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Jc Penny's Debacle...anyone See It In The Nytimes..


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16 replies to this topic

#1 DJKay

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 12:18 PM

Hi,

By now you must have seen the article in the New York Times....The Dirty Little Secrets of Search..http
://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business...l?pagewanted=1

Jill's been on the topic of search engine spam for a while now...we all know it happens...some of us partake in it....anyway...thought I would post it in the pub...

DJKay

#2 Jill

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 12:50 PM

Yes, interesting how when I talk about it, nothing happens. (JCPenney was a site I was talking about in my last newsletter.) But when NYT does, Google is forced to react.

Make no mistake, it's doubtful that anything would have happened to JCPenney if it was not publicized so widely.

#3 Michael Martinez

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 12:54 PM

Yeah. I think the story has been overblown and people are making too many assumptions as the discussion unfolds.

What seems clear is that JC Penney hired a company that created a coupon site that looks and acts like a doorway.

It's also clear that the New York Times' SEO friend found some very spammy links and outed a link seller or broker.

JC Penney denied all knowledge of the spammy links and fired its SEO firm.

The NYT reporter told Public Radio yesterday that Google was manually penalizing JCP for a number of query terms.

I have confirmed that JCP still ranks first or well for queries that start with "JC Penney" such as "JC Penney dresses", etc. These appear to be high traffic queries.

Whether Penney knew about the spammy links is anyone's guess. Some people have argued that they must have known because there would have been a line item in the contract but that's not necessarily true. In fact, forum profile links can be had for the thousands for less than $200.

In looking at JCP's backlink profile, I find it unlikely that they were benefitting that much from the spammy links. If all Google had to do was devalue the links, that should have negated the need for manually penalizing some high visibility queries.

If most of JCP's search traffic has been untouched, then probably their revenues are not hurting so much either.


This all seems much ado over nothing, in my opinion.

#4 DJKay

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 01:13 PM

Well...I think is wild that now the main stream media and business is now up in arms about this...I heard about it when I was in my meeting weekly meeting with IT in regards to all things SEO/SEM..and right after I finished up talking about our latest GA implementation..I heard..."did you hear about JC Penny's" and it dominated the conversation for 10 minutes of a 20 minute meeting...

And yes Jill, it sucks that you did not get credit for bringing this up...you have been talking about this for a long time...I finished reading the article over lunch...I agree, I don't think they will get punished like BMW...Google may use this as a cautionary tale of sorts...but then again...not really..JC Penny spends alot of money with them...

It will be interesting to see what happens with the EU proceedings...DJKay

#5 ScottSalwolke

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 12:36 PM

It will be interesting to see what financial impact this has on JC Penney and how long it will take them to recover. Either way they look bad in this. Either they were complicit in this or they simply turned over their entire site to an agency without monitoring them which means they look like idiots. I think a lot of people became aware of this because of Jill's article even if she didn't name them. I know I was one of them who typed in the search terms she referenced to see which company came up.

#6 Michael Martinez

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 01:16 PM

To me it seems that Google was the big loser in this debacle. Their reputation seems to have been further tarnished at a time when it was already suffering over the quality of their search results.

Of course, the SEO industry doesn't exactly smell like roses in this, either. A lot of nonsense is being published in the mainstream media. PC World, for example, says that JCP's SEO firm was "link farming" -- which is not the case, at least not based on what I have seen. The PC World writer -- Robert Cringely -- seems to have grabbed a sexy term that he thought applied to the situation and threw it into his copy.

And while he tried to be even-handed with his comments about SEO, he still cast us in a bad light:
QUOTE
Hey, everybody does SEO, or tries to, InfoWorld included. There are perfectly legitimate things you can do to make your site more Google-friendly. On the other hand, many SEO "pros" are the cockroaches of the Internet -- turn the light on them and they all scatter.


Well, this is what happens in an industry that has no standards (and I'm NOT talking about certification). If the SEO industry adopted standards for "best practices", SEO clients would have better yard sticks by which to measure their appointed search representatives' activities. And those standards would help promote better communication and more transparency between SEO service providers and clients.

Standards would have made JCP fully accountable for this mess -- whereas they really can claim they didn't know anything because there is no auditing mechanism to show otherwise. The New York Times is a poor auditor for the industry, their professional SEO connections notwithstanding.

