Discount retailer Overstock.com was caught offering college students a coupon in exchange for posting links. According to the article in the Wall Street Journal, students and faculty were asked to post links to the retailer’s website for their 10% off coupon. Links were specified to featured items the retailer wanted to highlight.
What purpose would this serve? Well links would give the company an artificial boost in Google search rankings, which could help online retail efforts. Even worse, the request was aimed cleverly at colleges who post to .edu websites because of the higher value placed from links on these types of sites.
Whoa! Sounds pretty shady? Well blackhat SEO is by nature. It’s an unethical marketing practice that can be used to manipulate Google’s ranking system. But those who get caught have to pay a hefty price tag. When contacted for information, their chief executive, Patrick Bryne, claimed they discontinued that practice long ago. But then how did this happen and who placed the article in the Wall Street Journal?
In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter, because it won’t change Google’s mind about punishing Overstock.com for unethical marketing practices. This online marketplace can look forward to an unpleasant drop in its ratings and it will take time and hard work to recover from this fall. Is Overstock.com the only one? Unfortunately not. But moving forward, let’s hope that other online retailers will learn that it’s not wise to try fooling your customers.