JC Penney has a bigger problem than paid links

UPDATE 2/14/2011

Yesterday I wrote an email to Darcie Brossart, the official spokesperson who was referred to in the original NYT article on the JCPenney link fiasco, inviting her to read my article.  She sent me an email this morning in response, with a bit of insight into the JCP SEO currently in place as well as the official full length JCPenney response to the NYT article.  It’s a lengthy one so I’ll need to carefully review it before I publish it here, as I would like to be able to address  that response properly.  Stay tuned…

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UPDATE #2 2/14/2011

I’ve gotten an email back from Ms. Brossart, giving me permission to publish her initial email to me.  Today’s a hectic day with clients so I’ll do my best to find the time to carefully read that email and provide it here for you along with my insights as soon as possible…

____________________________________________________________________________

I love when web sites get caught paying for links and end up feeling the Google wrath.  JC Penney’s the latest example.  Yet it’s happened before, and it will surely happen again.  But there’s a much bigger problem every time this comes up that nobody ever talks about.  The fact that most of these sites have a much bigger problem than paid links.  Their on-site organic SEO is either very weak, or nonexistent altogether.  And believe me, that’s an EPIC problem…

THE POPULAR VERSION OF THE PROBLEM

If you were paying attention today, you either saw the tweets about the manual slap Matt Cutts laid on JC Penney after the New York Times began an investigative article on the matter.  Or you came across Vanessa Fox’s article on the topic or perhaps you read the forum thread over at Webmaster World.

All the buzz is focused in on the issue of paid links, the fact that while they’re not illegal, they do violate Google’s guidelines, and all the usual noise specific to paid links.

What I haven’t seen out there yet is anything about the very scary notion that in their response to the NYT inquiry, JC Penney’s spokesperson discounted the problem based on the notion that they only get seven percent of their online visits from organic search.  According to the article, Darcie Brossart, JC Penney’s spokesperson stated:

Just 7 percent of JCPenney.com’s traffic comes from clicks on organic search results, she wrote. A far bigger source of profits this holiday season, she stated, came from partnerships with companies like Yahoo and Time Warner, from new mobile applications and from in-store kiosks

AN OH. MY. GOD. RED FLAG MOMENT

IF that is a correct statement, JC Penney has an EPIC failure in place as far as their SEO is concerned.  I don’t care how big or small your site is – if you are only getting single digit percentage visits from organic search, all the paid links in the world are still failing to achieve the ultimate desire to profit from search engine listings.

Now, that may just be a red herring figure, used purely to deflect criticism, or it could be corporate arrogance pointing toward a complete lack of understanding in the potential value of organic SEO.  We probably won’t ever know.  And that’s okay.  What it did for  me however, was immediately cause me to have one of those “WTF” red flag shiny object moments…

JC PENNEY’S BIGGER PROBLEM

As soon as that shiny object caught my attention, I went to the JC Penney site.  And in under three minutes, I observed at least a dozen MAJOR problems.  I’ll outline just a few here, because I don’t give away my expertise for free anymore.  But let’s take a look at just a few issues.

MASSIVE DUPLICATE CONTENT CONFLICT

www.JCPenney.com redirects to http://www.jcpenney.com/jcp/default.aspx .  (I won’t even bother detailing why THIS is a problem. It’s a rookie SEO issue).  What I will say is that once you spend any time on the site, all of a sudden you get redirected to one of several JCP servers.  In my particular review, I was redirected to www4.JCPenney.com/jcp/default.aspx.

Exactly how many WWW servers JCP has, I don’t know at this point.  That alone was enough to tell me there’s a massive duplicate triple quadruple content problem.  Such a 1996 issue, it blows my mind.

URL STRUCTURE

Let’s examine the Women’s Skirt’s page. Google has communicated that they are fully capable of processing dynamic URLS.  That’s a very dangerous concept to fall for.  Having clean URLS is a fundamental requirement as a signal to search engines that “this page is relevant to these keywords”.  Clean URLs are also now known to be very helpful to User Experience.  I won’t include a full URL example here, because they’re ridiculously long, and pure code-monkey.  The kind of URLs I used to generate back in 1999 when I was building ecommerce systems from scratch and passing all my parameter variable IDs in the URL.

PAGE TITLES

On that same page, the Title is:

JCPenney : women : skirts

Attention world – the above title is almost worthless from an SEO perspective.  First, placing JCPenney at the front of every URL might be ideal from a CMO’s perspective.  However it has no business being at the beginning of the title on very high value category pages.  That’s invaluable SEO real estate.  At the very least, a properly optimized URL might instead be:

Women Skirts | Womens Skirts | JCPenney

Or for you hyphenation fanatics, just replace the pipe symbol with a hyphen.

God forbid you should actually attempt to do that though. Because it would give you three exact match phrases (women skirts, skirts womens, and womens skirts). And apparently the people providing SEO services (either the recently fired company or their predecessor perhaps), or someone in corporate, decided that the current page Title structure is “ideal”.  God bless their hearts…

EVEN MORE DUPLICATE CONTENT PROBLEMS

While we’re on this page, note how they’ve actually got a breadcrumb navigation implemented.  Well good for them, they got something right.  But actually, they didn’t.  Even the breadcrumbs are borked.  Because the URL used for the Skirts page we’re on is actually DIFFERENT than the URL I ended up at .  Not from a www4 issue, but because the URL I ended up at has an extra parameter stuck on the end of it. Probably for click tracking.

And there’s no canonical functionality going on, which would at least potentially mitigate this problem.

WHERE’S THE CONTENT BEEF

Let’s look at the top level category Window Treatments.

Let’s not even harp on the fact that this page’s title is simply:

JCPenney : Window

[headdesk]

Uh, excuse me, where’s the CONTENT?

That’s right – there’s not one single bit of actual HTML readable content on one of the most important pages on the site.  Because, like many retailers, their print media graphic designers are probably in charge of site design.  So excuse me while I then ask, even if you get PROPER page titles, and human readable keyword seeded URLs, and you fix your quintuple content issues, how is a search engine supposed to know that this page is highly relevant to a search for window treatments, if there’s no well crafted content describing the wonderful variety of window treatment products you offer?

LETS BE CLEAR – ON-SITE SEO MATTERS

IF, in fact, as I stated at the beginning of this article, JCP is only getting 7% of their traffic from organic search, they’re missing a massive opportunity.  No matter how many phrases they’re found for from paid links.  Every retailer I’ve ever dealt with that faced a similar situation (lacking on-site best practices), has seen phenomenal traffic growth from exponentially more long tail terms after they cleaned their on-site act up.

