Google penalises for offering discounts in return for links

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  • February 24, 2011
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Following on from the JC Penney story Google has penalised another of Americas largest ecommerce sites, for apparently offering .edu sites a 10% discount if they placed a link on their pages.

Apparently Google was responding to a complaint from a competitor last week. Google contacted Overstock to explain the problem. A thread has been running on WMW for over a month about this and full details are here.

The first link of this sort I found was here which immediately raises the question of what Google intends to do about the other 1104 links on that page? Certainly if you have a link on a page like this it’s time to start worrying.

Another example is here.

To me this is a lot less clear cut than the JC Penney story. Retailers should be able to offer discounts to people without worrying that the links will be in violation of Googles guidelines. I can’t imagine there would have been a penalty if the links didn’t have optimised anchor text. If Google wants to discount these links that’s fine but this is quickly turning into a race to report competitors and a PR battle where Google has to be seen to take action before a big newspaper writes the story.

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.

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.

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

In Overstock’s case, the retailer offered discounts of 10% on some merchandise to students and faculty. In exchange, it asked college and university websites to embed links for certain keywords like “bunk beds” or “gift baskets” to Overstock product pages.

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