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JCPenney’s Google Penalty Up, So Are Profits

Danny Goodwin
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The manual penalty Google handed JCPenney, which was outed by the New York Times for “shady” link building practices in February, is now lifted, according to two new reports. The damage? JCPenney last week reported $376 million in online sales, an increase of 6.6 percent vs. the same period in 2010.

Seems Google’s penalty didn’t really do any short-term damage to JCPenney, unlike Overstock.com, which reported a 5 percent decline in sales due to a Google penalty. Back when this news first broke, JCPenney said only 7 percent of its online traffic came from organic search results. 

Search Visibility Returns

Now SEOClarity and SearchMetrics are both reporting that JCPenney’s search visibility is back, three months later. 

SEOClarity JCPenney Google Rankings

SEOClarity, which had been tracking JCPenney’s performance on more than 2,000 keywords, on May 12 received more than 900 alerts of major ranking changes:

This particular change was unique because the keyword competition shifted to accommodate JCPenney moving up without any other significant movement in competitors’ rankings. The competitors had simply ‘moved aside,’ where normally we would expect to see a major shakeup typical of a global algorithm change.

SEOClarity noted that, in addition to removing internal links from the footer, JCPenney has made massive changes to its URLs (with redirects to the homepage rather than a relevant page), and now uses a more convoluted and less SEO-friendly structure with multiple query parameters. For example, this http://www.jcpenney.com/products/Cg13344.jsp became this http://www.jcpenney.com/jcp/XGN.aspx?DeptID=70752&CatID=72423&SO=0&SelDim=4294957900~+5~&CatSel=4294953245|chests+%2b+cabinets&Ne=4294957900
+5+18+949&x5view=1&shopperType=G&N=4294953245+4294964616&Nao=0&PSO=0&CmCatId=70752|72423.

The new URL structure seems to have been in the works for a while. In a statement responding to criticism of their SEO practices in February, JCPenney said:

“jcp.com is a closed site. Google bots currently don’t crawl our site. Our natural search vendor manages a mirror site for us that redirects to jcp.com ... We are planning to open jcp.com to Google bots with the launch of our new platform.”

SearchMetrics also put together a couple graphs showing the increased organic visibility. This one is an overall view:

Searchmetrics JCPenney Google Search Visibility

And this shows the rankings history of organic visibility for [jewelry]: 

Searchmetrics JCPenney Jewelry Google Search Visibility

Google Rankings Check

When the original story was published in February, JCPenney was ranking either number one for or “at or near top” for several terms, which were then banished to Page 5 or beyond. Let’s check how those terms rank now that the penalty is up (with the February ranking in parenthesis as reported by the NYTimes).

  • dresses: Page 2 (1)
  • bedding: Page 2 (1)
  • area rugs: Page 2 (1)
  • Samsonite carry on luggage: 4 (1)
  • living room furniture: 3 (1)
  • skinny jeans: 6 (at or near top)
  • home décor: Page 2 (at or near top)
  • comforter sets: 3 (at or near top)
  • furniture: Page 7 (at or near top)
  • tablecloths: 3 (at or near top)
  • grommet top curtains: 2 (at or near top)

JCPenney hasn't earned back all of those valuable top spots in Google, but the brand has seen some rankings restored.

As we reported in “What if JCPenney Link Buying is Just the American Way?," JCPenney’s SEO firm saw a loophole in Google and aggressively chased the opportunity. They took a risk and, seemingly, they've come through unscathed.


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