And if, after JCP somehow finds a way to clean up the current paid link mess, they get back in Matt’s good graces, they end up on the bottom of the 1st page of Google, with proper on-site SEO, JCP might even jump to the top few results.  Or even the top organic result.

But they are very likely going to need a LOT of work.  And that would require the buy-in from corporate.  So maybe somebody needs to let corporate know what REAL SEO is all about.

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UPDATE #3 2/14/2011

Here’s the official response from JCPenney as provided to me in an email directly from Darcie Brossart, JCP’s VP, Corporate Communications.

About Alan Bleiweiss

Just another guy. Who happens to have a lot of experience living, breathing and sleeping organic SEO. So that's my primary focus - high end SEO audits and consulting for sites ranging from thousands to tens of millions of pages. In my spare time I blog, rant, write eBooks, and speak at industry conferences.

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102 Comments

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SEO overview and seobegin, Wisdom for the Ages. Wisdom for the Ages said: New Article: JC Penny has a bigger SEO Problem than paid links http://seoaud.it/jcpenny by @AlanBleiweiss [...]

  2. Doc Sheldon says:

    Well, Alan… at least if anyone at Penney’s is feeling sorry for SearchDex about summarily firing them, these tidbits ought to be enough to set their conscience at rest. Even if a predecessor was the firm that set up the current on-page work (or lack thereof), who the hell undertakes a campaign without first addressing all the on-page issues!

    Good post!
    Doc Sheldon´s last blog ..RDFa SurveyMy ComLuv Profile

    • Lots of companies don’t understand SEO, only what they’re told. They don’t take the time to research. And many companies in our industry sell a bill of goods that’s easy to put over on people who don’t know better. Their marketing spin is highly polished. Factor in all the companies in our industry touting how important links are… #DisasterWaitingToHappen

  3. Mike Mueller says:

    Good analysis, Alan. I’m confounded as to why a retailer the size of JCP has missed the basics of solid, foundational SEO. This emphasis on link-building seems entirely out-of-whack to me. I’m continually amazed how many firms sell this bill of goods to reputable companies. Wait…I know why…it takes a lot less work for the “SEO” firm to buy links than to work the content and follow best practices. Or does it?

    Our industry needs get ahead of the PR problem before the hacks define SEO for us.

    • Thanks Mike.

      It takes a lot less work. Until a site gets nailed. Then it’s a lot more difficult. Because a company like JCPenny has to repair the damage and find a company that knows what the hell their doing, so they both don’t end up in the same boat again AND get a best practices solution.

      Which also is infinitely more difficult given the need to get buy-in from multiple SVP types across several divisions in the corporate structure.

      Some companies then justify the asshat methods given this challenge. They figure they’ll take a hit from time to time, and just go at it again. Like JCPenny – this is now the third time they’ve been nailed. So personally I highly doubt they were blind to what was going on.

    • @mike “I’m confounded as to why a retailer the size of JCP has missed the basics of solid, foundational SEO.”

      One reason large companies may prefer to take the link buying route is the difficulty in getting on page changes implemented. They may have a convoluted legacy CMS system that cannot be updated, they may not have technical staff to do major site architecture changes. They may not have time to create meaningful content for all their products.

      In this case a link buy is a simple (short term) business decision.

      For the record it is not something I would ever recommend, but Google created link currency.
      chris – netpaths´s last blog ..Good Old Forums Tops For Inc 500 Social Media SuccessMy ComLuv Profile

  4. Jill Whalen says:

    Alan, what you’re saying is correct and all well and good, but why would a company bother to do all that, i.e., actually fix their site, when it’s anchor text that the search engines give the most weight to.

    There’s no way that fixing the things you have stated would have provided them with all the extremely high rankings on extremely competitive keyword phrases that they were enjoying until Google was forced to take action due to the mainstream press making a big deal out of it.

    The problem is that JCPenny is just one out of hundreds of thousands doing the same thing–and it’s working like a charm. And don’t tell me that JCPenny was not ecstatic with the results the SEO company got for them. They got their moneys worth and more. That SEO company played the game beautifully assuming they informed JCPenny as to how they were getting the rankings for them. I can’t imagine that the marketing director at JCPenny didn’t know. JCPenny has been all about SEO for many years. I remember meeting someone from their company at an SES conference in the early 2000′s. They know SEO.
    Jill Whalen´s last blog ..3 SEO Traps to Avoid During Your RedesignMy ComLuv Profile

    • Jill, that’s not true. Doing proper on-site SEO with as much content as JCP has WILL get them high quality results over time. I’ve done this for many sites. Will it guarantee them the same short-term gains they got through asshat tricks? not so easily. Will it get them long term gains that won’t be battered down at every turn? definitely.

      • Jill Whalen says:

        It does work in aggregate to substantially increase targeted organic search engine visitors to a website. I agree, as that’s exactly how I work with clients and I know it to be true.

        But it doesn’t get a number 1 ranking in Google for every single highly competitive keyword phrase, the same way that anchor text link spamming does. Period.
        Jill Whalen´s last blog ..3 SEO Traps to Avoid During Your RedesignMy ComLuv Profile

        • Proper on-site SEO may not get the same #1 position for as many phrases. It can, when done the right way, get many more visits from long tail. And for clients I’ve worked with, it’s gotten them the coveted #1 position for enough top competitive phrases that their ecstatic with the overall win.

          And everyone can sleep well at night. And none has to worry about either the Google slap or the potential fallout financially.

          • Jill Whalen says:

            Longtail traffic isn’t SEO.

          • Zachary says:

            This is what proper SEO looks like – and the benefits it brings. I Couldn’t agree more with you Alan. This is one reason why you can’t just build links, or just do On-Site SEO, or develop quality content – alone. They are all important pieces to putting together the puzzle.

          • Nebraska says:

            It’s not often that I agree with Jill, but she is spot on in her comments. The article is well written, but fighting for long tail search terms is NOT SEO.

  5. Potato, potahto. You’re both right. Strong domains that fix architectural/keyword targeting issues can see great increases in organic traffic. Strong domains that get targeted inbound links can also see great increases in organic traffic. To Jill’s point, buying links is a lot less complicated than getting multiple stakeholders to invest in redoing a big website for SEO.

    • Andrew, thanks for clarifying Jills point to me. I got blind-sided by my own annoyance at the asshattery involved.

      Jill, I apologize for not acknowledging the depth of the problem.

      My bottom line position however still holds that any business that goes purely for the money grab, regardless of tactics is misguided at best, and for publicly traded companies, exposing themselves to lawsuits from investors. This is just my opinion, and given Google’s unwillingness to put more energy into addressing this particular issue, it may be a losing proposition as far as “cleaning up the industry” goes. You won’t get me to change my mind though “just because yada yada yada”…

  6. Jill Whalen says:

    That’s only true if Google actually does do something about it.

