J.C. Penney appears to be back in Google’s good graces after a 90-day penalty that removed the retailer from appearing prominently in Google’s search results for both short- and long-tail phrases.
The company has regained first- and second-page rankings on a number of terms that were mentioned in a New York Times exposé of Penney’s search rankings and the tactics used to get them — tactics that violated Google’s guidelines.
Two recent reports offer visual evidence of J.C. Penney’s return to Google’s good graces:
First, SEO Clarity says it’s been tracking more than 2,000 JCP-related keywords. As you see on the chart above, the company jumped from 24 keywords in Google’s top ten on May 10th to 899 keywords in the top ten. (See the green line.) The chart also shows JCP increasing its number of Top 3 and Top Position keywords.
Second, Searchmetrics shared a chart last week showing J.C. Penney’s return to visibility in their proprietary “Organic Performance Index.”
J.C. Penney’s Keywords & Rankings
The New York Times article specifically listed close to a dozen keywords on which J.C. Penney had been ranking before they contacted Google and showed Google what they were planning to write about. The article points out, for example, that JCP ranked No. 1 for “Samsonite carry on luggage” — ahead of the official Samsonite website — then dropped to No. 71 when Google applied its penalty. Likewise, JCP dropped from No. 1 to No. 68 for the phrase “living room furniture.”
But, after doing Google searches this morning for all of the phrases mentioned in the Times’ article, the search results seem to confirm the reports above. Here’s a look at current rankings for the terms that the Times mentioned:
Back on Page 1: “skinny jeans,” “comforter sets,” “table cloths,” “grommet top curtains,” “samsonite carry on luggage,” and “living room furniture”
Back on Page 2: “dresses,” “bedding,” and “area rugs”
It’s not all wine-and-roses yet for JCP, though. Based on my searching, the company hasn’t cracked the top 50 yet for “furniture” — one of the terms that the Times said JCP was “at or near the top in searches.”
What Did J.C. Penney Do?
As the Times reported back in February, J.C. Penney immediately fired its search marketing firm, SearchDex. JCP also said it would work to remove the paid links that violated Google’s guidelines. Indeed, all of the links that the Times listed are now gone.
But, SEO Clarity’s report also mentions that J.C. Penney is in the process of rewriting all of its URLs. Older, short URLs — like this one, http://www.jcpenney.com/products/Cga30839.jsp, for “skinny jeans” — now redirect to JCP’s home page. The new URL for “skinny jeans” is much longer and not so SEO-friendly:
http://www.jcpenney.com/jcp/XGN.aspx?DeptID=70656&CatID=71641&SO=0&Ne=29+3+1011+593+8+1031+586+18+904+833+949 &shopperType=G&N=4294953666+4294951278&Nao=0&PSO=0&x5view=1 &CmCatId=70656|71641&SelDim=1011~
Coincidentally, all of JCP’s regained rankings continue to show the older, shorter URLs:
That seems to suggest that J.C. Penney hasn’t regained its search visibility based on Google recrawling its content and any automated changes, but instead based on the lifting of JCP’s manual penalty.
And it was just a couple months ago that Google officially explained how and when ranking penalties are removed — including the fact that manual penalties are often put in place for a fixed length of time.
In J.C. Penney’s case, it looks like that penalty was 90 days. We contacted Google for comment and/or confirmation that JCP’s penalty had been lifted, but got no reply.
UPDATE, May 25: During a live webchat, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed that J.C. Penney’s penalty was lifted after 90 days. See our full story here.
J.C. Penney store image via Flickr user “vanherdehaage”, used under Creative Commons license.