Get Rich by Bullying Your Way to the Top of Google Search

Proprietors use complaints to claw their way to the top of results

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According to a New York Times report, Vitaly Borker perpetually abuses his customers. And Google search rewards him for it. The sunglasses seller has apparently been able to leverage his site's abysmal customer service into a coveted spot on Google's search page. It's gotten to the point where Borker posted a response to anguished customers on a consumer advocacy site gloating, "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. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement."

Can a company use forceful negative buzz to build a successful enterprise using Google's search page? That's what New York Times reporter David Segal alleges in a lengthy exposé that says the search engine may be partially "unable to distinguish between adulatory buzz and scathing critics when it scours the digital universe and ranks the best and the brightest." Here's the most relevant feedback to Segal's assertions:

  • The Times Didn't Ask the Next Question: What Should Google Do? At The Huffington Post, Jeff Jarvis writes that the solution (to downgrade the proprietors with terrible user reviews/scores) isn't as simple as it seems: "The first problem with that is scale: how do you find and investigate all the bad guys? The bigger problem is whether we want Google to be the cop of the world. Google has been sued by companies it decreed were link-bating spammer sites, downgrading them in search, while the sites said they were legitimate directories. This is the one case in which Google holds the power of God in a market and it's a dangerous position to be in."
  • Why Not Show User Reviews in 'Regular' Google?  It certainly does in Google's "Shopping" section, so why doesn't it show more on its premier search page? Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan notes that Bing has the same problems as Google. He compiles a series of relevant screen shots of Google searches and dissects when Google shows reviews on its search page. He comes to this conclusion: "the more immediate concern remains why Google would have rewarded a merchant like this, right now, with its existing systems. The answer is that Google’s ranking systems are far from perfect. You get a few good matches, and that satisfies many people. But some poor quality sites still get rewarded. This isn’t about pulling spam, because a bad merchant doesn’t necessarily equal a merchant that’s spamming Google. This is about Google actually doing what Google is supposed to do. Ensure that only the best things show up in the top of its results."
  • The Motto 'There's No Such Thing As Bad Publicity' Lives On  Christopher Carfi, blogging at The Social Customer Manifesto, finds the journalism of Segal to be "brilliant" but his view of Google's role to be a bit "misguided." He observes: "There have always been those who feel that there's no such thing as bad publicity. This is the internet-age corrolary: there's no such thing as a bad inbound link...The two concepts are the same. There are those who have felt that anything that gains notice is good for business, and Borker's approach is no different."
  • The Irony of Google's Imperfections  On his blog, Deep Jive Interests, Toby Hung observes that Google has been less than forthcoming about its share of user complaints: "What’s really unfortunate is how people aren’t just gaming the system to merely line their own pockets, but who are doing so at the expense of others. The delicious irony, of course, is that Google’s own reputation for service is beyond atrocious, one of the causes of these issues (can’t complain to an algorithm) leading Google to end up on the same complaints 2.0 websites" just like Borker's sunglasses site.
  • Just Another Way to Game the System  Gawker's Adrian Chen observes the diminishing returns of publicly shaming a poor service:"We usually think of a negative Google result as a terrible stain on our character that will haunt us forever, but Borker has figured out how to game the system....Maybe we've been overestimating the power of embarrassing Google results all along? The shame of a Google stain doesn't have much effect on someone who's shameless."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.