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Gaming Google: J.C. Penney Accused of Trying to Boost Search Results

Google said J.C. Penney violated guidelines to boost search results.

ByABC News
February 14, 2011, 10:32 AM

Feb. 14, 2011— -- You'd better think twice before trying to game Google.

For websites that want to be found with the Web's most popular search engine, the company lays out some very specific guidelines. But color outside the lines, and you might find that your prime page-one search ranking has slipped to the barely-visible back pages on Google.

Considering how many people Google their way to information and services, it's no surprise that some companies and organizations are tempted to manipulate the system. Securing a ranking on the first few pages of a Google search is like setting up a storefront on Main Street; surfacing on a later page is like languishing in a back alley.

For good reason, Google takes its search rankings seriously. When companies don't follow the rules, it isn't long before they suffer the consequences.

"If a site has been penalized, it may no longer show up in results on or on any of Google's partner sites," Google says on a page of Webmaster guidelines.

In a recent search engine showdown, Google buried several J.C. Penney links in its search rankings after learning that the company was accused of employing so-called "black-hat tactics" to get a leg up online.

To dominate rankings for search terms like "black dress," "bedding," "area rugs" and other consumer searches, J.C. Penney allegedly paid to have thousands of links added to hundreds of websites across the Web, according to the New York Times. Some of the sites featuring J.C. Penney links were, and other sites that had little to do with Penny's business, the Times reported.

The additional links to J.C. Penney pages boosted the retailer's presence on the Internet because Google's algorithms consider a site more search-worthy if it looks more popular online. But paying for links is a big Google no-no.

Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment from But after learning of J.C. Penney's search scheme from the New York Times, Google confirmed that the tactics violated its guidelines and told the Times that it would bury the rankings as a penalty.

J.C. Penney says it was not even aware of the illicit links.

"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," Darcie Brossart, a J.C. Penny spokeswoman, told the New York Times. "We are working to have the links taken down."

When contacted by, Brossart said that the Times article is "misleading and unwarranted."

"J.C. Penney was in no way involved in the posting of the links discussed in the article. We did not authorize them and we were not aware that they had been posted," she said in an e-mail. "To be clear, we do not tolerate violations of our policies regarding natural search, which reflect Google's guidelines."

Brossart said that once Penney learned of the "unauthorized" links, it immediately investigated how and by whom the links were posted and terminated the company's relationship with its "natural" search marketing firm.

"Obviously, we are disappointed that Google has reduced our rankings," she said. "Nonetheless, we will continue to work through the appropriate channels to regain our high natural search positions."

J.C. Penney is just the latest high-profile site to get slapped on the wrist by Google. Here are six other sites that have been banned or buried.