Google’s fed up and they’re not going to take it anymore…
Last week, it was JC Penney that Google came down on, for what could only be called “black hat SEO” techniques used on their behalf by a company that this author will no longer be directing your attention to. They can get their own [expletive deleted] press. This week it’s Forbes for selling links and Overstock.com for having links from .edu sites.
A dot-EDU (.edu) site is a website for a college or university. Generally, links from one of these types of sites have more weight with the search engines because they are educational institutions and, honestly, if it comes from a place that is molding young minds into the leaders of tomorrow, isn’t it supposed to be good?
Well according to Google, not the way “The O” was doing it. Links on these .edu sites were giving the user a 10% discount on Overstock.com and “The O” was encouraging webmasters to place these links on the .edu sites, “so that students and faculty could find them”; with text links that contained certain keywords. Keywords like “bunk beds” and “gift baskets” to Overstock’s product pages.
Now to me, I feel like, these are things that college students might be able to use, so what is the issue? Money never actually changed hands between Overstock and the schools, other than offering students and faculty a discount. I’m a little fuzzy on what exactly Overstock did wrong.
This is not what JC Penney did…
This is way different than the tactics that the team at JC Penney used and implemented. They paid outright for links. To me, what Overstock did is on par with Microsoft or Adobe in offering discounts to students. Most times, there are links to these products on .edu sites. I feel like Overstock.com may have some very useful products for college students at prices that a college student might more readily be able to afford. At least there is a certain amount of relevancy there.
We’re not talking about a text link that says “black dresses” from a site about breeding horses here. We’re talking about consumer goods that users of a college or university site could very likely find useful. If you go to college and live in a dorm, bunk beds might free up some space for a Twister mat and a mini-fridge. I’m just saying….
How did Google find out?
Somebody told on them. A competitor of Overstock.com contacted Google to complain. My problem with this is that it should never of happened this way. I’m sure colleges wouldn’t give Overstock links if they didn’t see value in what Overstock offers as a company, even without the 10% discount. What Google should have done was looked to see if Overstock was getting traffic from the links before deciding how to handle them. Then, if there was no traffic or not enough traffic to justify the links, take action.
But a sore loser that was competing with Overstock for the terms Overstock was doing better for, complained. Does that mean that if I or the people at my company complain about our competitors that are doing better for our key terms than us, then Google will penalize them? That’s non-sense and to be honest, I don’t think that’s really all that’s going on here.
Google is flexing its muscles and making examples
Here is the scenario: you’re the biggest search engine in the world with the goal of providing the most pertinent results to any given search query. You spend millions, maybe even billions, of dollars on an algorithm that is supposed to achieve this goal, but it has flaws. People have found ways to exploit these flaws as they always have. But where does it stop?
So what do you do? You pick an entity that is blatantly breaking the rules and you come down on them. You make an example of them. Then, at the first sign of something similar happening, you react. Don’t stop, don’t hesitate and don’t show weakness. Make another example. Drive the point home to anyone that might be thinking about how to get over, that it doesn’t matter how big they are, there will be consequences should it be brought to your attention.
We Love Link Building
At Active Web Group, we love link building. We love it. We love finding places that find value in the content and the products that we help to present to them. We love it even more when these entities find enough value in what we’ve shown to them that they want to link to us and our clients. It’s good for us, it’s good for them and it is great for our clients. What I don’t like is the idea that link building could be detrimental to my clients’ rankings because one of their competitors thinks it’s unfair and goes crying to Big Daddy Google that what we’ve helped our client to accomplish is unfair.
Yes, the Internet is supposed to help level the playing field between mom and pop shops and the big boys but, it is only right to use every Internet Marketing opportunity, every weapon in your arsenal to get yourself in front of as many people as possible. With solid content, solid product and pageviews comes conversions.
To be clear I don’t own stock in Overstock.com, and frankly, I’ve never even ordered from them. I’ve browsed their site on a few occasions and I think they have some good stuff. But other than that, I am not affiliated with them and I have no vested interest in their success or failure.
What about Forbes?
Forbes.com is a news site. They are not a business directory akin to Business.com or Yellowpages.com. They really had no business selling links, but at the same time, it’s their site. Newspapers and magazines sell ad space. But Forbes was selling links…with the intention of manipulating PageRank, not for advertising purposes. That really is the difference.
At the end of it, Forbes is wrong, but I think Overstock.com is just a victim of circumstance. I feel like they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and one of their competitors had to go and be a tattle tale because they thought it wasn’t fair and Google wasn’t into looking any deeper than where the links were. No thought was given to the fact that these links were possibly driving traffic. Yes, I know I’m being the Devil’s Advocate. There are some scary precedents being set here. I love Google and the services they provide, but if we have given them the power to dictate who makes money and who doesn’t, then what? Because that’s what it is, as I said earlier, the more pageviews you get the more chances you have to convert. If your site is buried for your primary terms by Google as a “penalty”, then you are losing money.
What have we learned?
Absolute power corrupts, absolutely. Currently, we are in a world where, if you want to make money on the Internet, you have to play by Google’s rules. They are the biggest game in town and if you want in, you have to do as they say, not as they do…but that’s another article.