Until a few weeks ago, J.C. Penney was popping up as the No. 1 search result for a bunch of Google searches. For a search for “Samsonite carry on luggage,” it came in ahead of Samsonite.com. This was because the store had allegedly hired a company to game Google, setting up over 2,000 sites with hundreds of links to Penney’s site. “Actually, it’s the most ambitious attempt I’ve ever heard of,” an online-search expert told The New York Times. J.C. Penney says it did not authorize the campaign. Being first on Google is big business: One study found that 24 percent of Google’s traffic goes to the No. 1 result, about twice the percentage that goes to No. 2. The Times pointed out the strategy to Google, and on Wednesday Google knocked J.C. Penney down about 50 pegs on search results, at which point J.C. Penney fired its search-engine consulting firm. But why didn’t Google detect the company's tactics sooner? One possible answer is that Google has a small staff to handle a huge volume of information. Or, for the conspiracy theorists (and European Union officials probing the matter), Google may have turned a blind eye to J.C. Penney because the store is one of its largest buyers of paid search ads.
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