In the season of giving, Google has become the Grinch for some online retailers. On December 1st, Google made a change to their algorithm, which penalizes companies for having negative reviews of their products or services. The change occurred after The New York Times exposé on an online eyeglass frames retailer who was using negative reviews to improve the company’s search rankings. The business owner was purposefully performing bad customer service, was outwardly rude to customers, and reportedly stalked customers as a form of linkbait in garnering bad reviews. Customers would post negative comments and links on high PageRank sites, thus yielding high valued links. (Google has refuted it was not the negative comments that drove traffic to the site but was due to rel=nofollow attributes on the links.)
Google contends any company consistently pursuing bad business practices and/or poor customers should not appear in prominent position within the search pages. Although Google does not outline the exact changes made, they do state they are not using sentiment analysis — evaluating comments, reviews and posts and devaluing a business based on negative sentiment.
We applaud Google for taking this stance. As a company in the SEO field, we have consistently found companies with bad business practices ranking high in the search engines. Any opportunity these businesses are thwarted is good business for those companies that choose to do business the right way.