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Three months after Google took action against JC Penney for their black hat tactics, the retail giant looks to be on the road to online recovery.
What happened 90 days ago? Well, JC Penney felt the wrath of Google when a New York Times article reported that the retailer was using paid links to gain rankings on Google’s SERPs. Google responded to these black hat tactics by removing the retailer from its results for many short and long tail phrases and keywords.
Koozai reported on the story back in February [See: Looking for a Black Hat? Good luck finding one at JC Penney], indicating that Google stood firm on their SEO ethics and what they constitute as legally and illegally optimising a website. In this respect they felt that JC Penney were deliberately flouting their rules, and as such were guilty of ‘gaming the system’. A penalty followed whereby JC Penney plummeted in Google’s rankings for the terms they were found to have gained an unfair advantage for, such as ‘dresses’, ‘bedding’ and ‘area rugs’.
Life after a Penalty
Now, according to sources, the company look to have bounced back, with strong rankings again for a wide variety of terms. For example, JC Penney ranked 1st for the term ‘Samsonite Carry on luggage’ beating the official Samsonite website when they were using paid links. Thanks to the penalty, they dropped to number 71 for this term.
However for terms such as ‘dresses’, ‘bedding’ and ‘area rugs’, JCP have returned to page two of Google’s SERPs, and they are even featuring on page one for other originally penalised terms, such as ‘skinny jeans’, and ‘living room furniture’.
All of this has been confirmed by both SEO Clarity and Searchmetrics who have been tracking keywords related to JC Penney. SEO Clarity suggest that in the last couple of weeks they have jumped from 24 keywords in the top ten result pages to 899 keywords. This restoration is seconded by the findings of Searchmetrics who state that according to their ‘Organic Performance Index’, they have seen ‘a significant increase in visibility’.
It would appear that the immediate return to the top pages would be slightly unfair, particularly given that they were ranking highly in the first place by breaking the rules. A return to the top after 90 days, despite Search Engine Land indicating that JC Penney’s website is incredibly SEO unfriendly, is strange.
In the aftermath of the penalty, the retailer split ties with their online marketing company and set about removing any illegal activity they were benefiting from, including inbound links. The website also suffers from poor title tags, old and long URLs as well as whole host of other SEO faux pas. It is believed though that when Google next crawl and index pages, their initial high rankings after restoration will drop accordingly.
Now considering JC Penney announced a increase in first quarter earnings of 6.7% in 2011, would it be fair to suggest this penalty was irrelevant and had a minimal impact? Well possibly, particularly as many retailers generate revenue through traditional avenues and from repeat business; however, the more spontaneous custom, much of which could come through search, will have been lost – although measuring this poses a distinct challenge.
Could they have made more if they were still on top of Google? Probably. Have they failed miserably as a result of losing their rankings? Certainly not.
What we do know is that thanks to the New York Times notifying Google of their original investigation, Google acted accordingly and punished the retailer. What this shows is that – for JC Penney at least – if you don’t play by the rules you will be penalised for a period; after which it’s as you were. Ultimately though, there is life after a Google punishment.