Once upon a time, J.C. Penney ranked at the top of unpaid search results for practically everything it sold. It then promptly disappeared from the search rankings altogether. And news from 2017 notes the department store is closing up to 140 locations and two distribution centers.

What the heck happened, you may wonder. For starters, the store was once upon a time involved in a great link scheme.

The great link scheme involved thousands of random websites, many which seemed to contain only links, that were linking to the J.C. Penney website. Most of the links were packed with very descriptive anchor text, and seemed to appear as if someone had orchestrated all those links just to achieve high search rankings on Google.

Based on J.C. Penney’s past reign at the top of the search result pile, the tactic worked – until the ploy was uncovered back in 2011. The New York Times wrote a story about the SEO of J.C. Penney, asking an SEO maven to look into why the retailer was at the top of the results across so many boards. The investigation exposed the great link scheme. J.C. Penney said it had no clue it was happening and promptly fired its SEO firm. Then the store disappeared from the search engine rankings.

Link Buying Scheme

The great link scheme was definitely responsible for J.C. Penney’s abrupt departure from the search engine results, yes. It had appeared the tons of links had been purchased to manipulate the search engines, a practice deemed a violation by Google. And when you violate Google, alas, you can bet you no longer get found.

While there is no absolute proof that the great link scheme is responsible for J.C. Penney’s further decline and the shuttering of locations and distribution centers six years later, being invisible online couldn’t have been all that great for business. The retailer would not have begun showing up on search results until it cleaned up its site, removing all violating links and fixing any and all additional issues that may have also been discovered.

The Moral of the Story

As evidenced by the great link scheme of J.C. Penney, purchasing inbound links is not worth it. If you’re caught by Google, you can suddenly disappear from the online search results. And even if you’re not caught by Google, associating your site with unrelated, poor-quality links can bring down your credibility and overall reputation.

The quantity of inbound links is not as important as the quality. Think of links as people you would want to have over for dinner. Would you want a huge batch of unruly, untrustworthy folks jammed at your table or would you prefer hosting a few refined, well-mannered guests?

How to Get the Well-Mannered Guests

Practicing solid inbound marketing principles and using common sense are two ways to get those coveted guests around your table.

  • Never purchase links. Ever.
  • Don’t look for chances to put your own links on websites that have nothing to do with your site.
  • If you can get a mention or link on a credible, high-traffic site, by all means, go for it.
  • Links, mentions and guest blogging for websites within your industry can be ideal opportunities to pursue.

As with anything else in inbound marketing, building a healthy cache of solid inbound links takes time and effort. But taking the time and making the effort to do it right is how you’ll reap the greatest rewards.