There is an interesting trend of big brand sites getting busted for gaming Google, and gaining mainstream media attention lately. A couple weeks ago, JCPenney was busted for paid links, then Forbes attracted some similar attention.
Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google has penalized overstock.com on somewhat similar, but different grounds. WSJ's Amir Efrati reports:
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.
Overstock's CEO Patrick Byrne is quoted as saying, "Google has made clear they believe these links should not factor into their search algorithm. We understand Google's position and have made the appropriate changes to remain within Google's guidelines." Google, of course, would not comment on any specific site.
It's quite interesting to see big brands taking a hit from the search giant. Google appears to have a renewed focus on search quality in recent weeks, probably due to the large amount of criticism the company has received lately. A recent algorithm change was implemented to further crack down on spam, and Google has said it is shifting its focus to content farms.
Google has since released a Chrome extension searchers can use to block certain sites from their own search experience, while sending signals to Google that could be used in its algorithm down the road.