Pretty great article in the NYT today on how Google busted J.C. Penney for paid links and torched a lot of their natural search rankings. The Dirty Little Secret of Search is a must-read for any company that has someone doing linkbuilding on their behalf.

My favorite line of the piece from a J.C. Penney spokesperson – “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,”

Either a) She’s lying through her teeth and Penney knew full-well their SEO firm was buying links, or b) She’s telling the truth and their SEO firm was buying links without their knowledge, or c) A competitor put a hit on their site by buying a ton of spammy links just in time to get them ranked for high value terms for the holidays. I’ll let you decide which is the most likely.

What’s for sure though is that a few search marketers think Matt Cutts looks hot/badass:

@mattcutts that photo in the NY Times “spam cop” makes you look both studly and pissed off. My wife approves. 🙂less than a minute ago via Twitter for Mac

@mattcutts You look like a total badass in that NYT photo. Awesome pic.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

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16 Response Comments

  • Matt McGee  February 12, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    First, I didn’t say he looks “hot.” I said he looks like a “badass.” Now, if you equate being a badass with being hot, that’s a reflection of your tastes, not mine. To me, “badass” = scary, not hot. 🙂

    Second, since you didn’t link to me in this post, I’m going to do something I rarely do when commenting on blogs: use the URL field. So there. Comment links are where it’s at, JC Penney.

  • Andrew Shotland  February 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Link omission and hotness corrected. Just calling em as I see em McGee. 😉

  • Matt McGee  February 12, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Ha! Well I didn’t mean to come across as begging for a link. But muchos gracias in any case. 🙂

  • Will Scott  February 13, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    I’ve come to an epiphany: The Dirty Little Secret of Search isn’t paid links.

    It’s the fact that a private company can crush your business with no due process.

    The dirty little secret? It’s Google’s ball and they choose to let you play with it or not.

  • Jeffrey magner  February 13, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Once again a great and funny post Andrew! The poor people at SearchDex are hosed.

  • Jim Rudnick  February 14, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Personally, Andrew…it’s an (a) in my book….and all accomplished JUST in time for the Xmas buying season…sigh…

    Does anyone think different? I doubt it, eh!



  • Steve  February 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Cutts as Dirty Harry hehe. Must have made his day.

  • Kevin P.  February 16, 2011 at 9:58 am

    That same “not authorized” line made me laugh too. I tend to see that the higher you go on most corporate ladders the less they really know what is going on.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if some VP’s of marketing in large organizations didn’t know what a paid link was until this story. Now they are all scrambling to find out if they are guilty of the same thing.

    I think Penny wanted rankings and didn’t care enough to learn how they got them.

    Reminds of the “Too Big to Fail” line that came out of the banking scandals. Looks like some retail sites are too big to fail so they get a Google bailout to try and fix things.

  • Lee  February 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    I agree that it’s a great article, thanks for putting it in perspective (especially Matt’s badassness).

    Lots of interesting issues here, from JC Penny’s alleged cluelessness (in this case, is this a nice thing to say?) to Google’s ability to bury major companies.

  • Kristoffer  February 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    All though the conspiracy theorist in me wants to think someone put a hit on JC Penny. I believe they knew very well what was happening.

  • reactorr  February 20, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    It’s hard to believe JCP was unaware, and if they were, then they left their brand in the hands of a third party?

  • Dallas SEO Consultant - Mike Stewart  February 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    A local bail bond client of mine attempted to connect me with Matt from SearchDex…

    Good thing I didn’t pursue it.

    I hear he does like to walk on the wild side! (funny story to be told later.)

  • Andrew Shotland  February 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Mike, you can’t drop a bomb like that and then not give up the goods. At least email me the story 🙂

  • Stuart  February 22, 2011 at 3:56 am

    LMAO – fantastic post Andrew 😀

  • NickP  February 22, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    So if I read this right, someone could just go out and senuke, xrumer, and scrapebox all of their competitors and then report them to Google and they would get their rankings dropped?

    I guess I’m just concerned as to how one would keep the competitors from spam linking your own site.