Google Slams Overstock

American retailer JC Penney recently came under fire after an investigation by the New York Times revealed that the company had artificially boosted their position in the search engine results pages. Queries on everything from “black dresses” to “Samsonite carryon luggage” returned JC Penney as the most relevant site. After Google took action, JC Penney saw its number one rankings disappear. In many cases, they disappeared from the first page of results altogether. Overstock.com, a leading discount merchandiser, has also incurred the wrath of Google for the same offense.

As with JC Penney, Overstock saw their name at the top of scores of common searches, such as “laptop computers” and “vacuum cleaners.” For its part, Overstock claims that these inflated results were the product of a practice in which they encouraged college and university websites to post links to the Overstock site. The idea was that students and faculty could receive discounts. According to Overstock, they stopped this program in early February, but some of the university sites hadn’t removed the links yet.

The .edu domain carries more weight with Google, and because educational institutions very rarely link to retailers, it gives those sites much more weight. David Henry, an SEO expert based in Canada, said, “There is big money in .edu links because they are ‘trusted sites’ in Google’s eyes.”

Overstock was among the top three results for a variety of search queries. After Google became aware of the inflated results, Overstock quickly dropped to between 40 and 70. Patrick Byme, Overstock’s CEO, said, “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.”

Such a drop in ranking can be disastrous for any company. JC Penney and Overstock are well-known retailers. For a small company trying to build an online presence, getting penalised by Google could well be the death knell of their business.

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