This post is with reference to the DecorMyEyes case where the business owner deliberately generated negative publicity and hence achieved better search engine rankings for his website. In the next few days, Google announced on its blog, that it had revised its algorithms so that such practices aren’t fruitful. However, Google has also mentioned that the tweaks to the algorithm have been kept as a secret as they don’t want people to start exploiting them.
On paper it sounds like a fine story. But, do you think that Google didn’t expect such things to happen? Google has, in the past identified harmful sites, sites that spread virus / malware and have either blocked those sites (or at least warned users). Well, identifying such sites is simple. Google simply needs to scan the sites for malware, and then tag them red.
Now, identifying and penalizing the sites/businesses with bad business practices or customer ratings could be tricky. Well, I don’t question Google’s ability to do a “sentiment”-analysis looking reviews & feedback of a certain portal. The question is – how easy it to fake such sentiments: AKA Reverse SEO. And I’d certainly doubt Google’s ability to sort out “fake” sentiments.
For starters, Reverse SEO is the practice of bringing down the ranking of competitor websites (and hence improving ours), by building links from bad neighborhoods, negative reviews on portals etc. From my own experience and what I’ve heard from people, Reverse SEO has been working to some extent – well before Google announced changes to its algorithm claiming to penalize “bad” sites. So, Google was already penalizing the bad boys. However, the problem is identifying the bad boys with confidence and penalizing them appropriately.
Let us the compare this situation with that of social bookmarking sites, which have been doing well through community efforts. Social Bookmarking sites like Digg, Del.icio.us etc have survived despite the onslaught of SEO guys because they have the reputation system. These sites have regular users who follow other users, comment & digg good links. One cannot digg random links with no quality content, and still be a reputed member. It is not easy (though not impossible) to replicate such a system by individual SEO guys. However, in case of negative reviews – which happens through review / complaint portals it is difficult to maintain such a reputation system. You don’t regularly follow negative reviews & complaints. And you don’t keep posting reviews every week! You tend to buy different products (read it as “random”), and hence can post reviews on random products / services – Something that can be easily emulated by SEO guys.
Hence as Google subtly mentioned in their blogpost, their system isn’t still accurate to weed out the bad boys based on negative reviews. But if Google is increasing its focus on using negative reviews to weed out junk, it gives enough license for the “Reverse SEO” guys to go out and start attacking their competitors with negative links. The purpose of this blog post isn’t to encourage reverse SEO, but to show how Reverse SEO can harm your business. The negative reviews needn’t necessarily be posted by your customers – but by your competitors, for they now have more reasons to do the same. This is something Google wants to avoid – battle of negative reviews!