A few months ago, if you searched online for “cocktail dress,” “tablecloths” or several other items that could be purchased at a department store, JCPenney would have popped up as the very first unsponsored (or “organic”) result. In fact, even if you searched for “Samsonite carry on luggage,” JCPenney would outrank Samsonite’s own website in the results.

Try one of those searches now and you’ll probably find JCPenney coming in as the 60th result, if they’re lucky. What happened? During the holiday shopping season Penney employed some illegal “black hat” SEO practices. Well, illegal in Google’s eyes anyways.

You see, one of the ways that Google ranks websites in their search results is by popularity, meaning the number of other sites that link to it. Ideally, for Google to ensure they are providing the most relevant page to the searcher, the links to the page in the search results are all from valid sites that relate to the subject matter of that page.

So if you started a website selling butterfly nets and people in the butterfly netting community decided that you had great nets, they might link to you from their site, with a link that said something like “Check out these great butterfly nets!” The more links like that you have coming to your site, the higher you will rank in search engine results.

So, someone working at or for JCPenney bought thousands of links on bogus sites with anchor text like “cocktail dress” or “tablecloths” and had them all link back to JCPenney. That made it look like JCPenney was the end-all be-all authority on these items, but did not reflect their actual popularity.

Google doesn’t take too kindly to people trying to game the system like that, so they banished or “demoted” JCP to the 6th or 7th page of search results for each of these terms.

This isn’t the first time a company has been punished by Google for these kinds of antics, but all of them have certainly learned their lesson. When it comes to SEO, you just can’t game the system. It will come back to bite you in the butterfly net.

So to optimize your site without getting your hand slapped, contact SullivanPerkins.