If you have the time, I highly recommend a NY Times article that investigates how JC Penney claimed numerous, number one rankings for competitive search terms during the lucrative, holiday shopping season. If you don’t have the time, here are my take aways:

  • Google comes out looking pretty bad. Either they don’t have adequate resources to recognize obvious black-hat techniques even when employed on a massive scale for a massive brand OR they decided to look the other way to protect an advertiser who spends over $2 million a MONTH in PPC ads. In other words, they’re either dumb or criminal (the EU suspects the latter).
  • Any activity that falls outside of Google’s allowed SEO methods, runs the risk of getting your site severely penalized and is likely not worth it when viewed from a long-term perspective.
  • JC Penney’s website brought in $1.5 billion in revenue to the company in 2009. Sounds like a lot until you learn that their catalog business brought in $4 billion back in the day. The lesson – even if you have the number one spot for “home decor” in Google, it won’t turn into actual sales unless your prices, your value, and your messaging resonate with the consumer.