are no shortcuts to SEO and if Google’s guidelines are violated, your website will be penalized or even banned by Google.