The New York Times must be in need of cash, or repaying favors for Google's new 'content farm' cleaning from the search results which helps their rankings to rise. The newspaper has broken two stories about shady link building lately. The latest being JC Penney and how it seems to rank at the top for every product they sell.
Three months ago, the New York Time published a story about how a company was using links from bad publicity to rank well for the products they sold counterfeit versions of.
Now apparently they saw some suspicious search rankings for JC Penney and cried foul. The paper found JCP ranking number one in the Google search results for terms like "dresses", "bedding", and "area rugs" and for "months, it was consistently at or near the top in searches for "skinny jeans," "home decor," "comforter sets," "furniture" and dozens of other words and phrases, from the blandly generic ("tablecloths") to the strangely specific ("grommet top curtains")."
The search industry was all a Twitter about the NYT article discussing whether this was the action of the company, someone they hired or one of their competitors trying to get Penney's results kicked out completely.
"Last week, The Times sent Google the evidence it had collected about the links to JCPenney.com. Google promptly set up an interview with Matt Cutts, the head of the Webspam team at Google, and a man whose every speech, blog post and Twitter update is parsed like papal encyclicals by players in the search engine world," the newspaper noted.
Those of us who work in this industry respect Matt, though most do not see Google as the church - maybe the stock exchange - with Matt as its comptroller.
He confirmed that what was being done was against Google's Terms and Conditions and that a manual adjustment was being made, the New York Times reported. Funny I thought the 'catch Bing with a honey pot' was the first and only time that was done.
Matt confirmed after going through what the newspaper had found that there were indeed paid links and they had been there for three or four months.
"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," Ms. Brossart (a JC Penney spokesperson wrote in an e-mail (to the New York Times). She added, "We are working to have the links taken down."
The story is very detailed and reads like a thriller - with the paper buying an expensive dinner to interview a 'black hat' SEO.
The newspaper seems to be becoming a source of information for Matt - they even just wrote an article questioning how one of their online news competitors - the Huffington Post - manages to rank so well for breaking news.
Has the New York Times got something to gain by helping Google? Are they trying to show worth to get sites like those owned by Demand Media and HuffPo downplayed, so they can fill the void? Or have they discovered that writing stories about the search industry generates them lots of links - and links that seem to have some authority and higher Page Rank than the mass pages JC Penney was getting their from?
No doubt their stories have validity - but there are other sides to many stories and if Google jumps in to take action just because of one perspective, there may be reason to call foul. In the meantime, the story was well written and gave some excitement to the industry this weekend. And Matt even got his picture in the paper - will grab you a few copies if you need extras for the family.
Editorial Update: The headline of this post has been updated and the phrase in the second to last paragraph 'Has the New York Times become an employee of Google?' has been changed to 'Has the New York Times got something to gain by helping Google?'