Google Scares JC Penney Demands Link Removal

I almost never write posts about writing or blogging. My thought is that people do not come to Yes, I Am Cheap to read anything about how I run the blog, but that readers more interested in how I’m improving my finances and how to do the same with their own. In fact, I have a wealth of stories about my lack of money, but every so often something pops up and I have to go off the reservation.

Today is one of those days and it all began with an e-mail that I received from someone at JC Penney. I’ll start with the e-mail below that I received from JC Penney.

From: JC Penney Person [[email protected]] To: [email protected]

Your domain has been identified as having links to without J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc.’s authorization. These links must be taken down immediately.

Please confirm that you have done so

The information transmitted is intended only for the person or entity to which it is addressed and may contain confidential and/or privileged material. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that your access is unauthorized, and any review, dissemination, distribution or copying of this message including any attachments is strictly prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender and delete the material from any computer.

At first, I thought that someone was spoofing JC Penney. I mean, this had to be B.S. right? Which corporation would ever send a cryptic message like this to someone? Then I realized that it was real since they hadn’t contacted me through the contact form on this site, but had gone through the trouble of doing a Who Is search on the site and sending the e-mail through my registrar.

Okay, so the message is real but what the heck were they even talking about? As a rule I almost never link to e-commerce sites unless I am telling you about a deal (which I moved to doing through Twitter months ago) or if the company was a paid advertiser in which case I always disclose the fact. JC Penney is not an advertiser. You might not know it but this website literally has hundreds of pages with thousands of links in them and since this individual hadn’t thought it worthy to send the offending URL, it took some Google searching for me to even find the link.

Aha! I do have a link to JC Penney. But wait? What was the offending link to and why was I linking to them? The link was on a Black Friday post way back in NOVEMBER which linked to JC Penney’s Black Friday deals.

WTF, I thought? Why are they freaking out about me making a perfectly legitimate link to their site? I don’t even say anything about the company or the products, I just provided the link as a service to my readers. Then it hit me. Last week, Google dinged many companies for buying links with smaller websites where the links could potentially inflate the advertisers search engine rank within Google.

If you want your pages indexed by Google and you purchase an advertisement directly with another website, the link per FCC guidelines should be labeled as advertisement and per Google coded as “no follow” where Google knows not to use the advertising link for ranking purposes. Google assumes that those not following those rules are trying to manipulate search rankings and will remove a company from its search index or reduce its search standing. This can mean that you can search for a company on Google and it won’t come up.

The problem for JC Penney is that the New York Times did an entire expose piece where it basically said and Google confirmed that it believed that JC Penney was manipulating search results by possibly using paid links and by having websites that have nothing to do with JC Penney or their products linking back to JC Penney using search terms for things that they might not even sell.

I am not sure that JC Penney knowingly did this, but ad companies are charged with delivering results and they might end up subcontracting to others which not care too much about how things get done, but that they are done, period. So anyway, how does this relate to my little ‘ole site? I guess JC Penney completely freaked out about ANY site linking to them and wanted me to remove the link, but here is where they went wrong:

  1. The post actually did relate to JC Penney! It was perfectly legitimate since I was talking about Black Friday Deals and linked specifically to JC Penney’s Black Friday circular as well as those of their competitors and other companies.
  2. I coded the link “NO FOLLOW” per Google’s rules so this did not help JC Penney’s standings in any way. In fact, I could have left the link as a followed link and it would have been fine with Google as a legitimate organic link.
  3. If my post showed up when searching for Black Friday and someone clicked over to JC Penney’s black friday page, it is completely organic and 100% related to the search term unlike the examples listed in the Times article.
  4. I always disclose advertisers within a post or list advertisers, affiliate companies or affiliate to the left. I have a disclosure on the bottom of every page, a tongue-in-cheek disclosure link up top on every page, and when a post or link ir provided by an advertiser, I say it within the post. I’m always 100% up front since I like to be honest and play by the rules.
  5. The email was really kind of unprofessional and encourages site owners to NEVER link to a site like JC Penney ever again. But #6 is really what I want to know…
  6. Legally, can JC Penney force me to remove a legitimate link? Afterall, what constitutes an “unauthorized link”? Me thinks they need to consult their legal department about this before they bump into someone with time and money to waste.

Now, I understand the position that JC Penney is in. Believe me, my day-time job gives me a front row view of the advertising world of a major company. I know how hard it is for a company to be in this position but having the pendulum swing from one extreme direction to another extreme is not the proper way to address the problem.

I’ll be nice and remove the link but I don’t feel the need to respond to this e-mail and unfortunately, JC Penney is creating more news than they probably should if they are sending out these notices to hundreds of legitimate sites. My site is officially classified as a personal finance and frugality site. My question is, what will they do to all the coupon, deal, and shopping sites? Will they demand those sites remove links as well? Stop freaking out JC Penney and hire a consultant that specializes in search engine optimization and black hat optimization techniques and a decent crisis management PR agency! How about hiring me? I’m available. 🙂

Sandy writes the blog Yes, I Am Cheap where she is chronicling her methods of getting out of debt and sharing some stories about her tenant from hell in the process.

47 thoughts on “Google Scares JC Penney Demands Link Removal”

  1. PPC Ian says:

    Great guest post and quite interesting. The JC Penney SEO story has been very interesting to follow, from a corporate standpoint.

    1. Mathew Day says:

      Wow! What a crazy story. Never know what to expect online. Definitely agree, was a really good read.

      1. Interesting story indeed. The company is freaking out and doing more damage to themselves than good. Obviously they have no idea about what’s going on and what the proper course of action is.

  2. John, thanks a million for publishing this post. I really appreciate it.

  3. MoneyCone says:

    JCPenny hasn’t heard about the Streisand effect I see!

