In a press release Monday morning, Overstock.com confirmed that it had been taken out of the “Google Penalty Box.” The penalty box is Google’s way of warning companies that are at risk of being removed from the search index. The experience of Overstock.com serves as another indication that good search engine optimization and good marketing are becoming one in the same.
The Overstock.com penalty
In February of 2010, Google manually reduced the search rankings of Overstock.com for several popular search terms. Many of the search results went from near the top of results to the fifth or sixth page of results. This drop happened because Google’s reviewers decided Overstock.com was guilty of attempting to manipulate search results. Overstock.com offered schools and educational institutions discounts on products in exchange for links on their websites. Today, Overstock.com was officially taken out of the penalty box. “We understand Google’s position, and we have made changes to remain clearly within their guidelines,” said Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.
Why educational links are valuable
In most search algorithms, links from educational websites are considered more authoritative than links from other websites. Links from .gov websites are also considered very authoritative, because .gov and .edu links are more difficult to get than links from .com websites. Many search engine optimization experts suggest trying to get .edu and .gov links as a way to improve ranking in search engines. There are “white hat” methods of encouraging these links — providing information and resources that webmasters of these sites would want to link to. There are also “black hat” methods of creating these links — everything from hacking websites to paying for links. Overstock.com’s educational discounts are heavily debated because the offer of a discount could be considered legitimate. Google’s reviewers, however, decided that the offer was an attempt to game the search engine rather than provide value to customers.
Good news and bad news for SEO
As Google’s penalizing of Overstock.com illustrates, search engine optimization is constantly changing. Search engine companies are focused on providing the highest quality, most relevant answers to searchers’ questions. In order to provide these answers, many engines are constantly refining the algorithms used to find and rank available webpages. By putting Overstock.com in the penalty box for more than a year, Google was focusing attention on methods of SEO that, just a few months before, would have been considered good SEO. The good news for optimization is that good marketing and good SEO are becoming much more closely related. If your website provides good customer service and has a good marketing strategy, search engines will recognize and reward that. The bad news for optimization is that techniques that have long been used to manipulate the system are becoming less effective and will continue to decrease in effectiveness.