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Overstock.com's Google Rankings - Too Good?
CanadianGuy



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 2:02 am on Jan 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Ladies & Gentlemen of WebmasterWorld,
I'd like to propose a review of Overstock's SEO success in the last 1 - 2 years. Whoever has participated in O's SEO, I have to commend you! Before 2010, you would almost never find Overstock in the top 10. Now they dominate in just about every vertical they compete in. What did they do?

 

thegypsy

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 12:21 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Hey Gang, not much to really add here, other than nice work! I don't think the 'Canadian Guy' was meaning to out them, it's just how it worked out. I can also say that he wasn't the one that contacted the WSJ, I was privvy to that situation.

Ultimately, I had to at least comment on this thread because I've already had peeps thinking that the 'CanadianGuy' was me and that I was playing shady tactics against a competitor. I am NOT the 'Dave' above and I don't work in any competing markets with Overstock... for the record. Thanks :0)

indyank

WebmasterWorld Senior Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 12:25 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

The current opportunistic stream of SEO articles feels more like a propaganda war than true journalism.


I cannot agree more...I wasn't sure why the Press was getting so excited about SEO and Google in particular. Any business faces difficulties from spammers and competitiors and google is no different. Things like these are common to any business and I don't see a reason for the mainstream media to make news of them.

I will also have to add that I don't see any violation of Google TOS in this case.

Brett_Tabke

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 1:39 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Can anyone show us anything where Overstock was not within Google guidelines?

netmeg

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 1:44 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

They weren't penalized for having great rankings. They were penalized for not covering their tracks well enough. Once it was uncovered, and discussed, Google felt manipulated, so Google felt stupid. *POW*

[edited by: netmeg at 1:46 pm (utc) on Feb 24, 2011]

Brett_Tabke

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 1:45 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

As far as we know right now, I don't think thats what happened here Netmeg. I have seen 8 examples now and not one was in any way not within Google guidelines.

Overstock was penalized for having great rankings and a brillant marketing effort. They probably learned it at a Google sponsored conference.

Lets look at what they did:

- Made an offer to college students.
- Specifically target products that college students (and parents) would be attracted too.
- Ask those college students to link back.
- Provided cheap copy for those students to do so.
- Provided an affiliate program anyone could join.

Thus, students were incentivized to join and link.

There (at this point in time) is no evidence that Overstock was involved with placing the copy.

[edited by: Brett_Tabke at 3:08 pm (utc) on Feb 24, 2011]

netmeg

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 1:55 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

I'm not saying they weren't within Google's written guidelines (I haven't looked and I'll take your word on that) I'm saying that whoever makes these decisions at Google felt manipulated, and brought the hammer down. I'm not defending them, fer chrissakes. But having this all come to light within weeks of the JCP and Forbes stories was certainly unfortunate timing for Overstock. Had it come to light on its own, I bet it wouldn't have gotten near the reaction.

MY lesson I take from this is to make sure MY tracks are covered, whether white, black, grey or flaming pink.

(I liked your first expletive better, ork ork)

thegypsy

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 2:02 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Ok gang, once more... it was NOT all about the EDUs. I can confirm this, but I cannot give details as it was given to me <off the record>. And I can also confirm that the other item they were caught doing is most CERTAINLY in voilation of the Google guidelines.

I was also confused somewhat as there was no 'smoking gun' with the EDU stuff. I've gotten clarification and most certainly ANY website would have been nuked if caught doing what they were.

I wish I could tell you more, but I respect my sources.

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 2:14 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

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.

Can anyone tell me why they removed the links before hearing from Google?

wheel

WebmasterWorld Senior Member wheel us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 2:15 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

thegypsy, it may not have been ALL about the edu's. But the WSJ article seems to confirm that it was somewhat about that.

It shouldn't have been ANYTHING about the edu's. Because it was even a bit about the .edu's - something that most here would see as good marketing practices rather than against Google's TOS - we still have a clear example of Google hand manipulating the SERPS for their own purposes even when somethings within guidelines. Overstock got whacked because they were an embarrassement, not because they broke the guidelines. Any TOS they broke are now merely an excuse.

And all this, while I'm getting beaten in the rankings by article submitters. Unbelievable.

Personally I'll make even greater efforts to shield my site from other's eyes. Now that we know Google plays fast and loose with it's rules, any type of white hat that does any type of marketing online at all is in danger of being whacked at Google's leisure - even if they don't break the TOS.

