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Can one article sabotage a publicly-traded retail company online?

It turns out, yes!

In February of 2011, David Segal of the New York Times published an article about a well-known retail company... ahem, J.C. Penny, cheating online by manipulating Google's search engine.

You see, how Google works is when you type in a keyword, such as "New York Wedding Photographer", Google returns a list of results that is supposed to be the best matches for you.

Unfortunately, in the early days of Google, many companies specialized in manipulating Google's algorithm too get their clients' sites ranked as highly as possible for keywords that their target market was typing.

What J.C. Penny was doing, according to the article, was creating and using link farms to promote their website, and their products being sold.

A link farm is a complex system of websites created that link back and forth to one another to give Google the impression that sites being linked to are of more value than other sites on the web. This is highly unethical, although not illegal.

Matt Cutts was the head of the Google department responsible for preventing and dealing with websites violating Google's usage terms and conditions.

When Matt Cutts got word of the New York Times article mentioned above, this is what happened to J.C. Penny's web traffic in the ensuing days:


As you can probably guess, the site ceased ranking as highly on Google as it previously did for high volume keywords.

Spokesman  Darcie Brossart denied any knowledge and pointed to their agency: “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.”

There is no doubt sales at J.C. Penny were dramatically compromised, which eventually lead to the ousting of their CEO, which led to the appointment if CEO Ron Johnson who basically made the company even WORSE!

Google eventually gave J.C. Penny a second chance, and while they ceased ranking as highly on Google as they once did, they were no longer sentenced to search engine Siberia.

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