    I don’t see them going in and penalizing all the hundreds of thousands of sites that are using this technique. Whether it’s because they’re giving them a wink and a nod because they’re big advertisers, or because they really do deserve to rank highly regardless of the techniques used to get them there, is anyone’s guess.

    But unless we (or someone) rats out every single one of these link spamming companies in a highly visible way that forces Google (and Bing) to truly take action, nothing will happen.

    I started a campaign to do just that via http://RatOutYourCompetitor.com and hope that if we can collect enough spam data, and then make it publicly available to Google in a way they can’t ignore, then maybe, just maybe anchor text link spam will eventually not count so much.

    But it’s not going to work if it’s just me reporting it to Matt, as that’s simply not public enough.

    • Jill,

      Exactly – unless its from a high profile entity (NYT or Danny for example) Matt’s team does not take the “report spam” system seriously at all. When I reported a massive problem to Matt a while back, he claimed the sites in question got their rankings through other means. Which is the same as saying “you’re not the NYT or Danny so we’re not going to take manual action”. Because it was pure spam tactics on a wide scale across many sites.

      Now those sites happened to spend $ in AdWords. Which may or may not be related. And that alone murks up the water even more.

      • Jill Whalen says:

        Exactly. I talked about the same JCPenny problem 10 days before this NYT’s article came out and my voice was ignored.

        I think I even mentioned in there what Matt’s response would be.

        I have a feeling that Matt Cutts from Google may tell me that they aren’t counting those links already, but I just don’t believe it. In most of the results I looked at, there were not enough other factors to explain the Page 1 rankings.

        As that’s the standard.

        Hopefully the scales have tipped. Let’s keep on them and do so very publicly.

        Funny thing though. When I first mentioned my Rat Out Your
        Competitor site on Twitter, I was laughed off by other SEOs who seemed to be saying that it’s okay to get your site top rankings no matter what the method. They even got my spam report form shut down temporarily by Wufoo.

        Maybe this means there are a lot of scared “SEOs” out there. Let’s hope so.

        • I KNOW there are a lot of scared SEOs out there. Every time a discussion comes up about “ratting out others” or “not mentioning names”, the same greasy heads pop up railing against it.

          Its pathetic grade-school chicken-shit coming from people who take the position that “its not illegal”.

          They use that tactic because they have no ethical fortitude when it comes to their own financial gain.

        • Oh and let’s not discount the countless people who run to Webmaster World and complain their site dropped from Google after another algorithm change and scream bloody murder that they’re losing money. Except for the innocent victims of poorly executed changes, the majority from my reading and analysis are right in there with the rest of the others who abuse Googles guidelines.

    • Simon d says:

      Jill, my personal view of you has just gone through the floor. Shame on you and your new camapaign. I’m not even sure I’m that confident in your seo expertise either.

  7. AJ Kohn says:

    You’ve hit on few fantastic points Alan.

    First, on-page SEO is more meaningful than most believe – even within the SEO industry. I think the perception that SEO is about links leads many of these bigger brands to make poor choices. Lets face it, nearly every big agency has a ‘proprietary link building tool’ these days.

    Second, even if they find someone who gives them the right advice, the cost to make those changes often seems too high. It’s unfortunate, but many of these larger brands have rigid frameworks that make, for instance, URL changes difficult.

    It’s not that they couldn’t but they’re going to ask you how much of a difference it will make. What’s the ROI on making those changes? It’s a maddening question for an honest SEO.

    So the brand decides to dip its toe in the link scheme water and … they see results! Maybe it’s short-term, maybe it’s masking bigger problems, maybe they’ll get caught later on but … in that moment, they’re sold.

    And real SEO suffers.
    AJ Kohn´s last blog ..Google Should Follow NoFollow LinksMy ComLuv Profile

    • AJ yes – it’s just as much a matter of corporate decision makers being under pressure to go the “easy” route as it is greed, or blindness to the ramifications, or the fact that Google’s got a long way to go in cleaning up their act.

      • AJ Kohn says:

        Google certainly needs to up its game. If they want honest SEOs to assist in bettering search quality they need to ensure these link schemes don’t work, or at least don’t prove so effective so fast.

        I think Google has been too conservative, particularly in link acceleration. Back when I was in eCommerce, sellers were incensed when Amazon froze accounts because of sales volumes that looked unnatural. There was significant collateral damage, but they made damn sure to find and stop the bad apples.

        Google could do the same, but I think they’re very concerned with collateral backlash.
        AJ Kohn´s last blog ..Google Should Follow NoFollow LinksMy ComLuv Profile

  8. Jill WTH do you mean when you say longtail traffic isn’t SEO? Are you serious? OMG.

    Example client:
    Before on-site best practices SEO: site found by 100,299 phrases. After SEO: 154,183 phrases.

    • Jill Whalen says:

      Yes, I’m serious. Anyone can get longtail traffic by simply writing lots and lots of content. You don’t need an SEO for that.

      SEO is about getting highly searched upon, highly relevant traffic that converts.

      • Jill,

        longtail is also an additional bonus to proper on-site SEO. I’ve gotten clients high traffic from critical phrases AND longtail bonus traffic. Because SEO is supposed to go hand in hand with quality content remember? It does Not have to be a one or the other issue.

        Just like “quality user experience” is not necessarily part of SEO, it sure as hell should be factored during the SEO process. Not just for users, but because that too helps the SEO.

        • Jill Whalen says:

          Sure. As long as it goes hand in hand with REAL SEO. My beef is with companies (who claim to be SEOs) that only bring in long tail traffic. They only shoot for non-competitive phrases.

          That’s not SEO.

          Part of the problem is the incorrect definition that some give to the phrase longtail traffic. Some think that it means any 3 or 4 keyworded phrase. Which it does not.

          Longtail keyword phrases are those which receive very very little traffic. Like 1 search a month, or even 1 a year. But if you have enough of those, they add up to lots of traffic.

          Again, anyone can get that traffic by simply writing content. It doesn’t even have to be SEO’d content. Just write and write and write. Nothing to SEO there.

          • LOL there I go again. Yes – when it goes hand in hand. :-) I keep writing as though that’s assumed. Which obviously is not the case for many people claiming to understand, or work in our industry.

      • AJ Kohn says:

        Oh now, I can’t agree with that. Long-tail SEO is not as easy as that.

