A few weeks ago, J.C. Penney got busted by Google for some shady linking strategies they were using to improve their search results. The SEO firm they had hired (and have since fired) was allegedly paying websites to link back to JCPenney.com using specific anchor text.
Well, Overstock.com and Forbes.com have been the next in what could end up being a long line of websites who will be changing their seedy ways.
Overstock.com apparently went about it a little different – and perhaps less deceitful – way. Instead of outright paying websites to link to their home page using specific anchor text, they offered discounts on Overstock.com for people who linked – specifically from .edu sites.
While all the details aren’t completely clear, Forbes.com was apparently manipulating Google’s PageRank algorithms. This may be residual from a year or two ago from when they were previously busted, but regardless they’ve since remedied the situation.
And while I must applaud Overstock, Forbes, and J.C. Penney for their efforts (they are, after all, businesses trying to bring in revenue) even though they didn’t break any laws or do anything immoral, they have to know they’re at the mercy of Google’s (sometimes arbitrary) rules. These companies, I’m sure, have large advertising/marketing departments which, I’m sure, did their research and realized they were taking a calculated risk. But they had to have realized it was only a matter of time before they got caught.
So what lessons are there to be learned for the small business owner or e-commerce business? Well, you may not have the luxury of a recognizable brand or a marketing division to take a lot of risks; however, this shouldn’t keep you from trying new things. You should certainly avoid those tactics that you know are going to get you caught, but Search Engine Optimization is a growing industry with a lot of testing and experimentation.
So don’t break the rules and don’t get Google mad at you, but don’t be afraid to try some new things and get your hands dirty.