A very interesting story broke this weekend involving JC Penney (a big US retailer with 1000+ stores and $17.8 billion in revenue) and the New York Times. The retailer was basically outed for apparently using TNX to set up thousands of links on very low quality “spam” sites.
It seems that the campaign worked so well the site was ranking for pretty much everything, until the NY Times outed it and the site was moved down to 60th or worse for all the queries after Matt Cutts got involved. Search Engine Land and TechCrunch also covered the story very well.
J C Penney immediately sacked their SEO agency SearchDex who had been managing the campaign since 2004. It does seems strange to me that an agency who had worked with a client for so long would suddenly start building a load of spam links, unless serious pressure to improve results had been applied from the client. The links had been in place for around the “last three to four months” according to Google.
The fact that Google didn’t catch this sort of spam is a big PR nightmare for them. They should be buying links from all the major link sellers every day and removing the ability for the link sellers to pass PageRank every time they find a new one. Missing something like TNX is a major error.
Another worrying point is a major newspaper deciding to start outing link spam and forcing Google to take action.
Nobody wants to use spam links but if everybody else is doing it and not getting caught then people start to think it’s OK. Google has been telling retailers not to use link spam for years but the longer people can see blatant spam working the harder it will be for people to resist trying it out.