        Long-tail SEO also often leads to root term success. It may take a bit longer, but by then the site is already getting a ton more organic traffic through long-tail searches.
        AJ Kohn´s last blog ..Google Should Follow NoFollow LinksMy ComLuv Profile

        • Jill Whalen says:

          But it’s not SEO :)

          • From a different perspective, I think it IS SEO. It’s writing in a way that integrates keywords into the content that are used when people perform long-tail search. By just writing a lot of content and not considering SEO, you stumble on the end result. So it’s coincidental SEO.

            When performing best practices SEO, you intentionally write the content to also factor in the foundation of long-tail.

            I don’t allow more than two or three top phrases, and two or three ancillary phrases in content when I’m doing best practices, however the content around the ancillary naturally lends to exponential additional long tail. So my path is intentional. I think that’s the only real difference.

            Choosing to intentionally include long-tail as part of the overall plan, just focusing on long-tail, or just writing for its own sake and unintentionally performing long-tail.

          • Mel says:

            Is this the same Jill Whalen that used to preach content is King?

          • Jill Whalen says:

            @Mel, content that is written for users (not SEO) is still king and always will be.

          • Mel says:

            LOL Jill why does it always have to be one way or the other? I am sure there are plenty of SEOs who have all their content written by copywriters just as I am sure that there are those who write their own.

            IMO any good SEO should (among other things) insure that a site has plenty of good content AND that this content also helps the sites rankings and traffic.

            If that ain’t SEO…

          • Jill Whalen says:

            It’s not one way or the other, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that the type of content that IS king (for everything and everyone) is written for users.

            There’s more explanation for anyone confused about this in my “Just Say No To SEO Articles” post.

      • Thought:
        Isn’t one’s content strategy that includes writing content that brings in traffic one aspect of SEO?

        I have a couple B2B clients who are lead gen. Their niches are narrow. They have a few highly-searched targeted terms for focused “SEO.” However, the terms that convert, resulting in completion of the contact forms, are the long tail. These few conversions result in thousands of dollars. The traffic is highly relevant but not highly searched upon. SEO gets the attribution.

        • Jill Whalen says:

          It’s certainly what a lot of SEO has become these days, especially as SEO has become so much more competitive.

          But I maintain that it doesn’t take an SEO to do that.

          Perhaps it takes an SEO to tell the client to hire a copywriter and get cracking on some content, and perhaps it takes an SEO to make said content is integrated into the website in a way that doesn’t bury it too deeply.

          But other than that, it’s simply content writing, not SEO.

          (Sorry…hate to muck up this great thread on link spam with this issue which is completely different. Sorry I brought it up, but it’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine as longtail is so often misunderstood. )

          • gareth jax says:

            It’s an interesting fork of the discussion, actually.
            I think it would be interesting to collectively create some sort of “Seo goals” standard/guidelines, because i feel we could rationally identify some common cases, let me give an examples:

            - Big Brand, short tail
            - Big Brand, long tail
            - Big Brand, “brand” tail
            - Small business, short tail
            - Small business, long tail
            - Local business, localized tail
            - Big Brand, reputation tail
            - Small business, reputation tail
            - VIPs, reputation tail

            In my carrer i saw a case of a big brand which obtained most of its traffic from branded keywords and next to none to generic keywords, because they brand was a meaning of “style and elegance” and similar unbranded products are not coveted enough.
            gareth jax´s last blog ..La grande guerra delle mappe e del local search 2- Facebook dealsMy ComLuv Profile

      • Mel says:

        OMG Jill you are leading the masses down a very slippery slope.

        Any action that results in more traffic to your site is IMO a part of SEO. Sure its basic, but the difference between long term winners and losers often is whether they have put in the sweat equity to get the basics right.

  9. Alan,

    From the NY Times article: “There was considerable pressure from investors for Penney to deliver strong holiday results.”

    I think, JC Penney found an SEO agency that was willing to mitigate the pressure by delivering what they want quickly, just in time for the holidays. What you are suggesting is a long term, solid SEO strategy. What JC Penney wanted – quick boost in revenue. Putting SEO ethics aside, SearchDex delivered exactly what JC Penney wanted. After all, doing on-site optimization is a lot of work.

    Now, here is the bigger question – was it worth it? Is the fact that they are on page 7-8 now a punishment enough? It’s 7% of the traffic anyway. How much money did they make during the holiday season with this Black Hat strategy?

    I think, everyone knew what they were doing and took a risk. They got caught, fired SearchDex, apologized, claimed ignorance, and smiled thinking of the big bucks they made. That’s my conspiracy theory and I am sticking to it.

    • good points and questions all around Lyena. My perspective is they’d be better serving investors to seek the long term performance gains. Without seeing their analytics or their financials we’re all needing to assume several things as far as how much they really did profit or didn’t. Which should NOT be an excuse for the pattern of behavior.

    • Jill Whalen says:

      You are 100% correct. And had the NYT not outed them publicly, it would have likely helped them for pretty much ever.

      Google would not have done anything about it without the public pressure that an NYT article causes.

      • dan barker says:

        very good point.

        & now the punshiment hits them during one of the slowest periods of the year for generic retail terms.

        plenty of time for them to work on their on-site stuff, build bridges with Google, give the NYT a nice “what we did to fix our SEO properly” article late summer, and have an equally good holiday period at the end of this year.

  10. Agree that too many companies look at ROI as mentioned already. Infrastructure and user experience vs. immediate results? They hit the Easy button by buying anchor text link spam. Unfortunately, in their minds apparently, THIS is SEO.

    Last month I spoke with an SVP of a worldwide corporate client and asked what his understanding was of their previous SEO efforts. Answer, “We’ve bought some links.” After explaining that’s not SEO, his response is “Well, it worked.”

    It’s an uphill climb and kudos to Alan and Jill, the NY Times and many others for bringing these issues to the forefront. Believing (hoping) such exposure will force change, eventually.

  11. Hi Guys,

    I’ve just skimmed over a lot of the commenting back and forth, so my apologies if I’m making a point already made here. The 7% comment by Penney’s is significant and needs to be looked at more closely because it might be true – and if it is, JCPenney’s got royally duped by the biggest SEO scam around: that rankings = traffic and conversions.

    If I were to search for a cocktail dress online and JCPenney’s came up number 1 in the rankings, I would smile to myself and click on the number 2 result – and so would every other woman I know. No one I know or go to cocktail parties with would EVER buy a cocktail dress online from Penney’s – which makes that 7% number VERY believable, and should have, IMO, been more of a focus of the story. (I’m not being a snob, there are things I would by at Penney’s a cocktail dress is not one of them – and the things I would buy, I would not purchase online.)

