Recently, a few major companies have been accused of using questionable link-building techniques in order to boost their search engine ratings. Among them are Overstock.com, which is a website affiliated with eBay, and known for discounted products. This site, which was founded as early as 1999 in Salt Lake City, Utah, currently garners about ten million visitors every month. As a result of the Internet indiscretion, it is reported that Overstock has been punished for using improper link exchanges, which violate Google’s policies regarding search engine optimization.
Due to the popularity of affiliate marketing, AdSense, and other internet money-making methods, it has been increasingly difficult for even large companies to keep the top-ranked spot on Google’s rankings for various keywords. This position is important for sales and prestige, and some companies are willing to do just about anything to get it.
Recently, Google updated their algorithm, which is the method they use for calculating the position at which a website should be ranked based on the number and quality of its back links. This update, which put more emphasis on unique articles (quality over quantity) has forced a lot of companies to quickly change their approach to SEO.
Overstock’s Internet crime spree involved offering discounts to students and teachers, as payment for posting links with popularly-searched phrases such as “futons”. These links were embedded on college websites, which typically have the domain .edu. Google gives more weight to links coming from this domain, and as a result, it helps Overstock keep the top search positions for these specific keywords.
From the Wall Street Journal: “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.” – Patrick Byrne, Chief Executive, Overstock.com
Simply put, Google does not look kindly on those companies who engage in link-building methods which manipulate the algorithm used to rank web pages. They are very public about their guidelines, and openly punish those who violate them. Meanwhile, the algorithm used by Google has been criticized as being unfair toward its competition, by giving higher SEO credence to its own products and services.
And Overstock is not the only one who has recently been guilty of such practices. Forbes and JC Penny have also been penalized for shady link-building and exchange policies.