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Google Hands Down Hefty Punishment to Online Retailer

google punishes overstock.comGoogle has handed down yet another hefty punishment to a major retailer. This time the offender, is certainly not new to controversy with the numerous lawsuits, SEC investigations and only having turned a profit for the first time in April 2010. The punishment is a crushing blow to their rebranding efforts from started in January of this year from to Though we have not heard too much about the rebrand in recent weeks.

Google Punishes for Violating Guidelines

The violation is quite different from JC Penny as reported by Amir Efrati in the Wall Street Journal as has not denied that they targeted college and university students and faculty by offering a 10% discount if they embedded links for certain keywords whereas JC Penny has vehemently denied having any knowledge of the black hat SEO practice of their then SEO firm.

Links from colleges and universities are alleged to carry higher weight as a link as they are deemed to be a trusted site and are differentiated with .edu. Links to a website create authority and have helped tremendously with rankings. There are other factors that are a part of the secret recipe contained with the algorithms however we have been to see some proven trends that show highly authoritative links do make a difference in rankings. Achieving those links is part of a link building strategy that seems to be where the violations are most recognized by Google.

It is being reported by the WSJ that a competitor did file a complaint with Google about the practices of Patrick Byrne, CEO of has already addressed the issue and in a statement “We understand Google’s position and have made the appropriate changes to remain within Google’s guidelines.”

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Is Bing also Dishing out Penalties?

Bing was accused by Google of copying their search results earlier this month so we have to wonder if Google penalizing these retailers has had an effect upon the rankings on Bing. Well, I decided to take a sneak peak over and see how Bing has reacted, if at all. It does not appear that they are punishing either retailer. A search for the term “dresses”, a term JC Penney was punished for on Google appears pretty prominently on the first page of Bing.  They are also a paid advertiser for this term on Bing as they are on Google  however they are no where to be found in the organic results on page 1 of Google. Interestingly enough, there is a little  irony here as is ranking #2 on Bing for dresses.

Bing search results for dresses

A search for “laptop computers,” a term that Google has punished over on Bing did have them on page 1 in the 7th spot.

Bing search results for overstock on laptop computers

These are for just two of the terms that the respective retailers have been penalized for and it may take some time for Bing to catch up. Or, is it in their best interest to keep these rankings to increase paid listing revenue from these retailers?

Gaming Google with Social Signal Links

Gaming Google is going to eventually going to get you penalized. Are we going to see a new wave of trying to game Google and Bing with the social signals? How much weight does a retweet from an industry leader have? What about a like on Facebook? What about a comment from someone signed in with their Facebook account? We do have to look at this as these results are appearing and we know that eventually someone(s) will be able to figure out how to game it. In a recent post by Jay Baer on, he showed us how most of us are not even using Facebook properly yet we see an awful lot of likes being thrown around. If Google or Bing said that the amount of likes or retweets an article gets from quality profiles, the higher the rankings will be for that article, wow, the a-listers could make a fortune. When Google did confirm the use of social signals in results, Matt Cutts was very clear to say that it is quality and not quantity. Quality of the follower and to avoid quantity. Same concept with links as many mediocre links do not boost your rankings as much as one that has authority and link juice.

Black hat SEO will always exist and as the social networks continue to develop it will only grow. Penalizing is sending a message, however the overwhelming media coverage that the two retailers have received over this has had to have driven in traffic. Traffic does not always equate to sales we know, but it puts them top of mind and reminds them that oh yes, JC Penny does have dresses and oh, sells laptops? I should check out their prices.

Are the actual penalties being overshadowed by the media attention that these retailers have received? Will we see some copycats who try and get penalized to eat up the media time in order to push product?

photo credit: Miguel Mendoza

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