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Being bad to your customers is bad for business

Interesting little peek behind the Google search curtain

Alternative Google

Interesting little peek behind the Google search curtain.

A recent article by the New York Times related a disturbing story. By treating your customers badly, one merchant told the paper, you can generate complaints and negative reviews that translate to more links to your site; which, in turn, make it more prominent in search engines. The main premise of the article was that being bad on the web can be good for business.

We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez’s dreadful experience. Even though our initial analysis pointed to this being an edge case and not a widespread problem in our search results, we immediately convened a team that looked carefully at the issue. That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live. I am here to tell you that being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google’s search results.

As always, we learned a lot from this experience, and we wanted to share some of that with you. Consider the obvious responses we could have tried to fix the problem:

(click to continue reading Official Google Blog: Being bad to your customers is bad for business.)

The New York Times story was pretty scathing, mostly about DecorMyEyes.com, but also about Google. Good for Google for at least taking the story seriously, at least once it was published.

“Hello, My name is Stanley with DecorMyEyes.com,” the post began. “I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”

It’s all part of a sales strategy, he said. Online chatter about DecorMyEyes, even furious online chatter, pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales. He closed with a sardonic expression of gratitude: “I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.”

That would sound like schoolyard taunting but for this fact: The post is two years old. Between then and now, hundreds of additional tirades have been tacked to Get Satisfaction, ComplaintsBoard.com, ConsumerAffairs.com and sites like them.

Not only has this heap of grievances failed to deter DecorMyEyes, but as Ms. Rodriguez’s all-too-cursory Google search demonstrated, the company can show up in the most coveted place on the Internet’s most powerful site.

Which means the owner of DecorMyEyes might be more than just a combustible bully with a mean streak and a potty mouth. He might also be a pioneer of a new brand of anti-salesmanship — utterly noxious retail — that is facilitated by the quirks and shortcomings of Internet commerce and that tramples long-cherished traditions of customer service, like deference and charm.

Nice? No.

Profitable?

“Very,” says Vitaly Borker, the founder and owner of DecorMyEyes, during the first of several surprisingly unguarded conversations.

“I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”

(click to continue reading For DecorMyEyes, Bad Publicity Is a Good Thing – NYTimes.com.)

Ride Smarter

One suggestion by Google was to use the rel=nofollow attribute to link to sites without necessarily endorsing them. I’ll let Amit Singhal explain that concept:

Use sentiment analysis to identify negative remarks and turn negative comments into negative votes. While this proposal initially sounds promising, it turns out to be based on a misconception. First off, the terrible merchant in the story wasn’t really ranking because of links from customer complaint websites. In fact, many consumer community sites such as Get Satisfaction added a simple attribute called rel=nofollow to their links. The rel=nofollow attribute is a general mechanism that allows websites to tell search engines not to give weight to specific links, and it’s perfect for the situation when you want to link to a site without endorsing it. Ironically, some of the most reputable links to Decor My Eyes came from mainstream news websites such as the New York Times and Bloomberg. The Bloomberg article was about someone suing the company behind Decor My Eyes, but the language of the article was neutral, so sentiment analysis wouldn’t have helped here either.

 

This isn’t a perfect solution, of course, so again, kudos to Google to implementing a new algorithm. It will have to be tweaked undoubtedly, but an effort to fix is better than ignoring the problem.

Instead, in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result.

We can’t say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day. That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings—beyond what we’ve already said. We can say with reasonable confidence that being bad to customers is bad for business on Google. And we will continue to work hard towards a better search.

 

 

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