Google Search's Bad Business Move: Just a Band-Aid Measure

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Wait a minute, let's get this straight: Google just tweaked its search algorithm to bury bad businesses - because of bad press?

So it seems. In a blog post entitled "Being bad to your customers is bad for business," Google's Amit Singhai says the company scrambled to deal with eyeglass retailer DecorMyEyes after the New York Times published an article on the subject. The Website's owner, Vitaly Borker, encouraged negative comments on consumer advocacy sites because it gave him more Google juice, and he verbally attacked dissatisfied customers who tried to get their money back.

The solution, according to Singhai? Come up with an algorithm that downranks DecorMyEyes and "hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience." Like most of Google's inner search workings, the details of how these businesses will be treated and which ones made the cut is a secret.

Horrifying as the DecorMyEyes story may be, Google's knee-jerk reaction won't solve the search engine's dilemma. That is, Google Search deals primarily in delivering big blue links to other Websites instead of providing information directly. As long as that's the case, savvy and unscrupulous business owners will always try to game the system.

To see what I mean, consider the following solution, as described by Singhai: "Yet another option is to expose user reviews and ratings for various merchants alongside their results," he wrote. Telling people up front whether a business is good or bad sounds like a fine idea to me, but Google shelved that option--for now, at least--because poor quality merchants could still be ranked highly, and they'd still get business.

So rather than arm shoppers with information--both good and bad--up front, Google is reverting to the almighty page rank algorithm to shield shoppers from shady businesses.

Don't get me wrong, it's a smart move for Google. The tweaked algorithm is good customer relations, and it helps combat the sentiment that Google's search results are getting worse, and are increasingly prone to trickery. But it's not making us any better at buying wisely. The next time someone games the system, we're back to square one.

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