According to a release from Overstock, the online retailer is back in the search overlord’s good graces again after atoning for supposedly manipulating the holy search algorithm. See, Overstock encouraged higher education institutions to list links to the retailer’s products and discounts on their websites. Like “.gov” sites, “.edu” sites receive more weight in Google’s rankings, and the Overstock links on these pages pushed the company up Google search results in general.
Overstock’s public flogging came right after The New York Times revealed that J.C. Penney had gotten away with all kinds of black-hat SEO baloney during the holiday season. Sure, Google drastically lowered that retailer’s rank, but it already received the windfall of propitious search results during the most buyingest time of the year.
Sure seemed like Google fell asleep at the wheel, so you had to wonder if Google was showing its tough side with Overstock — sending the message to other major retailers to mess with its algorithm at your own peril.
It certainly sounds like bully behavior as Google effectively forced Overstock to remove its links from university and college pages — and continued to punish the retailer after it met Google’s demands. I understand why Overstock acquiesced — the company claimed lowered search rankings slapped sales by 5% — but I’m kinda sad it didn’t put up more of a fight. For online retailers who live and die by search results, Google has established an almost tyrannical rule over how to market your product.
In J.C. Penney’s case, it was obvious that the retailer used the cheapest of tactics for the sole purpose of beguiling Google’s search results, but Overstock links on college and university pages theoretically provided a revenue stream and while assisting students already plagued by tuition bills. You could argue that edu websites shouldn’t have links to retailers, but that’s a decision for colleges and universities — or possibly the government — not Google.
If the agency is serious about a possible anti-trust suit over Google’s search biz, the Overstock incident should raise the eyebrows of the Federal Trade Commission.