Google has lifted a manual punishment on discount site Overstock.com, which in February was penalized for offering discounts to students and faculty in exchange for links on coveted .edu sites. The toll of the Google penalty on Overstock.com: a 5 percent drop in sales and 32 percent loss of organic traffic.
Overstock.com announced the news about being released from Google's penalty box yesterday via a press release, which included a brief statement by CEO Patrick Byrne: "We understand Google's position and we have made changes to remain clearly within their guidelines."
Now Overstock.com is back on Page 1 of Google for at least two searches it had dropped to Page 5 or 6 for, [laptop computer] and [vacuum cleaner]:
After being informed of the punishment by Google on Feb. 22, Overstock.com suffered significant drops in "some Google natural search result rankings" and sales were down 5 percent, Reuters reported.
How significant was the traffic drop? Experian Hitwise compiled data for Search Engine Watch, comparing U.S. weekly downstream traffic from Google.com from Jan. 8 vs. April 23, and found that Overstock.com saw its traffic drop by 32 percent in that time period.
That traffic drop is pretty interesting, especially considering two other sites penalized earlier this year actually saw traffic gains during the same period. JCPenney, which was outed for link schemes in January by the New York Times, and Forbes, which was penalized in February for manipulating PageRank by selling links on their website, actually saw organic traffic increases of 2 percent, according to Hitwise's data.
Not sure how that works. But these cases once again show that websites have to play by Google's rules because, unfortunately, too many people have bought into the idea that Google has the right to police the Internet and the content on websites.
It also should be a reminder that your rankings can go away at any time, so try not to rely solely on a third-party that you can't control (i.e., Google) and build an audience that isn't based on free traffic. As Mark Jackson wrote in "The SEO Panda Prescription: Think Like Google," Google doesn't "have to rank you. We're lucky to have a resource such as Google, and you're very lucky to get any amount of traffic from them."