Google Inc. is penalizing Overstock.com Inc. in its search results after the retailer ran afoul of Google policies that prohibit companies from artificially boosting their ranking in the Internet giant’s search engine.
Overstock’s pages had recently ranked near the top of results for dozens of common searches, including “vacuum cleaners” and “laptop computers.” But links to Overstock on Tuesday dropped to the fifth or sixth pages of Google results for many of those categories, greatly reducing the chances that a user would click on its links.
The incident, according to Overstock, stemmed in part from its practice of encouraging websites of colleges and universities to post links to Overstock pages so that students and faculty could receive discounts on the shopping site. Overstock said it discontinued the program on Feb. 10, before hearing from Google, but said some university webmasters have been slow to remove the links.
In Overstock’s hunt for the supposed almighty .edu link they committed the ultimate search engine optimization sin of getting too greedy. In search you apparently CAN have too much of a good thing, especially of that good thing are links with a .edu extension.
Although we may never know exactly who did it, the downfall of Overstock came from the dreaded ‘narc out’ to Google. The WSJ article says
The change followed a complaint by a competitor last week to Google about Overstock’s actions.
Overstock, which is based in Salt Lake City, was founded in 1999 and is known for discount merchandise. It had 10 million unique visitors last month, according to comScore.
Will this open the floodgates of sites looking to report each other for indiscretions? Are the days of SEO’s practicing an ‘honor amongst thieves’ code over? When it comes to making money, making friends often is not part of the equation and we all know that big rankings can mean big money. Is this one of those cases or is this simply a competitor doing the damage to Overstock and not a sideways SEO?
What is most interesting about the WSJ article is its treatment of SEO for its readers. It acts as if it is some kind of sacred ritual that is reserved for obscure religions that use animals and the like to work their magic. It describes SEO in general like this
Many companies use a variety of techniques to try to enhance their positions in search results, a practice called search engine optimization, or SEO. Appearing higher on pages containing search results tends to attract greater attention among the many customers who hunt for goods or services through Google and other search engines. Some companies hire SEO services to help elevate their rankings.
After 15 plus years of this practice going on in varying degrees of complexity its pretty amusing to see the WSJ telling its readers the great secret of the Internet in kindergarten level language. Oh, and some companies even HIRE someone to do this SEO thing for them. How 007 of them!
So in light of the JC Penney SEO incident and now the Overstock penalty are you nervous for your rankings? Is there a disgruntled employee lurking about with your deep dark SEO secrets that may want to put a dent in your efforts? The more that Google acts on these calls to their SEO ‘tip line’ (and it happens in public) will there be a rush to bring down the top search dogs? It would make sense wouldn’t it?
So what’s your take on this increasingly hostile environment in the world of SEO?