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Late last year came the story of the horrific customer support issued by an online retailer who actually enjoyed the bad PR, as he knew that one measure by which Google ranks a site high in its “organic” (not paid) results is links from other sites, including links complaining about a site. J.C. Penney knows that too, and a New York Times investigation published Saturday shows they gamed the Google system the exact same way.
Google eventually modified its algorithm. Additionally, eventually Vitaly Borker, AKA Tony Russo and Stanley Bolds was arrested, for cyberstalking, making interstate threats, mail fraud, and wire fraud.
In this case J.C. Penney is a reputable site. What they did, while not illegal, was certainly not something we would expect a company with its reputation to do. After noticing how J.C. Penney ranked No. 1 for a variety of queries, and for months, the New York Times asked an expert in online search, Doug Pierce of Blue Fountain Media in New York, to investigate. Here’s what he said:
“Actually, it’s the most ambitious attempt I’ve ever heard of. This whole thing just blew me away. Especially for such a major brand. You’d think they would have people around them that would know better.”
Here’s what J.C. Penney did:
Google’s algorithm takes into account dozens of criteria, many of which the company will not discuss. But it has described one crucial factor in detail: links from one site to another.
[…] here’s where the strategy that aided Penney comes in. Someone paid to have thousands of links placed on hundreds of sites scattered around the Web, all of which lead directly to JCPenney.com.
Who is that someone? A spokeswoman for J. C. Penney, Darcie Brossart, says it was not Penney.
“J. C. Penney did not authorize, and we were not involved with or aware of, the posting of the links that you sent to us, as it is against our natural search policies,” Ms. Brossart wrote in an e-mail. She added, “We are working to have the links taken down.”
The NYT spoke to Google, and the company took corrective action, and quickly:
At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for “Samsonite carry on luggage.”
Two hours later, it was at No. 71.
At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Penney was No. 1 in searches for “living room furniture.”
By 9 p.m., it had sunk to No. 68.
J.C. Penney fired its search engine consulting firm, SearchDex. The retailer also said it will “continue to work actively to retain our high natural search position.” Ah, based on Google’s current punitive action against the company, that appears to be about 70.
Via: New York Times