Google’s Action Against Paid Links Continues: Overstock & Forbes Latest Casualties; Conductor Exits Brokering Business

Vanessa Fox on
  • Categories: Channel: SEO, Features: Analysis, Google: SEO, SEO: Spamming
  • Last week, J.C. Penney made the news for plummeting  in Google rankings for everything from “area rugs” to “grommet top curtains”. Turns out the retail site had a number of suspicious links pointing at it that could be traced back to a link network intended to manipulate Google’s ranking algorithms.

    Google, in order to protect their core unpaid search goal of providing the most relevant and useful results to searchers, seeks out these types of manipulations and knocks down the rankings of sites involved with them.

    Several days later came news that Forbes.com ran afoul of the Google guidelines from the other side: selling links on their site intended to manipulate PageRank.

    Now, Overstock.com has lost rankings for another type of link that Google finds to be manipulation of their algorithms. And in the midst of all of this, a company with substantial publicity lately for running a paid link network announces they are getting out of the link business entirely.

    Overstock.com’s Program To Exchange Discounts For .EDU Links

    Overstock.com suffered a similar fate as jcpenney.com. The Wall Street Journal reports that they’ve disappeared for all kinds of searches they used to rank highly for, such as [vacuum cleaners] and [laptop computers].

    What happened? Overstock didn’t use a link network to buy links. Instead, they created a program in which they provided discounts to products in exchange for links (with specific anchor text to specific URLs) from .edu sites. Search News Central linked to a document that outlines the details of the program:

    Overstock.com is offering ABAC students and faculty 10% off of selected products using the coupon code: 121728… Link Details; please use the following hyperlinks for each keyword:
    “vacuum cleaners” should by the hyperlink to: http://www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/VacuumCleaners/2004/subcat.html
    “gift baskets” should be the hyperlink to: http://www.overstock.com/Gifts-Flowers/GiftBaskets/125/dept.html…

    The document includes the text to place on the discount page provides specific instructions anchor text and links to 14 pages. You can see the discount text on college sites all over the web.

    As the Wall Street Journal reports, Overstock has now realized this program is seen by Google as an attempt to manipulate their algorithms and has ended the program:

    “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.”

    Forbes.com Sells Links For PageRank

    Several years ago, Forbes.com was outed for selling links intended to manipulate Google’s PageRank algorithms. Apparently they did this through a link network (more on that below) and thought they had cleaned things up long ago.

    But last week, they posted in the Google Webmaster discussion forum that they received a notice from Google about “possibly artificial or unnatural links…pointing to other sites.”. But where were these links? They weren’t sure. Techcrunch found them in short order and Forbes posted on their own site:

    “There was a period of time in the past when Forbes did sell links through a partner. This is no longer the case, and we began removing those links late last year.”

    Just who was this link partner? Possibly a company called Conductor. Matt Cutts, head of webspam at Google, posted in the Google Webmaster thread that:

    “People on this thread have already mentioned Conductor, and I’ve confirmed multiple times that paid links that pass PageRank via Conductor violate our guidelines. I’ve commented on an article about Conductor as long ago as 2008 at http://twitter.com/#!/mattcutts/status/22019997220 when I said “Because someone asked me about it: Conductor paid link network does violate Google’s quality guidelines, and we do take action in response.”

    Conductor Exits The Paid Link Network Business

    Matt Cutts’ comments seem pretty clear. Using Conductor’s paid link network is seen by Google as a manipulation of their ranking algorithms and is against their guidelines. Conductor appears to have seen the writing on the wall because just days before this discussion, Conductor posted to their blog that “we will no longer be offering any link-building services.”  They have sold the assets to another company (whose services will presumably also be in violation of Google’s guidelines).

    What Types Of Links Don’t Violate Google’s Guidelines?

    If a link is paid for in any way, it’s advertising, and shouldn’t be used to try to improve PageRank. Links that are great for PageRank are those that are editorially given.

    Create valuable content, raise awareness of that content so people know it exists, and let them link to it because they want to. For more details and tips, see Search Engine Land’s weekly link building column and tips from Google themselves.

    Additional discussion on Techmeme.

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    About The Author

    Vanessa Fox
    Vanessa Fox is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. She built Google Webmaster Central and went on to found software and consulting company Nine By Blue and create Blueprint Search Analytics< which she later sold. Her book, Marketing in the Age of Google, (updated edition, May 2012) provides a foundation for incorporating search strategy into organizations of all levels. Follow her on Twitter at @vanessafox.