#7 Jill

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Posted 17 February 2011 - 10:29 AM

QUOTE
Of course, the SEO industry doesn't exactly smell like roses in this, either. A lot of nonsense is being published in the mainstream media. PC World, for example, says that JCP's SEO firm was "link farming" -- which is not the case, at least not based on what I have seen. The PC World writer -- Robert Cringely -- seems to have grabbed a sexy term that he thought applied to the situation and threw it into his copy.


Are you kidding?

You must not have looked at their backlinks. It's the epitome of link farming. Their SEO agency likely owned a good portion of the linking networks they stuck them in, which is why they were able to remove many of them already. Many others are not removed.

Micheal, I had looked at this before NYT and what JC Penney was doing was the worst of the worst. If you read the article from the guy who did the research for the NYT you'll see they're even doing on-page hidden spammy keyword links. I hadn't even noticed that when I wrote my article because the links were bad enough and I was just giving a cursory look.

JC Penney is hurt horribly by this. When you rank in the top spots on all the major search engines for as many very competitive and fruitful keywords as they did, you can bet this is a humongous blow to their search traffic and sales.

And...duh...of course they still rank for JC Penney phrases. But they no longer rank for all those general and highly lucrative ones they were before.

They got many many great years out of their spam though, and I'm quite sure it was worth every penny they paid for it. Their SEO Company did a great job giving Google exactly what they wanted. I'm sure they've done similar for other companies as well. And as long as the NYT doesn't out those others, they'll remain ranking for a very long time and continue to receive the great traffic.

You can't blame the SEO company for doing what they did. It worked beautifully. And JC Penney loved every minute and all the $$$$$$$$ it brought them. I'm sure they'll think of a new plan for them at some point. They worked with that company for a number of years.

#8 Michael Martinez

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Posted 17 February 2011 - 12:54 PM

Jill, to be participating in a link farm, JC Penney would have had to link back to those sites. In a link farm, all the sites have to link to each other. They weren't link farming.

As for how much search revenue JC Penney has lost, we'll probably only get an idea later this month or in March when they report earnings and monthly sales. I honestly don't expect this penalty to have been much more than a slap on the wrist. There are just too many remaining brand + product terms where they obviously haven't been penalized to justify saying their search-based earnings have tanked.

I did finally get an idea of what the February 8 algorithm update may really have been addressing. A lot of link spammers in a couple of forums are complaining about lost rankings and in some cases completely disappearing from the index. The lowest common denominator appears to be forum profile links. Not ALL profile links -- but apparently a huge sub-section of forum profile links were devalued. Perhaps some other kinds of links were devalued as well.

ON EDIT: I don't think it means much of anything as far as determining what is and isn't happening with JCPenney's earnings, but their stock price has skyrocketed since February 7.

And, to be honest, it will probably be the next quarterly report (after the one coming up) where we'll see the full impact of Google's penalty on their revenues (if we see it at all).

Edited by Michael Martinez, 17 February 2011 - 01:00 PM.


#9 Jill

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Posted 17 February 2011 - 01:44 PM

QUOTE
There are just too many remaining brand + product terms where they obviously haven't been penalized to justify saying their search-based earnings have tanked.


How can you completely miss the point. For one thing brand + product searches isn't even SEO as of course they will rank for those. The idea of SEO is to rank for phrases not including your brand.

And JC Penney was ranking for pretty much every product phrase under the sun. If they weren't hurt by no longer ranking for those things, then they have bigger problems as it would mean those millions of organic search visitors weren't interested in buying from them.

Michael, I really think you're not grasping the scope what JC Penney was doing. THEY WERE RANKING FOR EVERY PRODUCT THEY SELL!

#10 Michael Martinez

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Posted 17 February 2011 - 02:03 PM

QUOTE(Jill @ Feb 17 2011, 10:44 AM) View Post
How can you completely miss the point. For one thing brand + product searches isn't even SEO as of course they will rank for those. The idea of SEO is to rank for phrases not including your brand.


Except that brands have the luxury of attracting converting traffic from branded queries.

QUOTE
And JC Penney was ranking for pretty much every product phrase under the sun. If they weren't hurt by no longer ranking for those things, then they have bigger problems as it would mean those millions of organic search visitors weren't interested in buying from them.


I recently attended a private SEO event where two major (MAJOR) online retailers presented case studies. Both of them agreed (in their data and conclusions) that those "head" terms drive very little converting traffic. One of the presenters put it this way: "People searching for head terms are doing research. People searching for the long tail are looking to buy".

I have no way of knowing (any more than anyone else who doesn't work for JCPenney) how much search revenue they were getting off those head term queries, but I doubt it was as much as they get off those long tail queries.

