photo © 2007 Yahoo! Blog | more info (via: Wylio)Over Thanksgiving weekend a New York Times story, “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web” clued a lot of people in to some of the drawbacks of Google PageRank. Negative attention online and complaint links from customer service sites like Get Satisfaction can actually be a benefit to business as in the problematic case of online retailer DecorMyEyes.
The Times piece followed DecorMyEyes customer Clarabelle Rodriguez as she suffered online and offline harassment from DecorMyEyes founder Vitaly Borker, all in the name of improving his Google search rankings. While I saw that DecorMyEyes had dropped in the Google rankings for eyewear related searches like “La Font” directly after the piece went out, it was only a matter of time before Google did something official.
From the Google blog:
“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.”
The Google post then goes on to outline the different ways the search engine could have solved the “Bad to customers = Good for PageRank” problem, by either blocking or using sentiment analysis to pull sites with a lot of negative comments down in the rankings. Using sentiment analysis in search rank is tricky however, because it would also pull down sites about unpopular politicians and controversial issues like abortion.
Instead of using either of those two solutions to account for cases like the one described in the New York Times article, Google instead wrote an algorithm that can detect which hundreds of merchants (including DecorMyEyes) have provided “bad user experience” and algorithmically force them lower.
This is obviously not a foolproof method and Google admits that people might be able to find a another loophole in ranking algorithms sometime in the future. But for now customers who use Google search for shopping, and Google’s public image, are just a little bit safer.