Had a bad experience purchasing from an online merchant? Google says it wants to protect searchers from that, and it may crackdown later this year with changes intended to prevent bad merchants from ranking well.
The news came during the “How to Rank Better in Google & Bing”session that I moderated yesterday at the SXSW conference in Austin. Google’s chief web spam fighter Matt Cutts responded to concerns one merchant had about bad competitors outranking him.
We have a potential launch later this year, maybe a little bit sooner, looking at the quality of merchants and whether we can do a better job on that, because we don’t want low quality experience merchants to be ranking in the search results.
Google’s Previous Crackdown
This isn’t the first time Google’s done a crackdown. In November 2010, the New York Times ran a big feature about a sunglasses merchant called Decor My Eyes, and how the owner Vitaly Borker was convinced that people complaining about him online helped him rank better. The exposure of his bad business practices later lead to Borker getting a four-year jail sentence.
Whether those bad reviews really did help Decor My Eyes do better is debatable, but for whatever reason, the site was doing well in Google at the time, despite having such bad reviews.
Google reacted with unprecedented speed, making a change within days that it said would penalize bad merchants. It never explained what factors were used to issue penalties, not even confirming if poor quality reviews had an impact.
Looking At Signals Beyond Bad Reviews?
Of course, if Google already has a system in place to penalize bad merchants, why are they apparently still ranking well, in some cases?
I’ll try to follow up further with Google about this, but one factor might be the continued growth in fake reviews. You can’t rely solely on reviews for assurance a business is really good.
That, of course, would mean that reviews were being used as part of the previous crackdown. Cutts seemed to confirm this when I asked that if Google is already using review data, then what other signals would it turn to as part of a renewed effort.
We are trying to ask ourselves, are there other signals that we can use to spot whether someone is not a great merchant, and if we can find those, and we think that they are not all that spammable, then we’re more than happy to use those.