Heck, I just paid $ to support a local education initiative that I'm fond of. They put up a list of supporters, with links, on a .edu. This clearly can get me penalized in Google. Un.freakin.believable.

buckworks

WebmasterWorld Administrator buckworks us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 3:01 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

But the WSJ article seems to confirm that it was somewhat about that.


You have more confidence than I do in the WSJ's ability to grasp the SEO details and present them accurately. (Or any print media, for that matter.)

Brett_Tabke

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 3:07 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Agreed Buckworks. We do need to be cognizant of the fact there is info here we don't have. I am confident we will have it by the end of the day. (Probably another shoe to drop yet.)

wheel

WebmasterWorld Senior Member wheel us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 3:24 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

You have more confidence than I do in the WSJ's ability to grasp the SEO details and present them accurately. (Or any print media, for that matter.)

Hello? I read it online on the interwebs.

Also, thegypsy, an anonymous individual on an internet forum who "has contacts" has confirmed that it was at least partially about the edu discount program. QED.

Seriously, I assumed that the WSJ had specific information - the article was quite clear on the reason. They could be wrong, I assumed they weren't. To put it another way, the claim wasn't vague or open to intepretation - it was clear and precise. They could be wrong, but I don't think because they were unclear as to what they were printing as to the cause. It'd be because they don't actually know the cause and just read it online.

thegypsy

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 3:28 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

"thegypsy, it may not have been ALL about the edu's. But the WSJ article seems to confirm that it was somewhat about that."

Well, that's from their talking head. He obviously didn't mention the more egregious tactic that they were caught employing. So, take anything they said so far with a grain of salt.

Hopefully someone (OS or Google) will add more details to this story, but I wouldn't hold your breath. I just wanted to help clear up the confusion there is about this tactic being the lone issue. I am not even sure that is what they were nuked for.

TheMadScientist

WebmasterWorld Senior Member themadscientist us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 3:29 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

it was NOT all about the EDUs. I can confirm this, but I cannot give details as it was given to me <off the record>. And I can also confirm that the other item they were caught doing is most CERTAINLY in voilation of the Google guidelines.

I was also confused somewhat as there was no 'smoking gun' with the EDU stuff. I've gotten clarification and most certainly ANY website would have been nuked if caught doing what they were.

[thegypsy]

We do need to be cognizant of the fact there is info here we don't have. I am confident we will have it by the end of the day.

[brett_tabke]

Can anyone tell me why they removed the links before hearing from Google?
[BeeDeeDubbleU]

After reading thegypsy and brett_tabke's comments, my guess is the answer to the question BeeDeeDubbleU has, which I wondered about myself, is they were trying to avoid the 'microscope' if there was something else going on ... You know, the 'hey, we already fixed what we were doing' type thing.

wheel

WebmasterWorld Senior Member wheel us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 3:32 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Yes,it'll be interesting if more details appear.

In any event, this public thrashing is likely doing Google more harm than good in the webmaster community. Anything whitehat that can trigger a penalty for any reason is bad news for whitehats.

netmeg

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 3:59 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

("thegypsy" isn't exactly an anonymous individual in the industry. He just isn't seen around *here* all that much.)

thegypsy

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 4:10 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

@Netmeg... lol... I wasn't gonna go there, it's nice to be anonymous once in a while ;0)

@Wheel - I was involved in this story a few days ago when the WSJ journal contacted me about this thread (I am that guy 'Dave Harry' mentioned at the end of the WSJ article). By the time I came along the OS rankings were already nuked. Google either found this thread or the WSJ alerted them to it. Some of the emails I exchanged with the various parties alerted me to the 'other' issues. Sadly it is 'off the record' and I respect that.

murgatroid



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 4:14 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Not too be cute (okay, to be cute...) but the .edu links are not really paid links unless you can prove that someone actually used the 10% discount code from one of the .edu sites to purchase something from Overstock.

That said, Google doesn't really have to prove anything, which is the Google Golden Rule since "them who has the gold makes the rules."

driller41

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 4:16 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

The first red flag should have been CanadianGuy's new membership the second flag is the posting "I'd like to propose a review of Overstock's SEO success in the last 1 - 2 years"

This post should not have happened. Smells like a barrel of mackerel to me.

mrguy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 4:25 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

This appears to me to have been a targeted attack. The OP joins and posts the thread the same day.

Pretty effective counter SEO tactic.

frontpage

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 4:35 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Unless they received some very powerful links, I'd rule it out almost completely, it would be at the bottom of my list.


