Merchant Reviews Now Affect Ranking

Another facet of Google’s algorithm is being polished.  Google is now taking into account merchant reviews to determine whether or not a website deserves a good ranking.  They are looking at this metric because of an article published in the New York Times about a company that was being intentionally abusive to their customers because the bad reviews the customers were writing were generating links to the company and inflating their ranking.  This appalled Google so they did something about it.

Google considered several options to solve the problem.  One option discussed was using “sentiment analysis” to identify negative remarks in posts and make those posts count as negative votes for a company.  The problem with that, Google said, was that it would be extremely difficult to find political candidates because of all the dissenters.  Another option Google is considering is displaying merchant ratings alongside their results.  You can already see some of this happening in PPC ads, but they are talking about implementing it in the organic results.

What was Google’s solution?  Well, at this point it’s not exactly clear.  They understandably weren’t very forthcoming in their article about this problem.  Google rarely gives much insight in to exactly what is going on with their algorithm.

If you’re wondering how this applies to you, just think of the power this gives to your competitors.  If they are smart enough to launch a negative campaign – and do it in such a way that even the almighty Google can’t trace the source, then you’re in for a big hit in the rankings.  Very scary stuff especially when it’s first implemented and is open to gaming.  I don’t really see how anyone who is smart could be stopped no matter how sophisticated the algorithm gets.

What’s your company’s best bet?  Hire an expert SEO with a deep understanding of online reputation management and pay the RM “insurance.”  It can take three to four YEARS to recover after bad press and cost tens of thousands of dollars.