JC Penney's Black Hat Link Farms – This Is News?

JC PenneyScandal at the shopping mall? Please.

Photo: Flickr/Dov Harrington

As I read this NYT story on JC Penney’s black hat link farms, I felt like I was in a way back machine – I mean, five solid pages of copy about … old school low-rent link-spam sites? Really?I dunno, if this is news, the news is getting stale. The never-ending battle between Google and link-baiting sites is as old as search itself. The story told in the Times’ piece sheds absolutely no new light on the tale, despite leading with lines like “the digital age’s most mundane act, the Google search, often represents layer upon layer of intrigue.”

I read the piece eagerly, expecting that it would turn up a smoking gun – proof that either someone at JC Penney knowingly paid black-hat search optimizers, or proof that someone at Google knowingly looked the other way as JC Penney, a major Google advertiser, employed these tactics. Either would have been big news.

But nope, nothing like that. Just yet another story about tactics that have been around forever, and rounds of denials that anyone knowingly did anything wrong. I do find it rather odd, given how unsophisticated the tactics were, that Google didn’t catch such an obvious and widespread link farming operation, but the Times’ didn’t push into that angle, essentially giving Google a pass (citing the “Web is really big” defence).

Sure, the web is really big, but that’s pretty much the reason Google is so valuable – it figured out a way to make the web come to heel. I am surprised that Google didn’t catch this story before the Times did. There was nothing particularly sophisticated in the approach JC Penney took to get highly ranked, and it’s certainly embarrassing for Google that, in essence, all JCP had to do was hire someone to populate a few thousand spam blogs to get the job done.

I’m going to guess that more than a few folks are feeling the wrath of Larry Page today. I’d sure love to read the memo he must have sent around….

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