A quick check shows me that they have NOT gained a lot of backlinks this past year - so we can probably rule out that factor.


The 'expert' opinions are funny to review now given that links were exactly why Overstock gained so rapidly in the search results.

Google Penalizes Overstock for Search Tactics


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


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.


So basically Overstock got a lot of .edu links which goosed its search results.

[online.wsj.com...]

Some members apparently know what they are talking about -- Cain and ratzker.

Another very experienced and knowledgeable member on this forum and I were discussing this last year.

One word - links.

aakk9999

WebmasterWorld Administrator 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 5:20 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Yes, where is ratzker? He resurected this thread 10 days ago with pdf about links. If he did not post that, the OS thread would just die...

Although ratzker joined in July, he only ever posted in this thread. I am wondering if he is connected with CanadianGuy.

My theory:
Someone found what OS is doing. They wanted them to be penalised by Google. Maybe they even reported them, and it did not work, who knows. Then they used WebmasterWorld to ask for the site to be publicly reviewed (CanadianGuy).

WebmasterWorld members failed to find anything and discounted the links as a factor (mind you, the quantity of .edu links probably did not show any obvious spike in link acquisition, it appears it was link authority that offset the quantity that would perhaps be needed to rank for these phrases).

Anyway, the thread died... then ratzker, an user that never posted before, and who joined 6 months ago suddenly comes up with OS pdf and link sources, resurecting the thread. Lots of "WOW..." and "..if OS does not get whacked, that means this is a legimate method.." and a week later OS is gone.

Now of course, there are "other things found" on OS site. They perhaps needed to be found to further justify the penalty. I think you can find some kind of things on every site if you look at it with a microscope.

Uhm.. this really sounds like an industrial crime novel...

wheel

WebmasterWorld Senior Member wheel us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 5:29 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

If Overstock is reading this thread, I'd like to apologize on behalf of the readers here. I don't think most people here would've liked this to have gone down the way it did.

aakk9999

WebmasterWorld Administrator 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 5:32 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

If Overstock is reading this thread, I'd like to apologize on behalf of the readers here. I don't think most people here would've liked this to have gone down the way it did.
Agree... the whole thing does leave a bad aftertaste..
indyank

WebmasterWorld Senior Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 5:43 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

I would say that whatever that has been referenced and discussed here were well within Google TOS.

But now another new person thegypsy (the third one?!) claims that OS were penalized for something that he cannot disclose!

Above all, what surprises me is it appears that google didn't disclose overstock's name (as they weren't willing to discuss any specific website), but wsj article suggests that OS themselves have disclosed google's action!

ponyboy96

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 6:41 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

First JC Penny and now Overstock. Both were targeting similar things and then outed publicly. Coincidence? Then Forbes gets smacked for 'selling links'. I'm starting to wonder if there is some relationships between all these things above the whole links debate, like maybe even a 'their beating me in the rankings and I'm going to use my influence to bowl them' kind of thing. Especially since this all involves large media sites with connections to big newspapers. Top it off with some big SEO players getting thrown into the mix. Things that make you go hmmmm?

Rugles

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 6:58 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

This is now one of my all time favourite WebmasterWorld threads.

np2003

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 7:46 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

This is a great move by Google. It shows that Google do not protect their million dollar Adword customers. These big companies tried to get away with blackhat tactics, but Google penalizes all, big or small. I'd hate to be the company handling OS, probably already fired.

tedster

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 7:48 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

another new person thegypsy (the third one?!) claims that OS were penalized for something that he cannot disclose

No mystery here - thegypsy is not "new", he's been a member since 2006. He was one of the first to discuss Google's phrase-based indexing patents [webmasterworld.com], for instance. In addition he's well known and respected in the larger SEO community.

He was close to the story because the WSJ reached out to him for technical understanding.

murgatroid



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 8:37 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

This is a great move by Google. It shows that Google do not protect their million dollar Adword customers.


It also means that their million dollar AdWords customers now must spend two million to try and make up for the lost organic traffic/revenue.

Win-win-win for Google.

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4252178 posted 8:51 pm on Feb 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

If Overstock is reading this thread, I'd like to apologize on behalf of the readers here. I don't think most people here would've liked this to have gone down the way it did.

Sorry? Who gave you permission to apologise for "the readers" here? I would prefer to reserve my judgement if you don't mind.

I will ask again ...
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.

Can anyone tell me why they removed the links before hearing from Google?

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