Overstock.com is the next in a string of high-profile companies that have been very publicly busted by Google for unethical linking schemes (and by unethical, we mean they are in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines). Most recently Forbes got nailed for selling links on their site, and just before then JC Penney was busted for buying backlinks.
Overstock didn’t outright buy their links, instead they offered college students and faculty a 10% discount if they included links from the college website to Overstock.com — with instructions on how to structure these links and to which pages the links should point to.
The result was that Overstock was ranking in the first few Google SERP results for many competitive phrases, like bunk beds, computer desks, laptop computers, and more.
Google values links from .edu sites very highly, and thus their strategy of offering discounts for those .edu links was certainly effective… in the short term. It’s worth noting that there is some debate about whether they actually violated the Google webmaster guidelines, since they didn’t actually pay for those links. However, they did offer monetary compensation in the form of reduced prices in exchange for the links, and that’s clearly enough for Google. Besides which, I don’t think anyone would argue that those were natural, organic links.
But we now have yet another example of a company trying to sneak around Google’s guidelines, seeing great results, and then getting caught and punished. Where Overstock was ranking in the top three results for most of these phrases, they are now not even on the first few pages — their ranking is buried 5 or 6 pages in, back where the ranking provides no measurable traffic at all.
I wonder if we’ll see Overstock publicly firing their SEO firm like JC Penney did after their link buying debacle.