NSFW: When Good Search Engine Placement Goes Bad

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It’s been nearly two decades since the launch of the Internet’s first search engines, and search engine placement is still king. Own the relevant terms for your industry, and you’ll pretty much drown in traffic.

Great search engine placement isn’t always a good thing, though… especially when your user created content comes into play. Today’s example: Amazon’s user-created lists.

TC Reader Sean B. was surfin’ the Tubes in search of the same thing most of us go looking for around this time of year: gift ideas. He needed something for his dad. Easy enough, right? A search for “Gifts For Dads” turns up well over 100 million results — the category is so crowded that even a dozen pages back, the results are still relevant. Nearly every retailer has a gift section tailored specifically for Pops, so the odds that anything nefarious will boil their way to the top are incredibly low.

The twist: Sean’s dad is blind.

Changing the search to “Gifts for blind people” — as one would likely do in Sean’s situation — cuts the number of results drastically. The count dips from 100+ million to less than 2 million. Gone are the results from Brookstone and ThinkGeek, with the results going irrelevant after just a page or two.

But wait, what’s this? The very first result is a (user created) gift guide on Amazon? Perfect!

Alas, Amazon doesn’t do the greatest job clarifying that they’re not the ones making these recommendations… and, well, the recommendations aren’t exactly the greatest, either.

It starts out well enough..

Item #1: Large Print Adress Book. Great! Very thoughtful.

Item #2: A rolling handcart, for keeping important things nearby? Nice! I wouldn’t have thought of that!

But then things get a bit strange…

Item #4: A book called “2002 Days & Nights Of Sex”? … Erm. Sure, why not. Many legally blind people can still read with glasses or other assistive devices, and, well, come on: 2002 Days and Nights Of Sex? In one book? Kind of a tangential pick, but what a bargain!

Item #5: Another book. “The Penis Guide: An Owner’s Manual For Use, Maintenance, and Repair”… uhh. Wait. What?

Item #6: A talking alarm clock? Alright! We’re back on track!

Lets just skim the list a bit..

I’m going to ahead and skip some of the items on the list, but to go all spoiler-alert for a second: the list reaches its absurdity climax somewhere around #15 (the Euro Scooter) and #27 (the powered handsaw.) That’s not to say that visually impaired folks wouldn’t want a powered hand saw — but really, that’s probably a purchasing decision they should make on their own.

Needless to say, this list is someone’s not-so-subtle flexing of their troll muscle — and yet, there it sits, leading the results on what is presumably a moderately common search.

And therein lies the moral of the story: awesome search engine placement + user-created content = especially risky business. While you and I understand that lists like this are user created, we live in a world where a huge chunk of the population still Googles for “Facebook login” and blasts their password into the first text box they see — to that bit of the populace, this is Amazon saying your visually impaired Meemaw would love an archery kit, a book on speed reading, or a box of cactuses.

If anyone has any actual recommendations on thoughtful gifts for blind friends/family members, feel free to drop them in the comments below for anyone who might wander in here from Google.