The New York Times recently featured an online seller named as Vitaly Borker actually encouraging negative reviews of his store, DecorMyEyes. Borker claimed that the more people complained about his service on customer feedback sites, the more his website ranked high for lucrative search terms related to designer eyewear and contact lenses—on Google.
Characterizing his approach as “Negative Advertisement”, Borker later said to a Times journalist that “I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”
Borker puts forward a theory that, if true, is the ultimate personification of “there is no such thing as bad publicity”. Many feedback sites are considered authoritative by Google, and thus links from them carry more weight when the online giant ranks its search results. Not necessarily results for “DecorMyEyes”, but for more specific phrases like “[Brand X] glasses”.
By generating complaints, more people end up linking to Borker’s site from these feedback sites, increasing DecorMyEyes visibility for people looking for the store’s products through Google.
Google has replied to the Times story, indicating that while it would be easier to simply block DecorMyEyes from showing up on its search results, the company wants to find a long-term solution “algorithmically” (or automatically, without direct human intervention).
Other proposed approaches to the apparent problem, such as the use of “sentiment analysis” to push sites down based on negative reviews, also have their own set of issues. Said Amit Singhal, Google fellow: “But if we demoted web pages that have negative comments against them, you might not be able to find information about many elected officials, not to mention a lot of important but controversial concepts.”
In any case, Google has revealed that it has now made changes to its search ranking algorithm to penalize online retailers that, in the company’s opinion, “provide an extremely poor user experience”. Whether these changes will have a meaningful effect remains to be seen. It may be too late for scammed eyewear buyers like Mrs. Rodriguez, who was also featured in the Times article.