Google demotes e-tailers who provide poor customer experiences

2 Dec 2010

Bad is not good, Google has told rogue e-tailers after one New York online merchant launched an intimidation campaign against customers. The internet giant has developed new algorithms it claims push online merchants who provide a poor service to the bottom of its ranks.

It emerged in the New York Times at the weekend that there was a new trend amongst shady online retailers to appear prominent in web searches by their notoriety rather than legions of satisfied customers.

One merchant, Vitaly Borker, of fashion glasses website DécorMyEyes, allegedly commenced a campaign of phone and email harassment against one dissatisfied customer, Ciarabelle Rodriquez, and was charged with aggravated harassment and stalking.

Borker openly boasted how Google’s search engine was unable to tell the difference between positive posts and angry criticism and appearing prominently in the search engine’s ranking continued to win him business.

Last night, Google responded by announcing it has implemented a solution involving an algorithm that will detect merchants like Borker who provide poor user experience.

New technology to demote rogue merchants

Without revealing the underlying technology, Google said it had considered some of the tools in its technology armoury, such as a sentiment analysis system. However, this would have been problematic and would have worked against people who get negative reviews all the time, like politicians, for example.

Google said that blocking individual offenders would not resolve the wider problem, either. Posting user reviews and ratings alongside particular results could still lead users to their sites.

“Instead, 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,” said Amit Singhal, a Google fellow.

“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.

“We can’t say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day.

“That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution — the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings — beyond what we’ve already said. 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 Singhal.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years