Just three months after it was downgraded as a penalty for alleged ‘black hat’ link-building techniques, US department store J.C. Penney has recovered its organic search visibility on Google. 

How the retailer achieved this provides a good example of how Google penalties work.

If you don’t know the story, J.C. Penney was ‘outed’ in a high profile article in The New York times for having a large number of paid for inbound links on its site, a practice which Google shuns.

At the time Google downgraded the store’s visibility so that many of its keywords lost their rankings in Google’s results pages. And our Organic Performance Index (which is used to measure search visibility) recorded a dramatic drop in visibility for the site as a result.

But as the chart below shows, our data indicates that J.C. Penney has been able to rebound from this hit so that it has now regained a significant portion of that lost visibility.

J C Penney shows us how to recover from a Google penalty

And when we looked at the history of some of the stores’ important keywords, we found they have got their former rankings back to exactly where they were before. This can be seen very clearly when you look at the development of the keyword “jewelry” (US spelling):

 J C Penney keword recovery - jewelry

How did the department store manage this?

Well it’s unlikely that accepted SEO techniques would have worked to restore its visibility so quickly. So let’s be clear on this. We don’t think J.C. Penney is getting special treatment here – Google would hurt its own credibility if it was. 

The store more than likely got the penalty lifted and its rankings back under the condition that it works according to Google’s webmaster rules going forward. One could call it a probation period.

We have observed this happening for algorithm penalties before: after a couple of weeks or months the penalty has been taken back, at least partially.

Is this a good thing and should J.C. Penney get its rankings back? Well, for the keyword samples where we looked at the ranking history and at the content, yes. And obviously, J.C.Penney is a well known department store.

Interestingly Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, uploaded a useful video here  in which he explains a little about how Google penalties work and the process by which they might be lifted.