    Maybe if they invested in online brand awareness and PR – which would get them a lot of links for the right reasons – I would look at their brand differently (which is an extremely important reason for a brand like JCPenney’s to do it the right way), but for the current Penney’s brand to suddenly be number 1 in the SERPs for dresses, would no more get me to click on the link than fly to the moon. I would probably even conduct another search with a more specific keyword phrase like “classy cocktail dress” or “designer cocktail dress.”

    They got what they deserved by paying a lot of money to subvert a process which actually has benefits in and of itself. AND this is why search engine marketing offers benefits to the little guy, because the big boys think they can just throw money at it and this territory ‘shouldn’t’ be won that way. (I say ‘shouldn’t because I know Jill has a very valid point about spammy back links getting the cream.)

    I’ve worked with some of the biggest global brands in the UK and Irish markets and they would rather spend €100,000 buying links than spend €50,000 on labor and skill. I gave up a while ago and said, let them. When they are edged out of the online market place by mid-size companies that are willing to invest in expertise and not link farms, they will get a rather nasty wake-up call – and they’ll still have to invest in the people that do this well to catch up.

    • Stephanie

      I’d think many budget conscious women wouldn’t care if their cococktail dress came from JCP or anywhere else if the price was right and the dress was visually appealing. That aside, you bring up a bigger point that I strive to emphasize with clients – the long-term view. Retailers love the short-term gain, whether they’re big or small, however bigger brands, especially publicly traded companies, desperately focus in an obsessive way on short-term. So yes – I agree – eventually they’ll all need to change their ways. But only as Google or the next Google aggressively deals with the issue at hand. The question however is, what if that happens tomorrow? JCP and many others would be screwed. :-)

      • You would think many budget conscious women wouldn’t care, but if by JCPenney’s own admission that their online sales only increased by 7%, then they are seriously guilty of putting the cart before the horse. SERPs are not targeted by any demographic (unless you really get into the semantics of keyword use – and that’s very tricky – and obviously not what they did).

        The other issue is that the type of site design they are using doesn’t lend itself to the kind of SEO you’ve been talking about. I do work for a similar online retailer here in the UK and Ireland, and the Web development and inventory feeds make it very difficult to alter the CMS system to allow for SEO – which means the only choice they have for increasing their rankings is back links – that does not mean they have to engage in ‘black hat’ back linking strategies, but it does severely limit what can be done.

        Great conversation.

    • You wouldn’t buy a cocktail dress, but what about skinny jeans? :)

      Actually, Stephanie, you are making a very good point. Users are selective. First listing in SERPs does not guarantee you the 41% of clicks they say you are going to get. Many times I click on second or 8th listing because the first one does not fit my search. I make my selection based on the title and description, which makes Alan’s point. On-site optimization organically brings relevant traffic that converts. Therefore, in the long run a business will make more money by doing white hat seo than using drive by tactics. They will not have to continuously invest in resources to achieve the same goal. Ultimately, it is not illegal or immoral. It makes practical business sense to stick to white hat techniques.
      Lyena Solomon´s last blog ..Black Hat SEO Lessons Learned from JCPenneyMy ComLuv Profile

  12. Patrick says:

    7% of what? get real. 7% of 20M is 1.4m so revenue is the reason and survival is the why. The big picture is Google! Monopoly is the key. We all blog, write, look for traffic… Linking programs have been around for years canonical content or what most deem replicated is a lame argument. One press release published on multiple sites is could be duplicated.

    We, marketeers that try to push our client to the fringes, find and search ways to do so. Searchdex has worked for jcp since 2007.

    • Patrick

      According to your position, 7% is good, given that it translates to 1.4 million. And yet, what if they were able to get 20% or 40% of their visits from organic search, if they actually implemented on-site SEO? That’s the issue I’m talking about here. Any site that only gets 7% of their traffic from search is blinded by what they think are good returns.

      • It’s 7% of JCPenney’s online traffic comes from their organic listing – not that they had a 7% increase – I miss-wrote that stat. That not withstanding, if being number 1 in Google’s SERP’s for all of those keyterms got them less traffic than their partnerships with Yahoo and Time Warner, again what a great waste of money on their part because the effort didn’t significantly increase their organic traffic – which might have come from people not clicking on their links.

      • Chris says:

        I think these kinds of numbers are pretty-much meaningless. 7% might be good. It might be bad. It really depends on what ELSE they are doing. Last month, when GoDaddy was running a superbowl ad would you then say 7% from organic search was a bad month, or a good month for them. Obviously, the answer is “it depends”.

        This one of those numbers that are fun to say but mean almost nothing. I routinely get calls from clients who say “some guy just called me up trying to get business, and he said I should be getting at least X% of traffic from organic search”. Guess what? That guy has no idea what else you are doing. Sometimes they hire that guy, only to screw around for a year and then realize we were doing pretty well all along.

        I think the points you made are fine — basic SEO. Duplicate content, good titles, internal site link structure. No argument with those suggestions. But, Jill was right when she said doing all those things won’t come close to the impact they could have by generating a couple thousand inbound junk links to their internal product pages. UNLESS, your product pages are for products that are just not that competitive.

        Also, it cracks me up that anyone here would call out Jill Whalen for not knowing SEO. Hilarious.

  13. James says:

    Hi Alan,

    Great post =) I even sent it around the office to counter the paid search team who sent out the NY Times article =)

    I think the best case scenario would be for JC Penny to:

    1. Get a new SEO agency who knows what they are doing.
    2. Look into the domains they currently hold and start a whole new commerce website on a aged domain or something else as the current site has been hit hard and I don’t see it ever comming back to where it was.
    3. Build a new CMS on this new domain, their is no point wasting time on the old site as it has soo many different CMS’s working on one website it is a nightmare I have seen ecommerce clients with similar problems.
    4. Focus on on page aspects and quality content on the new domain.

    I also think their statistic about 7% organic traffic was a smoke screen, I am sure they would get more then that.
    James´s last blog ..Changes to Facebook PagesMy ComLuv Profile

  14. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jarid Lukin, Wisdom for the Ages. Wisdom for the Ages said: From the weekend: JCPenney has bigger SEO problems than paid links http://seoaud.it/jcpenney by @AlanBleiweiss [...]

  15. Alan wrote: http://www.JCPenney.com redirects to http://www.jcpenney.com/jcp/default.aspx . (I won’t even bother detailing why THIS is a problem. It’s a rookie SEO issue).

