How to Turn a Google Penalty into Great Linkbait, by J.C. Penney

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The original penalty was imposed at the end of Feb for “shady SEO practices”. Searchmetrics have published a report to show that organic search traffic is back on the rise again for J.C. Penney:


JC Penney Google Penalty

Obviously we can only speculate about the SEO activity that J.C. Penney have employed in order to get this penalty turned around so quickly. The obvious steps would be to clean up their backlink profile and remove any paid or suspicious links and then submit a re-inclusion request (which has been confirmed by Matt Cutts).

So when analysing J.C. Penney’s recent backlink history, wouldn’t you expect to see a drop in links?

JC Penney Google Penalty

No! Majestic SEO shows that they’ve actually had a significant increase in recent links. So what does this mean? Maybe they’ve bought more links :) Or perhaps they’ve had a very successful PR campaign? In fact, that is much closer to the truth!

So even when it’s assumed they’ve made large efforts to remove links, they’ve actually increased volumes by considerable amounts. But it’s not just about numbers – if you look deeper into the quality of these new links, you’ll find that the quality of these are very high. There are many global media and newspaper websites covering the story, along with hundreds of authority blogs such as Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, Econsultancy, Techcrunch etc – as well as the huge number of SEO blogs picking up on this.

That’s all without looking at the PR value of how much coverage and brand visibility they’ve generated from this. Being from the UK, I’ve got to admit – I’d never even heard of J.C. Penney before this.

So what can we learn from J.C. Penney?

  1. Admit your mistakes – it’s great linkbait! It would have cost them a fortune to buy links and coverage like this from the NYTimes otherwise!
  2. Clean up your act, quickly – figure out why you were banned and fix it. In this case it appears to be more of a manual penalty than an algorithmic one, so it’s likely to require a re-inclusion request to make sure Google are aware that you’ve corrected any issues and can reconsider the penalty.
  3. Make sure everyone’s aware when ban is lifted = more links! They didn’t even have to leak the news this time, there’s so many SEOs watching the outcome of this one that any change in rankings/traffic was always going to picked up on.

The end result: J.C. Penney have set a great example of how to turn a negative into a positive.

They’ve cleaned up their backlink profile, replaced these with a huge volume of very high quality media and blog links which are far more natural and defensible – and are likely to return to Google in a much stronger position than ever (certainly long-term).