A long and sensational New York Times Story last Friday detailed an ecommerce customer-service nightmare with a bizarre twist: An assertion by the unrepentant merchant, that far from being a problem, poor customer service and online negative reviews actually benefited his business, thanks to Google’s Page Rank algorithm.
The business, a discount eyewear joint called DecorMyEyes, allegedly refused to credit customers for returned merchandise and even threatened them when their disputes were lodged with their credit card companies.
When several aggrieved customers voiced their complaints on online forums like Get Satisfaction and ConsumerAffairs.com, their negative reviews (linked to decorMyEyes) only served to boost his Google rankings, according to the merchant, a Brooklyn, New York man named Vitaly Borker.
“I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works,” Borker told the Times. “No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”
The central question posed by the story: Can being a BAD business actually be GOOD for your Google rankings?
Is Google unable to discern, in a link from one site to another, whether it represents a positive “vote” for the target — or an outraged “pan” against it?
Google was quick to jump in direct response to the news story, announcing yesterday it had tweaked its algorithm to weed out “hundreds” of merchants who Google deemed to be bad actors.
Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, who was quoted in the article, offers his own in-depth look at the SEO ramifications of the story. Sullivan notes in a postscript that most of the reviews sites cited actually “nofollow” their links, so couldn’t actually convey the kind of link juice Borker was claiming. Sullivan also touches on the fast-moving integration into SERPS of online ratings and reviews, and other possible signals Google and other search engines could use to better discriminate positive buzz from negative.
Google’s use of “rich snippets” is an exciting development for the 99.9% of ecommerce vendors out there (and 100% of the readers of this blog, of course), who run honest businesses with stellar reputations, and have lots of enticing five-star ratings to share.