    Alan, I don’t believe JCPenney can be called out as SEO rookies. Sure, they’ve made some technical blunders such as the ones you mention, but they are also running two versions of the site. One version uses the ugly dynamic URLs you mention for skirts (http://www4.jcpenney.com/jcp/XGN.aspx?DeptID=70656&CatID=71643&cmCatLevel=3&shopperType=G&CmCatId=&cmAMS_T=G1&cmAMS_C=D1) and then there’s the more optimized pages (http://www.jcpenney.com/products/Cg10359.jsp) which of course have friendly URLs (minus any keywords).

    Why they didn’t use canonical and meta noindex tags on their dynamic pages is a bit of worry, but with the work and effort that went into the more optimized pages (including the subtle hidden menu items behind the sitemap link under the left navigation and bottom of the page), the level of SEO is a step up from a rookie. It really looks to me that the marketing department gave up on the internal web team (which is not that uncommon in large organisations) and developed a second site on their own.

    Cheers… Tom
    Tom Petryshen´s last blog ..petryshen- Queensland to God- Forgive us Father for we have sinned There weve said it Now piss off an leave us alone yasi qldfloodsMy ComLuv Profile

    • Tom,

      They’ve got all sorts of borked issues from an SEO perspective. Darcie Brossart even said in her follow-up email to me that the next generation version of their site is not going to be all redirects and such but that they’ll actually open the main site up to full indexing.

      Even if they hadn’t been true rookies, they sure had piece-meal, half-baked SEO til now. Which should never happen on a site like theirs in that market.

  16. [...] figured that Sunday night would be a good time to catch up on all of the different opinion pieces (like this one) floating around regarding the recent New York Times article on SEO. The piece focused on J.C. [...]

  17. [...] efforts. Too few major sites aren’t getting much organic search traffic, proving that they have a bigger problem than paid links.We all know that there are SEO companies willing to do whatever it takes to raise revenue for their [...]

  18. Brett Tabke says:

    Nice article Alan.

    Looks like they are running multiple robots.txt blocks to fight the dupe content issues mentioned in the article:

    http://www.jcpenney.com/robots.txt vs
    http://www4.jcpenney.com/robots.txt

    -bt
    Brett Tabke´s last blog ..Paid Links at JC Penney – Google Takes Manual ActionMy ComLuv Profile

  19. Nebraska says:

    The entire NYT story is very high level SEO. It is the flip side of the buying links SEO coin. This was a PAID back link removal technique. I am sure it was not cheep, but the NYT is hurting for money and not is not a time to turn down a guaranteed payday.

    I wonder who will benefit most next holiday season from JC Penney having the hand job?
    Nebraska´s last blog ..Best Keywords for DentistMy ComLuv Profile

  20. Carter says:

    Yea its a strange thing… but google has the traffic so you dont break their rules
    Carter´s last blog ..Proxies proxies everywhere and all for freeMy ComLuv Profile

  21. [...] And finally Alan Bleiweiss finishes off this debate with solid SEO advice on J. C. Pennys other SEO … [...]

  22. Barry Adams says:

    Sorry to comment off-topic here, but Jill’s “long tail isn’t SEO” comment was just begging for a reply. That reply is: WTF?!

    I read all her further expansions on that statement, but what it boils down to is that she says *some* tactics at achieving loads of long tail traffic don’t amount to SEO. Hard to argue with that. But then in the same vein, *some* tactics used to build websites aren’t SEO either. It’s a totally inane argument.

    If you’re doing SEO and you’re not also targeting relevant long tail traffic, you’re not doing your job properly. Especially for large ecommerce sites with 1000′s of products, long tail traffic is exactly what you want. And it takes good SEO to make sure you get that long tail traffic.

  23. For those of you who have already read the JCP article and commented,

    I’ve gotten an email back from Ms. Brossart with the full text of JCPs official response to the NYT article, as well as some insights into JCPs plans for SEO moving forward. Today’s a hectic day with clients so I’ll do my best to find the time to carefully read that email and provide it here for you along with my insights as soon as possible…

  24. [...] After I wrote my own article this weekend chiming in on the JCPenney paid links fiasco, and I got a flood of comments on the [...]

  25. [...] So many other SEO issues that JC Penny has: JC Penney has a bigger problem than paid links [...]

  26. “I don’t care how big or small your site is – if you are only getting single digit percentage visits from organic search, all the paid links in the world are still failing to achieve the ultimate desire to profit from search engine listings.”

    Okay, REALITY CHECK HERE: Just how much traffic is a Website supposed to be getting from search?

    Where is it written that a “healthy” optimized site is supposed to get a minimum of X% traffic from search?
    Michael Martinez´s last blog ..How Link Analysis Works for SEOMy ComLuv Profile

    • Michael

      This was opinion piece. My opinion. Based on my experience with small, medium and enterprise client sites. Including sites on this scale and even much bigger.

      So from my opinion, when a site is properly optimized and showing high up in organic rankings for relevant search phrases, and there are millions of searches conducted for that site’s offerings, I’ve never seen a case where that site got anything less than double digit percentage visits from organic search.

      Heck, even with client sites where they spend millions of dollars on TV advertising, or banner ads, for the period those run, I’ve seen organic visits drop to as little as 15% or 25% of total visits. Never seen it lower than that though. Except when on-site SEO was totally borked.

    • At the level and size of JCPenney’s, there should be substantial search for their brand and brand+ terms – and if there isn’t enough to warrant at least a percent of traffic in the double digits (if not 50% of all their traffic), then there is something seriously wrong with their brand awareness and no amount of dark art SEO is going to change that.

      This would be a different story if Penney’s had said their organic traffic went up to 80%, but 7%? Other retailers should sue Penney’s for obstructionism because that’s really all they are guilty of if they could only get 7% of their online traffic from organic after such an elaborate ruse, they are really in trouble.

      It’s also significant to note that the article also claims that JCPenney’s only made $1.5 billion from the entire site in 2009, while their catalog had brought in $4 billion at its peak. The article states they scrapped the catalog and poured money into the Web site – and the Web site brought in less than half the revenue. It stands to reason that they are not getting the traffic they should be, even from their brand terms.

  27. Marty Martin says:

    “hyphenation fanatics” > That – is – awesome! :D

  28. Alan, I respect your opinion. I just don’t agree that there is some universal floor for *optimized* search referral traffic.

    Hard as I work to build up search referrals, I work even harder to get traffic from non-search sites. I want search to be as small a part of a site’s traffic profile as possible.

  29. Mike says:

    The 7 percent to me was also the biggest surprise in the article. My first reaction was there is no way that can be true… but remember a statistic can be spun a thousand ways, they may be been sold the 7% number by ?, since you can really only go UP from there.
    Mike´s last blog ..Twenty Ten Child Theme – Calming 2010My ComLuv Profile

  30. Alan, all I’m saying is there are other ways to market a Website. I have seen no evidence that search (particularly GOOGLE search) drives more traffic to Websites than other methods.

