Google Hands Down Hefty Punishment to Online Retailer Overstock.Com

google punishes overstock.comGoogle has handed down yet another hefty punishment to a major retailer. This time the offender, Overtstock.com. Overstock.com is certainly not new to controversy with the numerous lawsuits, SEC investigations and only having turned a profit for the first time in April 2010. The punishment is a crushing blow to their rebranding efforts from started in January of this year from Overstock.com to o.co. Though we have not heard too much about the rebrand in recent weeks.

Google Punishes Overstock.Com for Violating Guidelines

The violation is quite different from JC Penny as reported by Amir Efrati in the Wall Street Journal as Overstock.com has not denied that they targeted college and university students and faculty by offering a 10% discount if they embedded links for certain keywords whereas JC Penny has vehemently denied having any knowledge of the black hat SEO practice of their then SEO firm.

Links from colleges and universities are alleged to carry higher weight as a link as they are deemed to be a trusted site and are differentiated with .edu. Links to a website create authority and have helped tremendously with rankings. There are other factors that are a part of the secret recipe contained with the algorithms however we have been to see some proven trends that show highly authoritative links do make a difference in rankings. Achieving those links is part of a link building strategy that seems to be where the violations are most recognized by Google.

It is being reported by the WSJ that a competitor did file a complaint with Google about the practices of Overstock.com. Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com has already addressed the issue and in a statement “We understand Google’s position and have made the appropriate changes to remain within Google’s guidelines.”

Is Bing also Dishing out Penalties?

Bing was accused by Google of copying their search results earlier this month so we have to wonder if Google penalizing these retailers has had an effect upon the rankings on Bing. Well, I decided to take a sneak peak over and see how Bing has reacted, if at all. It does not appear that they are punishing either retailer. A search for the term “dresses”, a term JC Penney was punished for on Google appears pretty prominently on the first page of Bing.  They are also a paid advertiser for this term on Bing as they are on Google  however they are no where to be found in the organic results on page 1 of Google. Interestingly enough, there is a little  irony here as overstock.com is ranking #2 on Bing for dresses.

Bing search results for dresses

A search for “laptop computers,” a term that Google has punished Overstock.com over on Bing did have them on page 1 in the 7th spot.

Bing search results for overstock on laptop computers

These are for just two of the terms that the respective retailers have been penalized for and it may take some time for Bing to catch up. Or, is it in their best interest to keep these rankings to increase paid listing revenue from these retailers?

Gaming Google with Social Signal Links

Gaming Google is going to eventually going to get you penalized. Are we going to see a new wave of trying to game Google and Bing with the social signals? How much weight does a retweet from an industry leader have? What about a like on Facebook? What about a comment from someone signed in with their Facebook account? We do have to look at this as these results are appearing and we know that eventually someone(s) will be able to figure out how to game it. In a recent post by Jay Baer on convinceandconvert.com, he showed us how most of us are not even using Facebook properly yet we see an awful lot of likes being thrown around. If Google or Bing said that the amount of likes or retweets an article gets from quality profiles, the higher the rankings will be for that article, wow, the a-listers could make a fortune. When Google did confirm the use of social signals in results, Matt Cutts was very clear to say that it is quality and not quantity. Quality of the follower and to avoid quantity. Same concept with links as many mediocre links do not boost your rankings as much as one that has authority and link juice.

Black hat SEO will always exist and as the social networks continue to develop it will only grow. Penalizing is sending a message, however the overwhelming media coverage that the two retailers have received over this has had to have driven in traffic. Traffic does not always equate to sales we know, but it puts them top of mind and reminds them that oh yes, JC Penny does have dresses and oh, overstock.com sells laptops? I should check out their prices.

Are the actual penalties being overshadowed by the media attention that these retailers have received? Will we see some copycats who try and get penalized to eat up the media time in order to push product?

photo credit: Miguel Mendoza 😛

  • I am glad Google reacted promptly to such thing, and even if Bing is doing its best to beat Google at its game, the fact they didn’t react at all to this shows once again who’s being serious about the “search game” and who’s just tagging along.

    • I am not a fan of bing but should they penalize a retailer because google did? If the company violated their rules then yes but bing’s algorithms appear to not give as much weight to links as we would see close to the same results. Bing results are so all over the place that there is not much of a comparison.

      As far as Google handing down the punishment, I feel if you are violating the terms then you should be penalized. How long will the penalty last, no way of telling.

  • I have to completely disagree with Gabriele on this.
    Overstock found a way to take advantage of a flaw in the way that google ranks web pages, more power to them. When google slaps individual companies instead of changing the algorithm to close the loophole it really just shows the lengths google will go to protect the belief that they are the only ones who can sell links. If google wants to stop giving extra weight to .edu links then stop giving extra weight to .edu links across the board.
    Why hasn’t overstock and JCP fallen in Bing? Is is maybe possible that Bing doesn’t give as much weight to the links in question? Could it be that if you had done the searches before the links were built you would have gotten the same results you get now and they didn’t need to wipe egg off their faces.

    If google hands out too many more big public slaps I expect to hear about the justice department knocking on googles door.

    • Bob

      Always a pleasure when you stop on by as you really make me think. I did not look at it like that (or I would have written it) If Google wants to punish why do it so openly? But then again if they lessen the weight of the edu then that hurts others who are not abusing it. I think what Overstock did was wrong but also kinda clever. They went after a target audience, albeit it was gaming Google, but it was under the radar for a while. According to the WSJ, a competitor complained. Now, I get that there are a gazillion websites and for Google to play police watchdog is nearly impossible so the competition complaining is going to happen. I just am not sure that lowering the weight of the edu ‘s is going to solve the problem.

      Bing – oh bing. It is just so lacking in so many ways. Instead of trying to catch Google they should promote what they have and what they have is Facebook/social search. It is weak but at the same time they are not going to gain much search share if their results are copying google or they are inferior, which they are. I am not a fan of Bing as I have never been able to receive the results that tryuly answered my search query.

      • I tried out bing for about a week. It really reflects the situation that seems to be going on in all parts of Microsoft. The problem I see with most things microsoft is they just don’t push far enough; “good is good enough”.
        Bing is good-ish. If I didn’t know about google I could use bing with out being too unhappy. Too bad for Microsoft that I know about google.

        • Bob

          Yes, you are dead on, they are in the good is good enough. I tried bing and I go back and try it every so often and it is sub-par. It is more that google is better, it is not even really comparable. You have to wonder if they are just sitting back or working hard on the back end to try and improve. It is hard to say but they are just so underperforming that there is no choice to make. Google.

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  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

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    • Yes there are several algorithms that we have seen that are factors. We will never know them all if there are really all that many. Google is on top of, or tries to be on top of when people game the system. Once people realize that something is working, there is the part where getting more and more comes into play.

      Google penalizing for actions outside of their general terms and conditions is trying to keep the credibility and integrity of search. Common users who are performing searches for something does not pay as much attention to the algorithms as we in the industry do. Sometimes we need to think about that more.

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