Google changes algorithm to fight ‘troll marketing’

Customers at expected to find polite, helpful service when they visited the New York-based online glasses store. What they didn’t expect was to be abused and insulted by the owner of the site, Vitaly Borker. But that is exactly what happened, according to a New York Times article.

Borker’s aggressive and threatening customer service was no random act. It was part of a “sales strategy” purposely designed to fool Google, because both negative and positive comments on his website pushed his Google ranking up. The theory is that Google’s search engine was unable to tell the difference between positive and negative posts. The more complaints posted on the site, the more likely customers would be to find his store ranked high on a Google search.

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“I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven,” he was quoted as saying in the New York Times.

Google was apparently “horrified by the story” and responded swiftly by making changes to its search algorithms.

In a blog post entitled “Being bad to your customers is bad for business”, Google explains that it has “developed an algorithmic solution which detects… hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience”.

“The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result,” said the search engine.

Famous search blog Search Engine Land reports that “Google aggregates reviews about merchants from across the web, as well as through its own Google Checkout system. With Google Product Search, merchants have an overall reviews page.”

But disputes Borker’s theory of why his site ranks so highly.

It also puts forward some competing theories about the results:

  • The site was spammed early and often. Many of the links to DecorMyEyes come from auto-generated spam pages. It’s a risky strategy, but the difference between “risky” and “stupid” is that for some people, “risky” pays off nicely.
  • They use paid links. Many of the links to are keyword-rich sidebar links from irrelevant sites. This is a good sign that they’ve purchased those links. While this is certainly a way to get exactly the link you want, from exactly the site you’d like to get linked by, it does carry some risks. There’s a decent chance that many sites pursuing similar strategies have already been caught and penalized by search engines.
  • They rank well for “prestige” terms. It’s easy to explain the links from random bloggers and the NYT: DecorMyEyes ranks well for glasses that are too expensive to drive much e-commerce revenue, but are prestigious enough to be talked about. This is a clever strategy for anyone in the fashion business—or real estate, for that matter; use high-quality pictures of the unattainable in order to attract links.
  • They allow hotlinking. Many of their links are hotlinks to images. They could get a bigger rankings boost by creating an easy-embed code that would wrap each image in a border that included appropriate anchor text, but the presence of lots of hotlinked images is probably not hurting them.

Google writes that attempts to game its rankings “go on 24 hours a day, every single day”.

“… we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings… 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,” said Google on its blog.

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