    Just because the S(earch)EO industry is naturally focusing on search doesn’t mean it’s the only way to get traffic, nor necessarily the best way.

    If you could get 10 million visitors a month from search, would you really have a cow if another 30-40 million came in from other sources?

    For what it’s worth — Google suggest indicates a lot of people search for “JC Penney such-and-such” and they don’t seem to be penalized for any of those queries.

    • Michael,

      Given your example of 10 million from search and 30-40 million from other sources, No I wouldn’t have a cow if only 25 – 33% of my traffic came from organic search.

      You’d have to show me a real world example where proper on-site SEO was performed and it only added up to 7% of paying visits. I’ve never seen it. Given that SEO on the JCP site sucks wind, I can guarantee you they’d see exponential growth from organic search.

      And if you’re then going to tell me that they wouldn’t want that income, I’d laugh from here until next Tuesday. The cost to implement the changes would be a small fraction in relation to most every other form of marketing in existence. It’s just a fact of reality.

      • “Paying visits” does not equal “all referrals from search”. I recently saw presentations from two major eetailers (millions of search visits per month) who both claimed (independently of each other) that the vast majority of their “head” traffic did not convert but that the vast majority of their “tail” traffic did convert.

        2 etailers, no matter how large, are not a scientific sampling. Unfortunately, I’m under non-disclosure (so what else is new?) and cannot name names anyway.

        I doubt JC Penney lost as much online revenue as most people believe. Can’t prove it.

        Nonetheless, I suppose that will have to be my last word because I cannot prove anything. No need to tie up your comments with tit-for-tat.

  31. CT says:

    If y’all will get me some cards i will try and find some work for you – LOL

  32. [...] Third, as mentioned in the New York Times article, JCPenney claim to only get 7 percent of their traffic from organic searches. For an online retailer as big as JCPenney that is just unbelievable, but it’s easy to see why when you look at their on-site SEO efforts in any detail, as Alain Bleiweiss did in this post. [...]

  33. Melissa Fach says:

    Alan, I have to say that I agree with you completely on proper optimization. Amazon takes the time to do it and how often do they show up in your search results? Why not email them and see how much traffic comes from organic – for both long tail too.

    I don’t care how big a site is, the basics of SEO must be done, period.

    • Melissa,

      I don’t anticipate Amazon revealing that data. Yet it is one of many examples of mega-sites optimizing on-site. I wrote my article exactly because of that – I’ve audited and in turn consulted with owners of several mega-sites. Always saw a big jump in relevant organic traffic. Just can’t comprehend not wanting to do it.

  34. [...] Jill Whalen made the comment that ‘longterm traffic isn’t SEO.’  Maybe her statement is true when it comes to [...]

  35. [...] still had around 2 Million earned, high-quality, anchor text diverse links pointing to the site. As Alan Bleiweiss points out they also had much bigger problems than linking. Their site is ripe with canonical issues, [...]

  36. Steve says:

    Alan, Very well written post. When looking over some of the pages code my jaw was dropping. It is almost unbelievable a company this size is making these type of critical mistakes. I would have to think they’ve dealt with Interactive agencies in the past and I would have been all over that code. I could only assume that suggestions for improvement were made but nobody followed through with them… I hope!
    Steve´s last blog ..Welcome To Real Cost DomainsMy ComLuv Profile

    • Hi Guys,

      I’ve worked for one of the biggest retailers in the UK and Ireland on an eCommerce site (that still isn’t live yet) and there are barriers to the kinds of SEO to which you are referring which maybe need to be brought to light.

      Because of the sheer volume of products, the site is set up with a content restrictive CMS, but the information that goes into the CMS comes from the databases of the manufacturers which are based on numbers not text (cue alarm bells). The content has to be manually manipulated by the retailer (and I ask myself, why restrict yourself to a CMS that is never going to automate the process the way it should? But I don’t get to make those decisions).

      The manufacturer has 5 codes that need to be part of the purchase process, but the CMS doesn’t have a place for 3 codes, so there is a work around. The product name in the manufacturers system is limited to a 25 character field so it is abbreviated – a “faux fur lined winter coat” becomes “faux fur lnd wntr ct,” and that’s the info pulled into CMS title tag field (I actually had to convince them that this was an issue). The descriptions that the CMS pulls onto the sales page is limited to 30 characters and also abbreviated. (We are not even close to keyword research of any kind, we’re just trying to get to the English language at this point.)

      To make sure the codes from the manufacturer and the codes from the retailer are used properly on the customer invoice, another work around. And don’t even ask me about what happens when inventory is out of stock or when there is stock but no imagery for the site. (The JCPenney’s site is the same template as the one I’ve worked on – and I am not an SEO, I am a copy writer.)

      The company I have been working with has 2 people on this. Me and the guy who has been trying to get the site up for the last 3 years (I was brought in in Nov to try and get the site live by December). I made a lot of progress and I was within hours of taking the site live and they pulled the plug because of the snow storms in December, and now there is a whole new line that should be updated. (They have shelved the project for now and may not go back to it.)

      Amazon.com gets this because they have only ever been an online company and all of their staff work in online. And if bricks and mortar retailers are like the one I’m working for, they just don’t get it.

      They don’t realize that they have to hire more staff and that there are upfront costs, and huge investments of time, and retraining of buyers who are used to inputting data into systems that humans never see, and they don’t understand that you have to have an image for everything you sell online not just images for products you advertise, that the buying process has to be changed and integrated into the Web development process so that new products that need new pages also have proper navigation on the site, that strategic planning is critical if you want to do it well, and on, and on, and on.

      It makes perfect sense to us, this is what we do, but you have to realize that it may not make any sense the them – they have been buying and selling retail in a specific way for decades – and staff can be fiercely (and I mean fiercely) resistant to change.

      It can be a clusterf*** of enormous proportions and the only thing the guys upstairs want to see are the sales figures.

      The harsh answer is that they have no business being an online business if they can’t work this out. The generous answer is that people like you can help them figure it out so they don’t have to resort to manipulating the system.

