Check out the great New York Times expose on how J.C. Penney gamed Google's search engine to push up its Website in search rankings, racking up solid sales for the holiday season.
The Times takes awhile to get into the meat, but Search Engine Land nutshells it best:
"The investigation found that thousands of seemingly unrelated web sites (many that seemed to contain only links) were linking to the J.C. Penney web site. And most of those links had really descriptive anchor text. It was almost like someone had arranged for all of those links in order to get better rankings in Google."
Google spam cop Matt Cutts and his team missed this one for months before punishing the company by manually dropping it in its rankings.
The article answers a lot of questions about how Google works, but provokes more questions: How many other high-profile retailers are doing this? If there are many of them, is Google looking the other way until called out to ensure good faith with advertisers? As the Times noted:
"Is it possible that Google was willing to countenance an extensive black-hat campaign because it helped one of its larger advertisers?"
Google preaches search neutrality, but might it make exceptions in some cases for those advertisers who spend a lot of money at Google? It can always claim plausible deniability, saying as Cutts did, that the Web is huge, hosting 200 million domain names.
This story also shed a negative light on SEOs, the search engine optimizers Website publishers pay to boost their search rankings.
Just as in the world of white hat and black hat hackers, there are white hat and black hat SEOs. In both cases, some play by the rules, others live to break them.
One thing is for sure, Europe and U.S. regulators are going to take a hard look at this article and put the screws to the company. It could be damning evidence in court if Google is forced to defend itself against search monopoly tactics.
What a rough couple of weeks for Google search. The company embarrassed itself (in my humble, Google-watching opinion) by accusing Bing of cheating and lost a percentage point of market share to the same search engine. Now this.
One wonders if Matt wishes he were back cresting Mount Kilamanjaro...