Overstock, a purveyor of myriad discount items, was just recently in the top results for queries like "area rug" or "duvet cover" but has since dropped to the fifth or sixth page in Google's search listings as a result of the discovery.
Google's PageRank system gives better placement to pages that are linked to heavily, giving links from certain kinds of sites more weight than others. Overstock, apparently aware of the fact, offered discounts of 10 percent to students and teachers in exchange for links on keywords like "futon" or "curtain rod." Links that come from .edu sites are given greater weight than other sites.
In Overstock's case, the retailer offered discounts of 10% on some merchandise to students and faculty. In exchange, it asked college and university websites to embed links on certain keywords like "bunk beds" or "gift baskets" that then led to Overstock product pages.
"Google has made clear they believe these links should not factor into their search algorithm," said Patrick Byrne, Overstock's chief executive, told the Wall Street Journal. "We understand Google's position and have made the appropriate changes to remain within Google's guidelines."
Overstock may have crossed the line, but the quest to get on top of Google's search rankings is a familiar game for all websites. And they're not the only ones to go a little too far in the quest for better SEO, or search engine optimization: JC Penney and Forbes were both recently punished for what Google considered inappropriate techniques to up rankings.