Overstock.com Penalized by Google
Overstock.com is the second major retailer in the last few weeks to get penalized by Google in search engine results for violating guidelines. JC Penny received harsh penalties for allegedly buying links to artificially inflate their rankings, which violates Google’s guidelines.
Overstock was ranking at the top of Google for a lot of high money keywords, such as “vacuum cleaners” and “laptop computers.” On Tuesday though, after the penalty kicked in, they were found on pages 6 and 7 or higher, and slowly creeping farther away from the top. The further away from the top of the search engines results Overstock appears, the less likely a Google user will visit their site.
According to Overstock, the penalty was a result of Overstock’s practice of encouraging school and university websites to link back to Overstock. If the school or college linked to Overstock, the staff and students of the school were then eligible to receive discounts on the Overstock website. Overstock discontinued the program on February 10th, which is before Google contacted them, but some of the schools were slow to remove the links. The discount amount offered to students and staff at these schools was 10% on certain items, as long as the school’s website linked to Overstock using keywords like “gift baskets” or “bunk beds.”
The school and university websites Overstock was asking links from, which end in the top-level domain (TLD) “.edu”, are considered by Google’s search algorithm to be more important than other commercial websites, which end in “.com”. The “.net” and “.org” TLDs also give less of a benefit than the “.edu” TLDs. Since education websites don’t often link to commercial sites, a link from one can greatly impact the rankings of a site, boosting it to the top of the results.
Patrick Byrne, Overstock’s chief executive, stated “Google has made clear they believe these links should not factor into their search algorithm. We understand Google’s position and have made the appropriate changes to remain within Google’s guidelines.” Google will not discuss details of specific incidents like this according to their policies, but a spokesman at Google stated their goal “is to deliver the most relevant information possible.” Attempts to game Google’s results pages go on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and Google has a special team dedicated to finding these violations and taking action against them.
There are a large number of techniques that help enhance search engine positions, which is the practice of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The higher a website is ranked, the more visits the website will get, and if the site is a retail site such as Overstock, that can mean millions of dollars in sales. Some companies will hire a Professional SEO company to try and achieve these rankings, while some have in house teams.
The penalties occurred after a competitor of Overstock’s became aware of what was happening and reported the site to Google. Google then performed an investigation and then took manual action against the website.