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Google’s PR-damage-control: call in the special forces and change the algorithm

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 2 seconds

There was a lot of rumor this week about an extensive article in the New York Times which told the story of a merchant who seemed to be “winning” in the Google algorithms with a rather unusual marketing strategy: being mean to customers. Yesterday Google responded. And guess what, they went full force and called in the special forces and changed the algorithm…

Many sites picked up and analyzed the story. We also talked about it on the State of Search radioshow this Tuesday and Jeroen wrote a post “Bad publicity as fuel for your rankings” about it. Probably the best analysis of the article was given by Danny Sullivan on Searchengineland.

The debate was whether or not Google indeed could not tell the difference between a good review and a bad review and that a bad review therefore could in the end in fact benefit more valuable than a good review. Danny also raised a good point in his piece when he said that you might not even WANT Google to see a difference between good and bad. Many bad reviews might then get the better of the good reviews which means the good ones won’t be shown anymore because of the bad karma, which doesn’t give you the right overview.

Yesterday we got Google’s response on this. They don’t feel they are to blame, but they have taken action.

Google states that it was “horrified” on some of what they read. But they also immediately try to make clear that its not Google who is doing wrong here:

“Even though our initial analysis pointed to this being an edge case and not a widespread problem in our search results…”

Google however has immediately taken action on the technical front. A special team was set up which developed an initial algorithmic solution which was also implemented right away. The algorithm detects the merchant from the Times article and hundreds of other merchants who provide extremely poor user experience.

So what Google did here was close a loophole, or even better stated: they corrected a mistake in their algorithm. The extremely fast response by Google does feel suspicious. Combined with the fact that they make a big deal out what they have done in stead of what they could also have done but didn’t do it kind of gives me the feeling Google was caught by surprise on this and that they felt they had to do some PR-damage-control.

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Bas van den Beld is a speaker, trainer and online marketing strategist. Bas is the founder of Stateofdigital.com. -- You can hire Bas to speak, train or consult.