Now Google demotes

Ash Nallawalla

24 February 2011

Google Search, SEO

Recently, I wrote about Google demoting JC Penney for getting links from dubious places. Now it has demoted for getting links from very prestigious websites – .edu to be precise.

Amir Efrati writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Google Inc. is penalizing Inc. in its search results after the retailer ran afoul of Google policies that prohibit companies from artificially boosting their ranking in the Internet giant’s search engine.


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.

University sites linking to

Seattle Pacific University is one of those sites with keyword anchor text links to

Nice anchor text

Offering discounts to staff and students is an old tactic for getting links from .edu sites but this is a blatant example of anchor text links. The penalty has been a massive demotion in rankings. “Bunk Beds” is not even in the first 100 results now.


Wait a minute. This case is quite different from the JC Penney one, where the anchor-text links came from no-value sites. There is no suggestion that Overstock paid for such links, even though it might have paid for SEO advice. Companies have been offering discounts to university staff and students for decades, although the anchor text links sound like special instructions were given.

The WSJ article makes no mention of the thread started 12 days ago by a newcomer to Webmasterworld’s Google Rankings – any ideas on what they did? The other curiosity is that Google was only too happy to comment on the JC Penney incident, but not in this case. Could JC Penney’s alleged monthly AdWords spend of $2.46M have some bearing on this?

Anchor text links are suddenly bad?

For many years websites have offered cut-and-paste HTML code to anyone willing to link to them. Could Google devalue anchor text links, particularly those on otherwise respectable sites? Could someone contemplate the logic that a university has no reason to link to a commercial website using product oriented anchor text?


It could, but this might lead to less relevant results. It doesn’t make sense. I think that overstock’s rankings will reappear quietly in the near future.


Ash Nallawalla

Search strategist experienced in large, complex websites. SEO consultant.

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  • Mike on 25 February 2011

    Wow. I think you are right on this one, the rankings will come back pretty quick. If not, we all have a lot to think about when it comes to Anchor text.

    Is Google moving towards seeing Anchor text as a negative SEO factor? OMG!

    • Ash on 25 February 2011

      Matt Cutts will probably be asked to explain this decision for the next six months, I estimate. 🙂

  • Fivos on 26 February 2011

    “There is no suggestion that Overstock paid for such links”

    My understanding is that Overstock gave discounts to students and that prompted the anchor-text heavy “do-follow” links. This is a form of paying! I don’t think it would be an issue if the links were no-follow like advertising links are supposed to be according to Google’s webmaster guidelines.

    • Ash on 26 February 2011

      Discount offers are not a form of payment and that could be argued till the cows come home. Every uni site will have a bunch of discount offer links, and this one is a blatant example of anchor text links that stands out for that reason. It isn’t advertising since we don’t know if the unis charge for this, or whether they see it as a service to their staff and students.

      The mere mention of links as “dofollow” in itself is a matter for alarm. Links are just links and there is no need for trillions of URLs to suddenly spell out their intent (rel=”follow”?) to suit Google’s changing moods.

      I see this as a concern to ordinary users, who are entitled to search for discounts. If the algo is changed to [ignore anchor text if and] then we will see fewer relevant results.

      I can imagine some people thinking of setting up crappy off-topic sites full of anchor text links to their competitors…

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