Overstock.com's Great Rankings Got Them Penalized In Google

Feb 24, 2011 • 8:22 am | comments (37) by | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Overstock LogoAnother one bites the dust! Google Penalizes Overstock for Search Tactics from the Wall Street Journal reports on Google's latest victim. Overstock.com is now penalized by Google for linking schemes.

It has been a fun month, first we had J.C. Penney and then Forbes and now Overstock. What is with Google going after big sites with big brands so publicly?

Well, J.C. Penney was reporter driven, Forbes was my fault and Overstock, well, that was WebmasterWorld's fault. As we reported over a month ago, Overstock had great rankings and WebmasterWorld allowed what they normally do not allow, to talk about a specific site's tactics openly. They allowed an open thread at WebmasterWorld about Overstock.com's success.

It lead to Amir Efrati from the Wall Street Journal to take notice and ask SEOs like David Harry to dig deeper into what was going on. So although we may have suspected great links and content, it was more.

According to David and the Wall Street Journal, Overstock.com was offering customers discounts for adding links to their site to Overstock.com. Now, this is a tip we covered back two years ago, the post is named Offer Customers a Discount in Exchange for a Link? In that post we asked SEOs if this was a form of link spam and SEOs were split on if it was link spam or not. I guess now we know, Google considers it link spam.

Here is an excerpt from the WSJ article:

In Overstock's case, the retailer offered discounts of 10% on some merchandise to students and faculty. In exchange, it asked college and university websites to embed links for certain keywords like "bunk beds" or "gift baskets" to Overstock product pages.

Until recently, links to Overstock pages were among the top three results for such words on Google search results. By Tuesday afternoon, links to Overstock for those same searches dropped to between No. 40 and No. 70 in the rankings.

The change followed a complaint by a competitor last week to Google about Overstock's actions

David Harry captured screen shots of the link pages and the email link exchange offer. Here they are:

EDU Links:

Overtstock links

Email Link Request:

Overstock Email Link Request

The WebmasterWorld started to uncover the links on the EDU sites and then shortly after, I assume around the same time the WSJ began asking Google about these links, Overstock vanished (or dropped significantly) from the search rankings. On February 22nd at 5:14 pm (EST) a WebmasterWorld member noticed the rankings vanished. SEOs scrambled to figure out why and then 24 hours later, the WSJ article appeared and we knew why.

WebmasterWorld learned a lesson, as Tedster, WebmasterWorld's administrator said:

One thing's for sure, I'm not likely to let another rankings analysis thread run on this forum. I do not want this forum to be leveraged in anyone's ranking wars, not at any level.

Brett Tabke, the forum's sponsor added:

agreed tedster. Lets bookmark this thread and whne the whiners start about the no outing / no linking to serps policy we point them back here and remind them IT COULD BE THEM and that policy was here to protect them as well as the Overstocks.

It is amazing that the one time WebmasterWorld lets a specific example, this happens. Specific examples are given all the time in Google's own Webmaster forums.

In any event, it has been an interesting link month - don't you think?

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

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