Google acts to stop dodgy vendors profiting from poor service

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google has changed its search algorithm to try and ensure that merchants delivering poor service can no longer benefit from complaints.

The company was responding to a recent story in the New York Times describing the way in which an online merchant was profiting from complaints about his business.

Living by the adage that 'there's no such thing as bad publicity', the man was positively keen to receive complaints from his customers, as any mention - even a bad one - boosted his ranking on Google searches.

Google says it was 'horrified' to read the report, and immediately pulled together a team to try and solve the problem.

"That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live," says Google fellow Amit Singhal.

It's not as easy to fix the problem as it might at first appear. Using sentiment analysis to weed out pages with a large number of negative comments would make most politicians' websites hard to find, points out Singhal.

Instead, he says, the company has managed to develop a new algorithm that detects merchants offering a poor service. As usual, of course, the company won't reveal the details.

"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," says Singhal.

"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."