Linking farming doesn’t pay (in the long run at least). JCPenney, along with whoever read Sunday’s business section of the Times just learned this the hard way. Incredibly long story marginally shorter, JCPenney had been enjoying top Search returns for valuable words like bedding and dresses among others for months. JCPenney may have good bedding, dresses, living room furniture and area rugs but first place on Google for all of that, that had better be some pretty damn good bedding. That bedding had better come with something attractive with whom to use that bedding – are we on the same page now? It’s a valuable thing, a high return, not to mention number one, on things people routinely search for and buy.

Or more likely the product of link farming. One thing search engines including Google like about your website is if other websites of a similar nature have links to your site. I believe we do that. And it’s cool with Google, makes for a better web I suppose if one site links to other relevant sites, people surf further, get ranked higher, whatever – but the music’s over if Google catches you crossing the line.

Crossing the line is defined as having a bunch of web pages scattered about that were artificially generated with the sole intention of tricking Google’s search ranking into thinking you have a popular website that’s relevant to area rugs, bedding and dresses because all the random sites, for example, mention those words, maybe have pictures named we_sell_this_dress_among_others.jpg but are otherwise useless in terms of being a place for anyone to want to visit. These sites offer no utility to the world beyond polluting a search engine to skew results in the direction of the scum dumb and low enough to think they could get away with it.

And when Google catches you, you and your company are effed in the A and they eject you into the world wide black hole. You’re gone. In a few weeks you’ll probably be off Bing too. Lights out bitch, no more free happy stream of Google referral traffic for you and good luck giving out your URL on your own. Yeah, hope that business card and that late night TV spot works out for you, dirty link farmer.

In 2006, Google announced that it had caught BMW using a black-hat strategy to bolster the company’s German Web site, BMW.de. That site was temporarily given what the BBC at the time called “the death penalty,” stating that it was “removed from search results.”

JCPenney’s website was discovered to be on the receiving end of an elaborate and vast link farming operation with sites in the thousands, tactfully composed pages. JCPenney says they don’t know nothin’ about no link farming yet is taking down the bogus sites. When I heard about this I thought no company of that size would be stupid enough to engage in link farming on that scale, it’s just search suicide. It’s easier to imagine that this was an elaborate frame job but given the resources that would go into those results, number one on such terms for several months, there are more cost effective ways to hurt your competition. It would be pretty damn innovative if that were the case.

More likely that it was a somewhat innocent mistake that got carried away as JCPenney did employ some sort of search engine optimization firm, so if the left hand not keeping close tabs on the right is of any worth perhaps Google will see that as mitigating.

But not today. Try searching those terms to see if jcpenney comes up anywhere and you’ll give up before you find anything. Overstock.com’s got bedding at the moment, victoriassecret interestingly has dresses. No more soup for you, JCPenney. So naughty.

But what the hell, Google, how do they get away with this for not a few days but several months? Don’t know what a link farm looks like yet? I didn’t run the numbers but that sounds like millions of dollars they intercepted from the likes of Victoria’s Secret, the true queen of dresses. I’m good enough computers to think I know that this type of thing on the tech side is a lot more discoverable and preventable than what’s been revealed by JCPenney’s demonstration.

While JCPenney may or may not be really guilty instead of pretty guilty of jive hussiness, what is clear is that this was a stunning failure on Google’s part to police their search engine. That this went under the radar for so long, even taking into consideration what Google’s whining about, that they fight spam in all directions with only 24K employees up against 200 million domains, no Google, that’s inexcusable. The worst part of it, from where I’m sitting, is that a whole lot of would-not-have-otherwise-been link farmers are now thinking the risks are much lower so game on and are congratulating themselves for subscribing to the New York Times.

Google, get yourself some more red flags and make sure you watch to see if they get raised. Several months? That said don’t go easy on JCPenney just because you’re embarrassed (you should be embarrassed). Give them the BMW treatment or add BMW to the list of companies to whom you owe apologies.

Doug Simmons

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Biographical info.. hmm. I have a history of not being able to strike the balance between what is “safe” to put into these forms and what is, in my mind at least, funny. Can’t do it.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. Not just is it a neat overall story, but you actually said something negative about Google:) We all know there was a real scheme here but I agree with you. There were bogus sites here linking on what must have been a massive basis to get such igh results and you’d figure all sorts of flags would have been triggered long ago. I guess we’ll have to see how this changes their practices…maybe if they run their searches against Bing searhes they would have notices that they were being taken;)

  2. Hold the f*ck up Dougie boy. I work for JCPenney corp. office in the great state of Texas (I’m sure you know because your nosey ass will check my login and internet shit in background that I don’t know anything about) and I come here quite often during my busy work day to promote your opinion and articles.

