The Lure of Being Bad: Black Hat Search Engine Marketing

In late 2010, JC Penny was caught using underhanded search engine marketing tactics to artificially inflate their online exposure for hundreds of words and phrases. The process is known as link spamming. A New York Times reporter did the investigating that exposed this issue. This guy found that JCPenney was ranking very well for common phrases such as “furniture” and “shower curtains”. JCPenney was even out-ranking Samsonite luggage for the phrase “Samsonite luggage”!
Let’s take a look at the tactic that was in employed in this underhanded scheme. Search engines read the text and link as a hint about what the target webpage is about. Well, hundreds of content -sparse websites are on the Internet and the JCPenney search marketing contractor was using these small sites to plant inbound for these hundreds of phrases and words. The tactic can be successful because it is difficult to scan the smaller sites and identify whether they are genuine or simply in place to artificially generate link votes. Once Google was alerted to the impropriety, they did a “manual adjustments” of their search algorithm so that JCPenney would be placed lower for these phrases. Within hours of the algorithm, the rankings quickly plummeted.
All the while, JCPenney maintained that they were unaware that the tactic was going on. I find it very hard to believe that the people directing the contracting company in charge of search marketing were blind to this unethical process. BMW’s Germany site was also caught using black hat technique back in February of 2006. In their case, they were using a tactic called cloaking which means they were serving up one version of their home page for the search engine spiders to scan and a different one for human visitors. In a nutshell, that’s a well-known black hat technique called cloaking. I’m not sure if I’ll be doing any purchasing from by their JCPenney or BMW anytime soon.

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