Today Google took another bold step against a well positioned online sales company. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

“Google Inc. is penalizing Overstock.com Inc. in its search results after the retailer ran afoul of Google policies that prohibit companies from artificially boosting their ranking in the Internet giant’s search engine”

This happened, in my opinion, due to Overstock.com’s great understanding of Search Engine Optimization, as well as Google’s algorithms.

If you have ever looked for purchasing content, Overstock.com always came up on top. Now, due to Google’s slap on the wrist, they have dropped numerous positions for most searches. This stems, according to Overstock, from their practice of encouraging websites of colleges and universities to link to their site in exchange for discounts on the shopping site. So you might get to Overstock from your Colleagues “Special Offers” page and receive an additional 10% off of the product, say a gift basket.

Overstock claims they discontinued the program in February, but as always in the web, some people were slow to remove the links.  According to Overstock’s CEO, Patrick Byrne “Google has made clear they believe these links should not factor into their search algorithm. We understand Google’s position and have made the appropriate changes to remain within Google’s guidelines.”

But the question remains… has Google gone to far?

In my opinion, they have. This comes closely on the heals of a similar action against JC Penny’s site in their databases. Again stemming from someone finding unique ways to increase the incoming traffic to their site from reputable institutions. What’s next… will they remove the influence of sites like yellowpages.com, or yelp.com? Additionally, according to the Wall Street Journal, Google refuses to comment other than restating their goal of “deliver the most relevant information possible”, and “attempts to game Google’s ranking go on 24 hours a day, every single day.” Well of course they do… they have to!

Google is notorious for being very secretive about what, and how their rankings work. Over 500 attributes contribute to your ranking, who is reputable, who isn’t, who determines what is reputable etc. So how do you increase traffic? What is a good policy, or a bad policy? Where is it documented?

In the future, I think that the openness coming from Microsoft’s Bing organization will help them take the market. They explain things like how their Facebook rankings work, how the look at reputation, how things influence the other. Perhaps it is time for Google to learn that being open was how they started… everyone everywhere can submit whatever they want. If you have a good PageRank then you will be at the top!

So Google… let people do their work, and instead of removing the work they have done, publish rules about what to do and not do… explain yourself, and your tool, and then give people a chance to readjust their strategies. Perhaps you will have less people writing about how you are starting to “go too far”