Google announced on Wednesday in a post on company’s blog that it had changed the way it ranks search results so that unscrupulous merchants would find it harder to appear prominently in searches.
It happened after Google’s methods of ranking of search results took a hit last week in a chilling New York Times piece. The article exposed a merchant who gamed Google by bullying his customers: The ruder he was, the more negative reviews he received, and, ironically, the better his website’s ranking on Google’s Search.
“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,” wrote Amit Singhal on Google Official Blog.
The Google’s change in search results ranking was prompted by an article in The Times on Sunday about Vitaly Borker, a resident of Sheepshead Bay, and his online eyeglasses store DecorMyEyes.com.
“What makes Borker special is his blatant disregard for both the law and his customers. Every time someone is unhappy with their order, Borker threatens the customer and refuses to refund their money without a protracted battle. As a result, Borker’s business does better. Wait, what? As usual, Google is to blame,” writes Joe Coscarelli on VillageVoice.com’s blog.
More over, Borker is a total scam artist who takes online orders for designer eyewear then buys the product from eBay and has it shipped to his customer. Sometimes the order is wrong, often it is counterfeit.
But Borker has realized that the more people complain about him on blogs or consumer advocacy websites, the higher his website appears in Google searches for specific brand names, and the more likely customers would be to find his store, which yielded him more revenue.
In essence, Borker claimed, Google’s search engine is unable to tell the difference between positive posts and withering online critiques. When Borker realized that any press is good press when it comes to online business, he amped up ‘the bad guy routine.’
The Times’ articles says about the ordeal of Clarabelle Rodriguez, who bought a pair of Lafont, designed glasses, and contact lenses from Borker’s DecorMyEyes.com website in July.
Ms. Rodriguez, a lifelong fan of Lafont, said that “the frames appeared to be counterfeits and even the case seemed fake.” When she tried to return the frames and get a refund, Mr. Borker (using one of his pseudonyms, Tony Russo) commenced a campaign of phone and e-mail harassment.
“Listen, bitch,” he fumed, according to Ms. Rodriguez. “I know your address. I’m one bridge over” — a reference, it turned out, to the company’s office in Brooklyn. Then, she said, he threatened to find her and commit an act of sexual violence too graphic to describe in NY Times.
He also sent a photograph of the front of her apartment building, and in a separate e-mail wrote “I AM WATCHING YOU.” Ms. Rodriguez went to the police and on October 27th, Mr. Borker was arrested and charged with aggravated harassment and stalking. He is set to be arraigned on Dec. 22.
The Internet is rife with consumer complaints about DecorMyEyes.com website, and even the quickest search of the store’s name (lile DecorMyEyes.com reviews) yields dozens of outraged testimonials.
“Being bad to your customers is bad for your business,” Google said in a blog post that it had revised its algorithm so that it could detect Mr. Borker and “hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide extremely poor user experience.”
Google did not reveal how it had changed its algorithm, or how that change would affect online sellers like Mr. Borker. It simply said that the more it reveals about the changes it made, the easier it will be for unscrupulous sellers to game it.
With the changes, Mr. Borker has already had a harder time pushing DecorMyEyes to its previous high rankings on Google. The store once showed up on the first page of a search of “Christian Audigier eyeglasses.” As of Wednesday night, it was not in the first 20 pages both in Google’s ‘Search’ and ‘Shopping’ pages.
Mr. Singhal said that the change was made after the company read in The Times’ article of Ms. Rodriguez. “We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez’s dreadful experience,” Mr. Singhal wrote in the blog post.
“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.”
Exactly how Mr. Borker wound up so high in Google searches has been a matter of online debate. His theory is that the great mass of grievances on all those highly regarded consumer complaint sites were the key to his success.
However, SearchEngineLand’s SEO-professional, Byrne Hobart, wrote in a recent posting that the review-generating strategy was not the driver of Mr. Borker’s success.
“I used SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer to do a backlink lookup. I was surprised to see that Get Satisfaction was listed in one case as providing a link that does carry credit to the site. It’s on this page.”
“That’s not the same as every review link carrying credit. Each review, bad or good, doesn’t add more credit. But yes, by being on Get Satisfaction at all, that site is transmitting some authority to DecorMyEyes.com,” he added.
“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,” Amit Singhal, a Google fellow, wrote on the blog post.
“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.” [Google Blog via NY Times and Huffington Post]