A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Working Google’s Dark Side for Fun and Profit

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

“It doesn’t matter what they’re saying, as long as they’re talking about you.”

Apparently that old saw isn’t just true, it’s profitable. A fascinating article on the front page of the Sunday Business section of the New York Times this weekend outlines how a shady character has exploited a weakness in Google’s search ranking rules to improve search results for his site.

Quite simply, he goes out of his way to tick people off. Really tick people off.

He realized that negative feedback on sites like Get Satisfaction, ComplaintBoards.com, and ConsumerAffairs.com improved his site’s organic search performance. So he makes a point of being nasty to the point of creepiness to encourage unhappy customers to post their stories. Since Google doesn’t judge sentiment, a rant is as good as a rave.

It’s shocking that this works, and the article outlines some pretty dreadful failures on the parts of credit card companies and merchant banking operations.

Even more interesting, is how this merchant stumbled upon this rout to SEO success. He was fed up with the few bad apple customers who returned used or damage products or otherwise took advantage of most firm’s “the customer is always right” policy.

He started being unpleasant and uncooperative with customers he felt were trying to take advantage. As they complained, his Google rankings soared. From there, he decided to dive in with both feet.

A couple of interesting take-aways, both for consumers and merchants.


  • Don’t be a dope. Do at least some basic online research before buying from a site you haven’t done business with before.
  • Don’t necessarily expect the credit card companies or others to jump to your defense.
  • Do be honest. By all means, use every bit of a company’s return policy, but don’t take advantage. The Golden Rule is a good one to go by.

Online Retailers

  • Present a professional appearance, keep security up to date, answer questions promptly and courteously, and encourage your clients to provide positive feedback, particularly on their social networks.
  • If you aren’t “doing” social, now’s the time to dive in. I posted recently about the intersection of search and social. As more stories like this make the rounds, more online buyers will rely more heavily on trusted sources, like their social networks, as they research buying decisions.

That increased reliance on social media will push the search engines to weight it more heavily in their rankings, doubling the importance of your social media efforts.

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