Overstock.com said the rise in Google ranking occurred because the company encouraged students and faculty from colleges and universities to link to the site to get discounts, according to the Wall Street Journal. The retailer offered the discounts In exchange for college and university websites embedding links for certain phrases to Overstock products.
It turns out that Overstock's campaign was a very good idea, because the Google algorithm gives more cachet to .edu sites than .com or .net sites.
Google Pins San Francisco
"Google has made clear they believe these links should not factor into their search algorithm," Patrick Byrne, Overstock's chief executive, told the WSJ. "We understand Google's position and have made the appropriate changes to remain within Google's guidelines."
Google's New Wave of Communication
Overstock said that it stopped the program on Feb. 10 but that many links may not have been removed.
Search engine optimization is practiced by almost all retailers, but some tactics can mean violating Google policies. Earlier this month, Google punished retailer JCPenney for using similar tactics -- linking from other websites -- that made its site the highest rated during the Christmas season.
Their ranking has since nosedived and JCPenney said it terminated a relationship with an SEO consulting firm.
Overstock's ranking has also fallen.
I'm wondering how many companies are willing to pay someone to boost their ranking, even knowing that by doing so, it could lead to similar punishment by the search giant?
Do some believe they won't be caught, or that it may be worth the punishment for a few good months?
Either way, more retailers are going to have to think in the box rather than out of it -- unless they want to risk being banned from Google forever.