Overstock’s Google Problem: Link Attack Or Shopping Hack?

Written by Frank Hayes
March 3rd, 2011

It’s easy to forget that E-tailing can get much messier than you want it to be. Case in point:, which on February 22 got slapped down in Google’s search results for apparently using link farms to boost its Google ranking. That came just two weeks after JCPenney suffered the same fate. But Overstock’s problem may actually be due to an online retail portal in Singapore that just got a little too enthusiastic for Google’s tastes.

According to a statement from Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, one reason Google suspected Overstock of link farming was the E-tailer’s program that offered discounts to university faculty and students. It turns out Google trusts .edu links more than others, and that program raised red flags. But a much bigger problem was probably Tarazz, the Singaporean Web site that created a mirror of Overstock’s own site—complete with 3.5 million links to Overstock.

“Overstock has already sent two cease-and-desist letters to Tarazz,” Byrne wrote. “We have no relationship with Tarazz. It is not out of the question that this is an attempt to sabotage our search rankings by someone with an interest in doing so.”

Well, maybe. If it really is sabotage, it’s also happening to Amazon, Foot Locker, Ralph Lauren, Ann Klein, Victoria’s Secret, Gap and 20 other retailers linked to by Tarazz’s site. What’s more likely is that Tarazz has come up with a clever approach to cross-border E-Commerce. The site offers customers in Singapore the chance to shop at U.S. online retailers, then pay Tarazz in Singapore dollars at prices that include shipping and import fees.

Right now, the Tarazz shopping portal works by opening up a U.S. retailer’s site in one window, with a sidebar window into which customers can copy product numbers, clothing sizes and other ordering information. But if what Overstock claims is true, that’s a new development. Until recently, Tarazz apparently linked directly to every product on any retailer’s site that it mirrored.


One Comment | Read Overstock’s Google Problem: Link Attack Or Shopping Hack?

  1. Bob LeMay Says:

    Hmmm. Sounds like it worked almost perfectly–innovative internet company comes up with an ingenious solution, but one that causes an unforeseen consequence. The unforeseen consequence raises a red flag which is apparently acted on quickly by creating a new ingenious solution.

    The only thing that would make this better is if Google (“Do no Evil”) wouldn’t announce “slap-downs” on companies without allowing for a little more research into the problem. If had been given time to investigate further and get Tarazz to make it changes before Google “outed”, it would have been “no harm, no foul”.


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