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'Being bad' no longer good on Google

John D. Sutter
DecorMyEyes used bad user reviews as a way to rise in Google's rankings, NYTimes.com reports.
DecorMyEyes used bad user reviews as a way to rise in Google's rankings, NYTimes.com reports.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Google says it has fixed an error that gave sites with bad reviews good rankings
  • The New York Times brought a glitch in Google's search engine to light
  • The paper writes of a retailer who bullies customers to make them write poor reviews
  • Those bad reviews drove better rankings on Google

(CNN) -- Google on Wednesday said it has developed an "algorithmic solution" to a defect in its search engine that caused websites with tons of scathing, angry reviews to rise to the top of search results.

"Being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google's search results," the company said in a blog post.

The change came in response to a lengthy New York Times story that detailed how the owner of an eyeglasses company called DecorMyEyes.com actively bullied his customers -- even threatening sexual assault, the paper says -- to get them to write negative reviews about his company on the internet.

Those bad reviews were good for business, the Times reported.

"Online chatter about DecorMyEyes, even furious online chatter, pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales," writes David Segal.

"The owner of DecorMyEyes might be more than just a combustible bully with a mean streak and a potty mouth," he wrote on Friday. "He might also be a pioneer of a new brand of anti-salesmanship -- utterly noxious retail -- that is facilitated by the quirks and shortcomings of Internet commerce and that tramples long-cherished traditions of customer service, like deference and charm."

Google released few details about how it corrected the error. The company says it changed its algorithm -- the coveted equation that decides how "relevant" a website is for any given search -- to avoid awarding great rankings to sites like DecorMyEyes, which have terrible customer reviews.

Not that something like this couldn't happen again.

"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," Amit Singhal wrote on Google's official blog.

"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. And we will continue to work hard towards a better search."

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