JC Penney SEO – Lazy, Stupid and Deserved

I am sure you have read about the JC Penney Google slap at the beginning of the week, they basically spammed their category pages with irrelevant anchor spam.

For those of you (like me) in the UK JC Penney are a major US Retailer turning over in excess of 17 billion dollars a year and yet they couldn’t invest in their site enough to avoid this SEO car crash!

The truth is I can fully understand why they spammed the heck out of their pages……. they have a terrible site!

– Bad Architecture
– Lack of Basic Optimisation
– Lack of Content

The very basics of SEO were missed and I think they knew about it all along. Let’s just break this down…

Title Tags

The very basics of SEO and most important aspect of your page, the title tag, yet let’s look at what JC Penney consider a good title tag;

Bedding = JC Penney: bedding

Jeans = JC Penney: jeans

I mean come on?? Terrible, just a little bit of effort and they could have doubled the traffic on all their category pages just by optimising them better.

URL Structure

17 billion turnover and they can’t be bothered to rewrite their URL’s and redirect them to more keyword rich URL’s.

Jeans URL = http://www5.jcpenney.com/jcp/XGN.aspx?DeptID=70673&CatID=71043&cmCatLevel=3&shopperType=G&CmCatId=&cmAMS

I have worked with various websites with URLs like this and getting them to rank is almost impossible.

But hey, don’t clean your site up just spam.

Content, Content, Content

Come on guys, where’s the content? Surely thats not too much to ask?

In fairness they have implemented user reviews on product pages, but the categories are terrible, check out the above jeans page.

Really no excuses.

I have no doubt their SEO company gave them this same, very basic advice and probably got the reply “Sorry you can’t touch the site”. This leaves the company in a position where they either spam or deliver no rankings.

Having said that, they were with their SEO provider for the last 6-7 years, surely they could have persuaded them to sort out their site in this amount of time?

So they were..

Lazy – because the changes were basic

Stupid – because they have a big enough brand to rank for anything

Deserved – because they have the budget to employ the right people and make the right changes

If you’re a big brand with a bad site, my advice is invest in this before even thinking about building a link.


is the CEO of Branded3 a Search Marketing Agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in Search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

11 thoughts on “JC Penney SEO – Lazy, Stupid and Deserved

  1. Hey Tim,

    Just an FYI since you may not be able to see it from the UK — JCP uses a proxy system to present an optimized version of their pages to search engines. That’s why you don’t see a lot of the SEO basics in the main website.

    Here are some examples of their proxy page for “Dresses” and “Little Black Dresses”:

    In my opinion, using proxy systems like this is just a sophisticated approach to cloaking but folks like Stephan Spencer (GravityStream, now owned by Covario) might argue that view. They’ve been very successful implementing this system for large online retailers.

  2. Thanks for the input Ben, to be honest since the penalty it’s difficult to find any pages in the SERP’s and the ones I found were the long ugly URL’s.

    Even though these optimised pages are a little bit better on the page they still present an ugly unoptimised URL plus I’m with you, if the user is seeing something different to search engines its cloaking.

    I guess overall I just think there are a million things they could have done to their site before investing in some of the worst links I have seen, well not quite but near enough.

  3. Yeah, I had to use Bing to find their URLs since they are pretty well gone from Google.

    I think the use of a proxy system comes from the same line of thinking as paid links. It’s basically “how can we get as much SEO benefit as possible without doing any work on our own”. When clients begin to think this way, it is just a matter of time until they find a search vendor that thinks that same way. They can fire their search agency, but it won’t change anything in the long run unless they change their entire view of how to approach SEO in the first place.

  4. I’m not quite understanding why they would serve proxy pages to the bots, but not to humans. Could you perhaps elaborate on that point? It doesn’t make sense. It seems like twice the work, in fact. Why not just stick to fixing the problem, instead of trying to cover it in chocolate?

  5. Hi There,

    What they are basically doing is being lazy, there site isn’t well optimised but instead of building a new site and sorting out the URL structure, they have basically set up shadow URL’s that they present to engines, optimised versions of pages already on their site, they do this to help them get rankings instead of just sorting out their current architecture, it could be classed as ‘white/grey hat cloaking’ as the content they are providing isn’t that much different from what a user see’s. A dated but good article on the different types of cloaking here – http://www.seomoz.org/blog/white-hat-cloaking-it-exists-its-permitted-its-useful

  6. Nice post that Tim, thanks for the read –

    Im begining to see JCP back in the ranks now – low pages for electrical products with those proxy urls.. so i clicked there link – and it dropped me to a page that was selling garden equipment…

    Either way its sure had a few ppl asking about natural link footprints and such with me, i think this post sums it up well – might send the thralls here for the down low.

    Thanks for the read! Great summation


  7. Ye the rankings have come back, yet when you do an info: search they don’t even seem to be cached, very strange…

  8. Nice post… I’ve just started learning about html scripting and web development, taking it from the bare nuts and bolts perspective at the moment but plan to move to dreamweaver when i get to grips with the underlying structure of a webpage and website. I came across this news in a book I’m using and decided to look it up. I firmly agree that if they employed someone that uses these snidey tactics to outcompete their rivals that they should be demoted to way down the rankings. And the company that they hired that effected this situation should be liable for penalties in relation to breach of fair trade and/or competition laws. I think the full implementation of html5 in the coming years will put an end to these tactics as they put much more emphasis on areas of ur page through more descriptive tagging.

    Nice article, and Penneys and the company they employed should stand ashamed before you as you read it out. I’m only learning html the last few days and I already have a solid grasp about the ways things are structured and wodred in order to make downstream SEO a more straightforward task.

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