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Bad reviews *can* hurt search rankings

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Saturday December 4, 2010 )

I used to work with a guy who believed there was no such thing as bad publicity. He learned the hard way. Another merchant has learned this lesson too after getting the attention of Google.

It seems that a merchant wasn’t too worried about negative reviews about his business as it created lots of links to his site when folks posted complaints online. He believed those links were helping with his rankings, so actively encouraged negative feedback.

His next mistake was to tell the New York Times about his bleeding edge SEO trick.

The article certainly generated a lot of buzz and attention, including from Google – who were horrified by the story.

Google says while those links weren’t boosting his rankings, they went to work and “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.” I’m sure the merchant in question wasn’t the only one leveraging this tactic (if it did work), so I guess he’s won himself a bunch of new enemies as a result. Bear in mind, his appears to be a rather extreme case (read the NYT story and you’ll see what I mean).

Google had considered using sentiment to act as a vote against a site, but decided against it for a variety of reasons. What they didn’t say is that such a system could be used by Merchant A to bring down Merchant B. You don’t have to think too hard about it to figure out how it could be quite easily done.

Bad publicity and reviews can have other negative search-engine related impacts too. In the case I watched unfold, the merchant in question had a tendency to be rather, um, abrasive; which gained him a poor reputation in some circles. After a while when you typed his name into Google, the first results were in related to his business being less than honest. It’s not a really good way to build credibility or help with sales conversions.

Whoever came up with the “no such thing as bad publicity” should be publicly flogged. However, so should the the guy who said “the customer is always right“. Aggressive merchants and rabid customers are the same sorts of people just playing different roles.


Dealing with aggressive customers

Reviews and testimonials – powerful marketing copy


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