Last week, the New York Times wrote a lengthy editorial feature, A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web, about Brooklyn resident Vitaly Borker. A chilhood immigrant from Russia, Borker owns and operates an ecommerce site selling designer glasses and frames. He also owns a doormat which says "Go Away" in Russian.
What makes him notable enough for journalistic attention is the approach he takes to running DecorMyEyes, his business. Rather than following traditional business ideals like 'the customer is always right', trying to raise positive customer reviews and create new trade via word of mouth, Mr. Borker takes the opposite approach, threatening, hassling and abusing his customers and shipping counterfeit products. On a number of occasions he has even brazenly replied to complaints on rip-off-report style sites, thanking those leaving negative reviews for the attention.
It's not just that for Borker any publicity is good publicity, he does not consider it necessary to make a distinction. In a surprisingly candid interview with the NYT reporter, Borker explains how the negative reviews help his rankings in organic search, and the increase in business from this significantly outweighs anything lost from those who are put off by negative reviews.
The piece attracted a lot of attention from all levels of the search and Internet marketing industry, with most of the leading journals and blogs featuring the story heavily. Most notably, it attracted significant discussion and attention from non-industry sites on the basis of it's relevance to consumers and human interest angle. Many questioned the quality of Google's organic ranking algorithms when sites such as this are supposedly rewarded for awful business practices.
In a first for Google (who were criticised for their poor response to NYT journalists as the article was being put together), they have reacted to this public attention and last night (UK time) released the following statement:
"We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez's [One of Borkev's Victims] dreadful experience. Even though our initial analysis pointed to this being an edge case and not a widespread problem in our search results, we immediately convened a team that looked carefully at the issue. That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live. I am here to tell you that being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google's search results."
As yet, it's not possible to say how much of an impact this could have on everyday search - but it looks like bad practice in Internet business will be a lot harder to profit from after this point.
Many wonder why Google did not implement something like this before now. My thoughts are this is likely to do with increasing the impact of negative shill reviews left by competitors, which is becoming an unfortunately common tactic used by those short on morals. Recently, Google has been working to improve it's handling of reviews and identification of signals of trust, it could be that accompanying technology has only just become available.
It is safe to say that Online Reputation Management (ORM) will now be significantly more important for businesses, as traffic can be directly affected by negative reviews.