Google Slaps Overstock.com On The Wrists For Tinkering With Search Results

The search engine police at Google have penalized Overstock.com after finding that the online retailer was artificially boosting its prominence on search results by effectively paying for links on .edu sites.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The incident, according to Overstock, stemmed in part from its practice of encouraging websites of colleges and universities to post links to Overstock pages so that students and faculty could receive discounts on the shopping site. Overstock said it discontinued the program on Feb. 10, before hearing from Google, but said some university webmasters have been slow to remove the links.

Because .edu sites don’t regularly link out to commercial sites, the Google search algorithm gives more weight to outgoing links from these URLs.

As a result of Google’s findings against Overstock, that site’s results are now showing up much further down on the search engine.

Back to the WSJ article:

Overstock’s pages had recently ranked near the top of results for dozens of common searches, including “vacuum cleaners” and “laptop computers.” But links to Overstock on Tuesday dropped to the fifth or sixth pages of Google results for many of those categories, greatly reducing the chances that a user would click on its links.

“Google has made clear they believe these links should not factor into their search algorithm,” said Overstock’s CEO. “We understand Google’s position and have made the appropriate changes to remain within Google’s guidelines.”

Earlier this month, Google penalized department store chain JCPenney for manipulating search results.

And this is just the latest black eye for Overstock, which was sued last November by district attorneys in seven California counties for allegedly overstating the discounts on its site.

Google Penalizes Overstock for Search Tactics [WSJ]