Is Google corrupt? Search me

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a long piece by David Segal describing in painful detail exactly by JCPenney. Over the holiday shopping season, the retailer where my mother used to drag me to buy my Easter suits received an extraordinary bounty of Google love, ranked number one in searches for "dresses," "bedding," "area rugs," "furniture," "skinny jeans," and dozens of other terms (including, probably, "Easter suits").

Is JCPenney really the destination of choice for all these categories of products? Hell no. But Google couldn't tell the difference, because it had been gamed by JCPenney's black-hat search engine optimization (SEO) firm, . (SearchDex isn't talking, but JCPenney fired the company shortly after Segal called with some pointed questions. Draw your own conclusions.)

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Apparently, SearchDex buried links attached to those search terms on thousands of dormant, fake, or abandoned websites, all of them pointing back at Google's bots detected all those links, drew the erroneous conclusion that JCPenney was all that when it comes to skinny jeans and area rugs, and drove millions of Web shoppers toward the site. JCPenney had one of its best online shopping seasons ever.

The problem? This is known as link farming, and it's banned by . With its billions, Google can afford to pay people to do nothing but sniff out suspect search results driven by link farms and 86 them. You'd think with an example this egregious Google would have noticed -- especially since it had warned JCPenney three times before about dicey search results. But no.

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