Google's rapid response to a New York Times story last week about unscrupulous e-commerce company DecorMyEyes has garnered significant attention over the past few days. That's not just for the shocking nature of the abusive eyewear vendor's behavior, but also for Google's admission that the story uncovered a weakness in its page ranking algorithm.
"We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez's dreadful experience," wrote Google Fellow Amit Singhal on the Official Google Blog Wenesday. "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."
"Being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google's search results," Singhal added.
Of course, Google never provides much detail about its algorithms--presumably for fear that if it did, its search engine would be more easily manipulated. Nevertheless, the new tweaks to the system--while only a first stab, Singhal admitted--detects merchants that provide "an extremely poor user experience" and then assigns them lower rankings.
User Reviews and Ratings
Most likely, this means that online customer reviews are now being incorporated into Google's page rankings.
Singhal explains in his post that one option Google considered was "to expose user reviews and ratings for various merchants alongside their results. Though still on the table, this would not demote poor quality merchants in our results and could still lead users to their Websites."
A much more logical approach, then, would be simply to include the overall nature of those ratings as one of the many factors used to create Google's ranking results. I'm betting that's what Google now does.
‘Black Hat Techniques and Dumb Luck'
Before going on, I should note that at least one expert in search engine optimization (SEO) disputes the assertions made by DecorMyEyes owner Vitaly Borker that the countless negative reviews of his company were what elevated its rankings.
"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," Borker reportedly wrote in a post on a complaint site. "My goal is NEGATIVE (sic) advertisement."
According to Search Engine Land's Byrne Hobart, however, it wasn't those negative reviews that did the trick. Rather, a post in the New York Times's own N.F.L. blog last year linked to DecorMyEyes when it mentioned Versace 2049 Sunglasses.
Hobart went on, in fact, to analyze DecorMyEyes' traffic using Yahoo Site Explorer, and found predominantly spam sites and paid links referring to the site, as well as a few group shopping sites and blogs.
Most of the complaint sites don't even link to DecorMyEyes, Hobart found, suggesting that the company's abusive tactics don't actually have much to do with its ranking success. Rather, "a combination of black-hat techniques and dumb luck" helped the site to rank well, Hobart concluded.
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