JCPenney's Google spamming: Don't let it happen to you

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You may have seen the news over the weekend that the ├╝ber-retailer JCPenney was slapped on the wrist by Google. It would appear that the store's been boosting its position in search results, via some nefarious practices. Could this happen to your employer? Yes! How can IT people help protect their marketing department from making a similar mistake? Find out in The Long View... David Segal broke the story on Saturday:

With more than 1,100 stores and $17.8 billion in total revenue in 2010, Penney is certainly a major player. ... But Google?s stated goal is to sift through every corner of the Internet and find the most important, relevant Web sites. Does the collective wisdom of the Web really say that Penney has the most essential site when it comes to dresses? And bedding? And area rugs? And dozens of other words and phrases?

The store denies that it sought or sanctioned any such spammy behavior, and summarily fired its search-engine optimization (SEO) contractor, SearchDex. Let's take JCPenney at its word and assume that nobody in its marketing department had the first clue that their 3rd-party SEO firm was engaging in spammy, black-hat SEO tactics -- of the kind that Google expressly forbids in its webmaster guidelines. The punishment for this kind of malarkey ranges from being demoted in the search rankings, to complete removal from Google's index -- a disasterous death sentence for any site.

Sure, you could argue that they should have known, but perhaps the detail was a bit too technical for your average marketing jockey to grasp. I'm arguing that, as an IT person, it's YOUR responsibility to discover that this sort of thing is going on, and act to save the company from itself. For the How and the Why, read on...
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