  4. Internetsalsa says:

    few years ago Google penalized BMW.

    1. That’s because BMW was cloaking their links and showing one website to bots and another to real visitors. it had nothing to do with links.

      1. Internetsalsa says:

        agree..I was just saying that Google took action against them. Trying to say that they go against big guys too…

        1. Well, yea, Google does try to control the world.

          1. Maybe some day some one will get the golden manual on how to control google besides the owner

  5. Wess Stewart says:

    I don’t believe that JCP can legally force anyone to remove links. Why? Because of 2600 Magazine’s adventures with their “f***” legal battle. They were sued over that domain name, but ended up winning the case because they can’t stop domain owners from pointing domains wherever they want, and I believe the same would go for links.

  6. Aaron says:

    I read the original NYT article and found it quite interesting. I’m surprised JC Penny is handling it this way though. Like you mention in the article they could do a much better job. Maybe they are just drawing more attention to themselves and/or trying to show Google they are trying to fix what they did wrong. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  7. I would tell JC Pansies to take a hike. If they are afraid of a deal site linking to them, they don’t have a clue.

    1. That was my thought exactly! We’re not talking about Sak’s here, it’s JC Penney! They need all the help that they can get to boost online sales. Asking me to take down this link and pretending that it’s legalese by using the term “unauthorized link” is just stupid.

  8. “the link per FCC guidelines should be labeled as advertisement”

    I think you mean FTC not FCC.

    1. Egads. You are correct.

  9. Nice post Sandy. If you wrote about Overstock you might be getting another email. WSJ has a story about how they were just punished for the same violation JC Penney got.

  10. simply love the killing heading.

  11. Thanks for the post! I wish they are banned forever!

  12. Abhik says:

    Well, First JC Penny and now Forbes.
    It seems Google is now after big players.

  13. fas says:

    Man Google wants to rule the internet.

  14. I think few years before, Google has Banned BMW.

  15. Lea Sadler says:

    I don’t see that JC Penny has any right to ask – and certainly not demand – that you remove this link.

  16. Lea Sadler says:

    If you ask me, there’s an excellent chance that they penned you that little email just so they can provide evidence to the Powers that Be that they are not intentionally trying to modify their page rank in Google.

  17. Fred says:

    How made Google the final authority anyway? They are taking on a big bully attitude too and they caused this situation to begin with.

  18. Hotdogman says:

    Much ado about nothing if you ask me. I wouldn’t do a damn thing. I can’t believe how UNsavvy big companies can be about their web presence. Like JC Penney is going to have trouble ranking for “JC Penney.”

  19. Paul terra says:

    The worse nightmare of any site that ranks high is competition. Google algo did not detect the manipulation, competition did.

  20. browie says:

    I got one of those too from one of my niche blogs.

  21. I’m guessing it’s because JC Penny is now a little over paranoid about the situation and is just trying to get all links stopped. They went from one of of the spectrum to the other.

  22. Kenneth Dickson says:

    It’s a pity you didn’t check JCPenney’s TOS. No mention is made there about linking. I don’t believe this is a legitimate email, and without a statement in their TOS, there is little they can do.

    They don’t even have it in the TOS. Some companies try to restrict deep linking but in fact, it’s very difficult to prevent, very difficult to regulate, and unlikely to hold up in court. Ignore them or threaten to sue them for harrassment.


  23. Buck Inspire says:

    Interesting read! Looks like JC Penny is freaking out. Guess the Big G’s wrath can do that to people. I like you’re plug at the end. 🙂 If I were at JCP I would hire ya!

  24. Ashish Patel says:

    thanks john for sharing this with us 🙂

  25. Allen Walker says:

    Someone who actually wants their link removed? Wow!

    Well, I can see the angle of it, but I guess no one will be able to link to them now then… Probably even worse for their rankings. 😛

    1. I’d like to set up a blog just to link to the, or wouldn’t it be cool to Googlebomb JC Penny?

      1. “just to link to them

  26. Wow, JC Penney really freaked out. Looks like Google had them by the balls.

  27. Hussam says:

    This issue is well known since 12th february. I made a post about them:

    Google penalized JC Penny for “paid links”. It seems that they are trying to fix this issue with Google.

  28. Kavya Hari says:

    Hey its one of the nice and informative article about link removal. And, its good story about JC penny and thanks for written wonderful info on here.

  29. JC Penny sounds like they are being super paranoid! It’s almost like… high school! JC Penny is being paranoid that everyone is talking about them and so they go and demand that people who are NOT gossiping about them to stop gossiping about them.


  30. Great article! I was actually contacted by an advertiser (an online department store) just today, and they asked me to take a link down as well. Looks like this is sending a ripple through department stores….

    1. I had an advertiser do that as well and I’m playing by the rules. Everyone is scared crapless.

  31. Nice post. It’s amazing how powerful the media is. JcPenney was like a kid who just got reprimanded in school! You should link this post to JcPenney just for giggles. lol

  32. Is JC Penny still employing idiots for their SEO efforts? Because their SEO strategies for the past few years have gotten them in the terrible situation they’re in now and apparently their current SEO strategy is to make sure they are never organically relevant ever again.

  33. Hilarious, they went from overtly black hat to Pope-like white hat. What’s next they’re going to send out a C&D for every scrapebox post the SEO firm they hired used? LMAO

  34. This story is akin to when I worked in the freight business, and registered the domain fedex recovery dot com. they sent numerous demand letters and even phone calls threatening me. But a legitimate link? What a waste of time. I tweeted to my followers you story.

  35. anitha says:

    does he had the links without having any agreement with them

  36. christina says:

    if he have any agreement document he can apply for claim

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