QUOTE
Michael, I really think you're not grasping the scope what JC Penney was doing. THEY WERE RANKING FOR EVERY PRODUCT THEY SELL!


And that might -- MIGHT -- hurt them down the line, if the research that consumers do for "shoes" and "dresses" now leads them to other brands, where they go back to buy those brands' products instead of JCP's.

Which is why I feel we may have to wait another 3 months to see the real impact (IF there is any at all) on JCP's search revenues.

So, according to their earnings report filed in November:
Sales
Comparable store sales for the quarter increased 1.9 percent over last year, the Companyís third consecutive quarter of growth. Internet sales through jcp.com were $361 million in the third quarter, increasing 3.0 percent over last year as the Companyís online growth initiatives begin to take hold. Overall, the strongest merchandise results were in shoes and menís apparel, and geographically, the best performances were in the southeast and southwest regions of the country. Total sales increased 0.2 percent for the quarter. As expected, total sales for the quarter were impacted by the Companyís discontinuation of its Big Book catalogs this year.


$361 million in the third quarter -- that's the number to watch, but it looks like we'll have to wait until May to see what it turns out to be.

I doubt anyone will care by then. I'm not making any entries on my calendar.

#11 Jill

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Posted 17 February 2011 - 05:21 PM

QUOTE
I recently attended a private SEO event where two major (MAJOR) online retailers presented case studies. Both of them agreed (in their data and conclusions) that those "head" terms drive very little converting traffic. One of the presenters put it this way: "People searching for head terms are doing research. People searching for the long tail are looking to buy".


I doubt any of them were #1 for every product in their catalog. Usually when people say stuff like that it's sour grapes.

#12 Michael Martinez

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Posted 17 February 2011 - 08:07 PM

QUOTE(Jill @ Feb 17 2011, 02:21 PM) View Post
I doubt any of them were #1 for every product in their catalog. Usually when people say stuff like that it's sour grapes.


These are not sour grapes Websites. I wish I could name names.

Anyway, I agree that buying the links or spamming the links or whatever was not a good strategy because it certainly landed JCP on the front page of a lot of news sites in a way no major company wants to be seen.

I'm sure this incident will be bookmarked in the case studies of bad link management for many a future SEO class.

#13 Jill

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Posted 18 February 2011 - 08:25 AM

QUOTE
Anyway, I agree that buying the links or spamming the links or whatever was not a good strategy because it certainly landed JCP on the front page of a lot of news sites in a way no major company wants to be seen.


We don't agree on that. I actually think it was a great strategy. It obviously worked for quite some time like a charm.

It would still be working if not for NYT. There are millions of other sites enjoying buttloads of traffic using similar smart strategies.

I won't personally use spammy techniques, but none of us can deny that they work beautifully to provide Google (and Bing) with exactly what they want. Juicy keyword anchor text links.

#14 Michael Martinez

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Posted 18 February 2011 - 12:53 PM

QUOTE(Jill @ Feb 18 2011, 05:25 AM) View Post
We don't agree on that. I actually think it was a great strategy. It obviously worked for quite some time like a charm.

It would still be working if not for NYT. There are millions of other sites enjoying buttloads of traffic using similar smart strategies.

I won't personally use spammy techniques, but none of us can deny that they work beautifully to provide Google (and Bing) with exactly what they want. Juicy keyword anchor text links.


I guess we do disagree, then. I hate paid links. I feel there are better, far less risky ways of obtaining links in volume. Of course, those alternative methods require some effort, but I've never had a client suffer a penalty or lose rankings because of any of my links. That's not acceptable as far as I am concerned.

#15 Michael Martinez

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Posted 18 May 2011 - 07:19 PM

JC Penney released their 1st Quarter 2011 earnings report on Monday and they exceeded expectations.

First Quarter Performance
Comparable store sales for the quarter rose 3.8 percent. Total sales increased 0.4 percent, reflecting the Company's exit from its catalog business. Internet sales through jcp.com were $376 million in the first quarter, increasing 6.6 percent over last year. Overall, the strongest merchandise results for the Company in the period were in women's apparel and accessories and children's apparel. Geographically, the best performance was in the southwest region of the country.


4th Quarter Sales are usually better so the fact they beat 2010's 1st Quarter Sales by 6.6% tells me that the Google penalty was really not a factor.

Web Pro News picked up a story today that suggests the penalty was recently lifted.




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