      • Doc Sheldon says:

        Great points, Stephanie-

        I’m not a proficient coder, by any stretch of the imagination, but it would seem to me that somewhere along the line, someone could have modified such a serious limitation in the CMS to allow sufficient field size, wouldn’t you think?
        JCP has been focusing on SEO for some time, and they certainly have enough understanding of what is needed, what the lacked and what could be done to improve it. I have to believe that someone, at least, knew, and made a conscious decision to go the route they did. Their cries of ignorance and innocence don’t ring true.
        Doc Sheldon´s last blog ..RDFa SurveyMy ComLuv Profile

  37. Hi Doc,

    The CMS has been modified to adhere to all of our specs. It’s not the CMS that restricts the field size, it is the manufacturer database that feeds into the CMS that is restricted and cannot be modified. And the manufacturer isn’t about to change their database or their input processes – they don’t have to, they aren’t marketing or selling online.

    I believe JCP made their decision knowing full well what they were doing. I don’t think they are ignorant or innocent in the least, but as we are staring at them while their knickers are down, instead of just pointing at them, maybe we need to look at the deeper problems.

    We tend to think the big guys know what they are doing, and in my experience (and at this point I have managed PPC accounts for 13 global brands), they haven’t clue.

    Their sites are usually Frankensteinian monsters that have 18 arms and no head. And there is a truly massive amount of work to be done against insurmountable odds which will take time, man power and expertise to deliver – none of which they currently have. And the boys upstairs, who count the beans, just saw 4 billions of them fly out the window because they’ve discontinued their catalog – so no matter what it looks like, Frankenstein better sing and dance and be a sensation or a lot more people are going to be out of work – a lot more people.

    This kind of pressure is palpable in the client meetings I go to these days, and the panic right now is crushing. It is just down right crushing, and the people who need it to work don’t care how it’s going to work, they just need those sales figures at the end of the day. Nothing else matters.

    The thing is, I don’t think they made their sales figures at the end of the day even with the manipulations – and a part of me loves that and a part of me understands their plight.

  38. Doc Sheldon says:

    Ah! I misunderstood. If it’s a DB problem, yeah, good luck getting it changed!

    My clientbase is a few notches down the totem pole from yours these days. but when I was consulting, I did see what you’re talking about a lot… fear and insecurity reigned so heavy you could cut it with a knife, and every decision was based upon what would keep the beancounters off their backs, rather than what was good for the company or clients. Very little medium-term thinking, NO long-term thinking… Hell! Not much thinking at all, when you get down to it. I have to imagine that things aren’t too pleasant around the conference tables at JCP these days.
    Sorry, I just don’t feel sorry for them… they knew the risks, IMO.
    Doc Sheldon´s last blog ..RDFa SurveyMy ComLuv Profile

  39. [...] to identify the problem before Google. This has made national news. I like Alan Bleiweiss‘ JCPenney Has a Bigger Problem Than Paid Links, because he approaches it from the mind of an SEO Audit. Read and gather a few insights about SEO [...]

  40. [...] 9. Canonicalization – The problem of multiple URLs containing the same information, resulting in duplicate content and divided link value as Google Webspam Team Head Matt Cutt’s explained in 2006.  The most common source of the problem is independent www and non-www versions of a website, multiple page extensions, mirrored domains, or 302 redirects.  JCP has some serious duplicate content issues, as explained by Alan Bleiweiss in this great article. [...]

  41. [...] Google can’t solve this problem alone. One company can’t educate the masses about proper optimization any more than one black-hat SEO company is responsible for all the spam we see every day. Companies need to be educated on proper SEO practices, and with this education, they can begin to make smarter choices about their SEO efforts. Too few major sites aren’t getting much organic search traffic, proving that they have a bigger problem than paid links. [...]

  42. [...] in its defence was that “hardly any” of the website’s visitors came from organic traffic.  Alan Bleiweiss wrote an excellent post about this red flag, placing the number of organic visitors to the site at [...]

  43. Good points here and I agree with you, that JCPs website is a real mess. But there are tons of websites with such technical issues performing very well in the SERPs. I bet Google can detect almost all of these errors, such as the DC on the front page. Just take a look at the millions of WordPress blogs, where you can access the posts via many different URLs without a redirect or 404.

    In my opinion their main problem is the lack of content. There has to be at least a small portion of text in order to rank for terms like “women skirts”.

  44. Attempting to buy something says:

    When I saw the headline, I was hoping that you’d have information about (and ideally a solution for) the biggest problem with the JC Penney website: it refuses to let customers buy things.

    I’ve struggled with this for at least two years. You can look at about fifty different items, and then the website loses its mind. First it can’t zoom in on the images. Then it doesn’t load the pictures at all. (Tiny little color swatches, yes, but not the item pictures.) Then it requires you to pick a color to order the product, but it won’t give you any items in the menu past “Pick a color”.

    Right now, after trying two different browsers (Firefox and Safari), clearing the caches repeatedly, restarting, and otherwise trying every trick in the book, I have finally retrieved my saved “shopping bag”…sort of. It says that I have zero items in the shopping cart, which will cost me over $100. Since then, I’ve “added” two more items (supposedly successfully), without either the item count or the dollar value changing.

    Now, when I click on things, six times out of seven it redirects me to the front page. Searches produce no results, just a refresh of the main page. Even clicking on “contact us”, which ought to be a hard-coded plain old link, reloads the main page.

    When I click on the shopping cart, in an attempt to pay for the items I need (and can’t get elsewhere, or I would have), nothing happens at all.

    Oh, and the reason I saved the shopping cart earlier and decided to come back to it is because the online coupon didn’t work: they offer free shipping on sales of more than $69, but more than $100 is somehow less than $69 according to the idiot computer.

    This is my NORMAL experience with this website, not a special busy-during-the-holidays problem. I’ve had this experience during every month of the year and every time of day. It works okay if you know exactly what you want and go straight to that page. If you want to look around, it dies after a while.

    My most effective strategy so far is to make a text-only list of the names of items that interest me most, send it to another computer, and go to a completely separate computer with a completely separate IP address to place the order. Alternatively, I can wait two or three days and try again. That *sometimes* wins me a temporarily functional experience.

    JC Penney needs new web programmers.

    And in the meantime, if any other customers are out there, then let me point out that your favorite web search engine can find the phone number (which you won’t be able to get from them, because clicking on “contact us” will only earn you the front page again), and a polite but detailed complaint about their busted website at the customer service person on the phone can win you a 20% discount. Perhaps if they have to give away enough of those discounts, then some stakeholder will decide that they should fire the idiots and hire some competent web programmers.

  45. Sean O'Toole says:

    As someone new to the SEO game I’m surprised at the number of times I see this “throw links at it” mentality. Time after time I see this biting people in the rear end, and it’s amazing that a HUGE brand like JC-Penny would actually pay someone to do it.

    I know this was a year ago, yet it doesn’t seem like many have caught on to best practices yet. Oh well, more business for me and others that do it right.

    Thanks for the article.

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