In all the talk about JC Penney’s recent SEO transgressions and the subsequent penalties and Google-related soul searching, the problems faced by fellow online retailer were just a bit overshadowed.

But make no mistake: What happened between and Google should be noted as an important search marketing lesson.

What happened?
In February 2011, the Sale Lake City-based Overstock was notified of a penalty from Google for its SEO tactics.

The explanation was that Overstock “offered discounts to college kids who linked their ‘.edu’ pages to,” explains’s Inder Sidhu.

“Because .edu pages don’t normally drive commercial traffic, Google considers them to be important sources of information and ranks them high in Internet searches,” Sidhu continues. “Overstock’s attempt to exploit this insight helped increase its visibility on

“Or at least it did until it changed its tactics. Afterwards, Google announced changes designed to penalize those who try to artificially boost their results through questionable search engine optimization (SEO) techniques and other methods.”

Of course, these kinds of tricks aren’t unusual at all, and it’s only been in recent years that Google has cracked down on them. But most large-scale operations were thought to have long ago shied away from “gaming” Google like this.

The affiliate angle
The lesson, then? Now more than ever — especially given Google’s recent targeting of “content farms” — SEO depends on fresh, quality content, regularly updated. Tricks and shortcuts don’t work. Once, they might have offered a brief possibility of short-term results. But no longer. The risk now far outweighs the potential benefit.

For businesses and webmasters who maybe don’t understand just what their search marketers are doing in their name — which JC Penney claims was the cause of its SEO troubles — Sihu advises caution.

“Be careful when it comes to technology you may not fully understand. Today, countless organizations — small businesses especially — are being told that their fortunes will improve if they learn to harness the magical powers of SEO.”

“Today, many publishing companies are putting more investment into search gimmicks than in quality content. The result? Fewer impactful features, more animated slide shows and plenty of SEO-optimized headlines, including one from The Washington Post that read simply, ‘SEO headline here.’”

Related posts: