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(Read Time: 5 Minutes)

I wanted to pass along and comment on a really interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today:

==> Google Penalizes Overstock for Search Tactics

The article talks about how Overstock.com, one of the largest online retailers, got severely penalized by Google as a result of less than honest practices in trying to improve their search engine rankings.

The same type of scheme was widely reported last week in a New York Times piece as being perpetrated by JCPenny (who would have thought...).

So what did they do that you BETTER not be doing in your company's online marketing?

The Rundown:
The Problem: Overstock.com (and others) are using less than honest practices to get backlinks from other websites to theirs in order to game the system and systematically rise in the search engine results.
The Solution: Don't do what they did or anything similar! Buying links or manipulating the system will come back to hurt your business in the long run.
The Bottom Line: Use sustainable SEO strategies that will continuously build backlinks and in turn higher search engine rankings over time.

Well, the article explains it in more detail, but essentially Overstock "paid" .edu domain names (from colleges and universities) to link to their website with specific anchor text.

This is a BIG no-no!

By giving discounts to students if they linked to Overstock's website, they in essence violated Google's best practices and terms of service and once Google found out, they were severely punished losing all of their top SEO rankings.

How Anchor Text Helps Your Search Engine Rankings

Anchor text is what's used within a hyperlink to let the user (or search engines) know where the link is going, or what that website is about.

Search engines use the semantic clues within the text to help them determine how they should index or catalog a certain link, website, or page.

I pulled up an example in the below screenshot for the term "Dog Collars":

dog collars anchor text example

In this example, the term Dog Collars that I entered into a Google search, is highlighted as anchor text in the link that will take you directly to the BigDogBoutique.com website.

This tells you -- the visitor -- and Google (if this anchor text and link were on a website) what to expect out of that link and what the site (or a specific page) is about.

There are other factors involved (MANY other factors!), but essentially, over time, the more links you get from websites with certain anchor text linking to you, the more definitive Google can be in determining your search engine rankings and determining exactly what keywords you should rank for.

It WAS a fairly simple equation:

Links + Anchor Text = Higher Rankings

But Google has been getting smarter, using a more sophisticated algorithm to thwart companies like Overstock.com, JCPenny and others (even sites that were doing this legitimately), so that this is not as important a factor as it used to be -- and in fact if it is abused will actually HURT your rankings!

Why is this important for YOUR business?

Simple: If your web team or search engine optimization efforts include any sort of manipulative, spammy, or borderline black hat efforts, you WILL get caught, you WILL get penalized and you'll lose your rankings on Google immediately.

Your goal should be to build a legitimate and sustainable online presence.

In order to do that, make sure you use best practices and NEVER buy or solicit a link from another website knowingly!

Sure, doing a guest article or blog is fine and a natural way to get a link back to your website, but taken too far, you will lose credibility first, and then rankings second and have a heck of a time recovering.

Keep your nose clean from dirty SEO tactics, and your company will continue to rise in the search engine rankings legitimately over time.

Remember: There are no shortcuts to SEO dominance and success -- create a fantastic product or service, then talk about it, reach out to others to talk about it, and build a thriving and sustainable link profile that will stand the test of time because your links are 100% legitimate.