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 [] To:

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.