Google Slaps Down Bad Retailers

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) is changing its search algorithms after the story of one online retailer who used horrific customer service to boost rankings came to light.

In an article published last week, the New York Times profiled an online eyeglasses retailer, Vitaly Borker of DecorMyEyes.com, who managed to climb the search engine’s rankings by antagonizing his customers into posting poor reviews about the business online. The Google search algorithm, which uses links from other sites to weight search results, automatically pushed the site to the top of the rankings despite widespread negative sentiment about the business.

In a post on its official blog today, Google announced that it had taken action in response to the article. “In the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article, along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience,” wrote Google Fellow Amit Singhal, though he did not specify the extent to which these retailers have been demoted in the search rankings. He also wrote that Google already had a sentiment analysis system in place, while noting that it’s an imperfect system.

Google has always walked a thin line when it comes to manipulating the results of its search algorithms. Several years ago, for instance, Google was forced to explain why a search for the term “Jew” returned an anti-Semitic hate site as the first result. In refusing to remove or demote the site in the rankings, the company explained that “the beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results.”

Still, Google’s use of sentiment analysis – and the targeting of retailers with a bad track record of customer service – suggests that the search giant is increasingly willing to take popular opinion into account when ranking sites. So, for business owners thinking of emulating Mr. Borker’s example, take heed: There’s now such a thing as bad publicity in the world of Google.

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