The Internet is full of reviews warning people about potential rip-offs aimed at taking advantage of consumer ignorance; however, these cons usually involve smaller bargain websites that aren't well-known. That said, a recent report involving an Overstock coupon SEO scam is showing that even major corporations are guilty of shady marketing strategies.

Overstock.com coupons for links

According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal, the company offered at least one Overstock coupon to any college student who posted links to its website on their personal university-provided web pages. By doing this, the company received an artificial boost in Google search rankings, thanks to the way the search engine's algorithm views .edu websites. Although Google won't say for sure, most search engine optimization experts agree that the search engine considers these sites to be far more authoritative than the typical site; and any link originating from one of these pages is thought to provide a considerable boost, since Google rates any incoming link as a vote of sorts for the website's content.

Patrick Byrne, the online marketplace's chief executive, claims his company discontinued the practice long ago; however, that hasn't stopped Google from penalizing the site for what it clearly views as "black hat" SEO.

Overstock coupon scam not alone

Although this particular marketing ploy has gained media attention, according to our in-house SEO copywriter, Ryan Lawrence, it's not the only big-name company to try to manipulate Google's ranking system.

"A few weeks ago, the New York Times reported that J.C. Penney saw a significant drop in its rankings, thanks to Google penalizing the company for what it considered to be black hat marketing tactics," he said. "The company claims that it mistakenly used tactics suggested by an SEO consultant, and it has since ended the relationship; however, the damage is done, and it will be a long road back for the retailer's online presence."

In Overstock.com's case, according to the Wall Street Journal, college students and university faculty members were offered Overstock coupons that provided 10 percent off the usual pricing on its merchandise. In exchange, they were required to embed outbound links to specified keyword phrases, such as "gift baskets" or "bunk beds," all of which led to individual corresponding pages on the website.

According to Lawrence, the fact that two major, publicly-owned corporations have been punished by Google proves that no one is immune, when it comes to being punished for underhanded marketing efforts.

"Both big and small companies had better be very careful listening to SEO companies," he said. "In the end, while these marketers walk away unaffected; the companies are forced to endure catastrophic losses for years after they've parted ways."


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