Google announced yesterday that it had changed the way it ranks search results so that unscrupulous merchants will find it harder to appear prominently in searches. The change was prompted by an article entitled, "A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web," by David Segal in The New York Times.
Published last Sunday, the article told the story of Clarabelle Rodriguez, a unhappy customer of DecorMyEyes.com. Rodriguez had been scared by Vitaly Borker, who claimed that he purposely shouted at and frightened some of his customers because the online complaints actually worked in his favor in Google search results.
In a post on the Official Google Blog entitled, "Being bad to your customers is bad for business," Amit Singhal, Google Fellow, said yesterday, "We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez's 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."
He added, "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. 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."
In a post entitled, "Public Relations Nightmare for Google Search Results," I said on Monday, "I've got to believe that Google's software engineers, who change the search engine's algorithm on a daily basis, will take time today to review how Vitaly Borker, the founder and owner of DecorMyEyes, 'exploited this opportunity.'"
My faith in Google's engineers has been justified by their quick work. And Segal of The Times deserves a tip of the hat, too.
I think it's safe to declare that the Google search results have been fixed -- at least for now.
And Singhal's public statement that "being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google's search results" is what a company spokesman should have said when Segal first called. At least now Google's PR professionals know what they should say if or when another loophole in the search engine's ranking algorithms is discovered in the future.
So, I think it's also safe to say that this particular public relations nightmare is over -- and just in time for Christmas.