    I thought that was enough for you not to rat us out. We don’t know anything about drawing search results to our precious website. We were maybe set-up by Kohl’s and Macy. By the way, what is Google? We are innocent. For some reason, JCP.com has been one of the largest sites being visited for over half a decade. People just like Chinese merchandise.

    Please stop this propaganda. I’m going to your editor and ask him to pull this article (like the tea party article). The next time you come to Dallas, bring body guards and make sure you holla at you boy.

    Oh I forgot; please go to JCP.com and buy as much merchandise as possible so I can have a job that allows me to write comments on this site while I’m on an hour long conference call.

    Deuces

  3. Hey easy man, easy.

    Firstly I didn’t know you worked for them.

    Secondly I recall writing that this didn’t really add up like the Times suggested, that it seemed plausible that someone framed JCPenney or that JCPenney, not unlike Macy’s I bet, hired some consultant who went too far without their knowledge or without them asking this SEO outfit to do that, which could mitigate the whole thing, that the JCPenney execs didn’t sit down with some evil Internet hacker kingpin and hand him a brown paper bag to create link farms.

    Not only that, I remember talking trash about Google more harshly than JCPenney. I’m almost certain that I said while whatever JCPenney did is unclear, one thing is for sure and that is Google fucked up big time. Didn’t I?

    Had I known you worked for them, obviously I’d write nothing but positive JCPenney stories.

  4. By the way, I pulled the tea party article myself. I’ve pulled others as well. Write him all you want — unless you’re his father in law I don’t see you getting anything out of it to make it worth your while but hey, go ahead and waste his and your time. Want me to try to dig up the editor in chief of the Times’s email for you too or do you already have that?

    On another subject, I’ve got this weird feeling that, unless you were completely kidding with this, you owe me an apology. Weird, right? You probably think it’s the other way around I imagine.

    But if that’s the case, I’d like to collect right away.

  5. The next time you come to Dallas, bring body guards and make sure you holla at you boy.

    Wow I didn’t even see this until now. My first death threat, how about that. A milestone.

  6. Just kidding. Tap the breaks. With all of your funny articles and pictures, I thought you would understand. I liked it better back in the day when you were helping geeks like me get better use of the FUZE. Now you more of a starch collar guy. All official like a referee. (Do I have to disclaimer those words as a joke, too). My apologies for being too damn funny. I crack myself up.

    I get spam from JCP in my yahoo inbox all of the time. Stuff like this and this search thingy is farmed out to 3rd party companies that do all of the dirty work so large corpoartion keep their hands clean but don’t let that stop you from buying from JCP. Actually, like any menyon in a cube, there’s only so much we really care about (this may or may not be one of them). Just make sure the internet is flowing, lights are on, and my boss gets his T1 report and everythng is gravy.

    Doug, you write articles that someone might not see on CNET, Engadget and Slash Gear which are different but relates to all of this tech crap that we must have and use. Keep up the good work and get your panties unwrapped with your maxi pad.

  7. Doug that was not a death threat.

    How can I translate for people that only know causionics (ebonics for white people.)

    “Holla at your boy” is urban slang for give me a call, text or something when you come around.

  8. Also, son please, I am sho ’nuff well versed in ebonics given how white I am. While your humor may have indeed been cool and calm like the shine on a radiator grill (you know what I’m sayin’?), that was mos def’ a death threat. Do that again and you’d best peel before you find out how blue steel feel.

  9. I may take you up on your offer but for now I have a job. I have to figure out why JCP internet business has declined in the last year. I have no freaking idea where to begin. I’m meeting with this vendor that gurantees increased hits to JCP.com but with no question asked. The vendor is hosting a party with strippers and invited other executives from BMW. Looks promising. If this fells I’m ought of a job. Wish me luck!

  10. RowdyC has been hangin with us for a long time. I get to texas on occassion, I might have to buy you a beer so I can hear you bust up on simmons some more! :) hey what device you using these days?

  11. Cappy rooted. After the MS fallout with Windows mobile I just couldn’t go back to MS and sorry Doug, the Iphone is not my thing. I like Android because it allows me to freeball “and I’m lovin it Jerry. Nothgin between you and me but a thin layer of cloth.” (Kramer from Seinfield)

  12. Ain’t that something Smith, all these crazy Android folk coming out of the woodwork on your very own site. At least the wp7 crowd you saw coming with David K and his tanker full of adderall to spend in microsoft content, but Android too? But you and who dis?! seem to be more or less it for our vocal iphone base.

    Why do you think I think that is?

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