Bad Merchant? Google May Drop Your Rankings Later This Year

Matt Cutts at SXSWHad a bad experience purchasing from an online merchant? Google says it wants to protect searchers from that, and it may crackdown later this year with changes intended to prevent bad merchants from ranking well.

The news came during the “How to Rank Better in Google & Bing” session that I moderated yesterday at the SXSW conference in Austin. Google’s chief Web spam fighter Matt Cutts responded to concerns one merchant had about bad competitors outranking him.

Cutts said:

“We have a potential launch later this year, maybe a little bit sooner, looking at the quality of merchants and whether we can do a better job on that, because we don’t want low quality experience merchants to be ranking in the search results.”

Google’s Previous Crackdown

This isn’t the first time Google’s done a crackdown. In November 2010, the New York Times ran a big feature about a sunglasses merchant called Decor My Eyes, and how the owner Vitaly Borker was convinced that people complaining about him online helped him rank better. The exposure of his bad business practices later lead to Borker getting a four-year jail sentence.

Whether those bad reviews really did help Decor My Eyes do better is debatable, but for whatever reason, the site was doing well in Google at the time, despite having such bad reviews.

Google reacted with unprecedented speed, making a change within days that it said would penalize bad merchants. It never explained what factors were used to issue penalties, not even confirming if poor quality reviews had an impact.

Looking At Signals Beyond Bad Reviews?

Of course, if Google already has a system in place to penalize bad merchants, why are they apparently still ranking well, in some cases?

I’ll try to follow up further with Google about this, but one factor might be the continued growth in fake reviews. You can’t rely solely on reviews for assurance a business is really good.

That, of course, would mean that reviews were being used as part of the previous crackdown. Cutts seemed to confirm this when I asked, “if Google is already using review data, then what other signals would it turn to as part of a renewed effort.”

Cutts replied:

“We are trying to ask ourselves, are there other signals that we can use to spot whether someone is not a great merchant, and if we can find those, and we think that they are not all that spammable, then we’re more than happy to use those.”

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Chris Zaharias

    Let me guess: bad merchants are ones that use enterprise SEO tools to outflank those who rely moreso on AdWords.

  • http://twitter.com/agencia_seo SEOBOOM

    maybe this makes merchants offer a better shopping experience…

  • Durant Imboden

    Owners of e-commerce sites often complain that Google ranks lousy merchants ahead of good ones (meaning them). I imagine the good merchants will be happy to see Google looking beyond the content on the page when ranking e-commerce sites.

  • Mik Pam

    Can you say Google Trusted Stores ?

  • daveintheuk

    Presumably these “signals” will be how many Google products the merchants use or pay for.

    This is just the latest punitive algo change from Google to force businesses into “paying to play”.

    I presume these same merchants Google knows to be bad will still be welcomed with open arms to AdWords and Google Shopping.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Chrest/622972092 Mike Chrest

    this is great more way to screw the competition, can anyone say “negative seo”

  • http://twitter.com/ReviewPROXY Review PROXY

    Fun to speculate. We look at zillions of Google SERPs every week to see what review sites Google thinks are important to our clients and their competitors who rank well or have better reviews. Google loves Yelp. And if a company has serious negatives, sites like Ripoff Report or Pissed Consumer rank high. But as mentioned, Google already looks at review sites, and probably goes beyond ratings to sentiment analysis. In any new major initiative, I’d expect Google to put greater weighting on objective factors that cannot be gamed by competitors. Google is also high on the Better Business Bureau. While the BBB is ready well indexed and highly scored, maybe Google does a deal for a direct data feed, for greater efficiency Maybe Google does a data share deal with Dun & Bradstreet. Anything is possible. One of our clients is a private investigator. They all subscribe to databases where they can learn your entire credit history, residences, jobs, arrests, lawsuits, etc. If any one-man gumshoe operation can get this information, why not Google?

  • http://twitter.com/CanadianWebBiz CanadianWebBusiness

    It would be wide open for abuse by competitors or anyone else that wanted to attack a store for underhanded reasons. It’s like links from bad rep sites. There are some things that are beyond a website owner’s control and penalizing them in the name of better results deprives searchers of just as many good sites as bad ones (if not more). It’s counterproductive at best.

  • Amh

    And What about the adwords ads merchants? Is Google rejecting money from the bad merchants to prevent they appear in the first page of results in the best positions?

  • http://twitter.com/reviewscouk Reviews.co.uk

    Reviews have been a major ranking factor on Google Shopping for a along time. It was only a a matter of time before the started using this data in the main results. We have noticed a spike in Google activity on our site. The time its takes for review data to be folded in is getting shorter soon you will have new reviews showing up in Google shopping results with in a couple of days.

  • http://www.dekh.com/members/profile/13 Harsh Bawa

    Unless something makes a really loud noise like Decor my eyes, I am not sure how Google can see which merchant is Good or bad.

    Obviously reviews definitely make a impact but again they are something which can be easily manipulated. Funny what “Other signals” Google consider when they make changes to their algorithm as we can still see many Bad merchnatsranked higher on results page.

    I am sure they will be welcomed with Open arms once they start using adwords even though they are “Bad Merchants”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/amberleto Amber Leto Mayer

    What about products that are not sold via the Google Merchant Center? (ie – Vacation Rentals?) Do you know if they are going to work with 3rd parties to pull reviews into their algorithm?

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    The first person to suggest that bounce rates are being used wins the DUMBEST SEO OF THE DECADE award.

  • http://twitter.com/suckhoe4u Sức Khỏe 4u

    maybe this makes merchants offer a better shopping experience…

  • http://www.facebook.com/orlando.fuorioso Alcaponi Orlando Fuorioso

    i think also if google makes the new updates to drop ranking for bad merchants,you will find many bad merchants still ranking -it’s become more hard for them to be fair ,but they update for their targets and dominate the market ,,

  • http://www.humanism.org.uk/ Steve Ollington

    Hopefully it’ll have at least something to do with lack of working contact info. If a business sells online but doesn’t supply a number, etc… that is lame.

    Could there be a possibility of Google also collecting data from governing bodies/complaints commissions? Maybe trading standards for the UK. I think that would be actually quite good, though I doubt it’s the case.

    Not sure I’m keen on Google being judge, jury, and executioner without competent established, third party Independence though.

  • http://twitter.com/n8ngrimm Nathan Grimm

    A rankings change is always a zero sum proposition. If they penalize bad merchants, good merchants get more traffic so it will not increase the net need for paid shopping ads. Also, merchants should be evaluating the ROI of Google Shopping independently of organic search. If the ROI is positive, take advantage of the opportunity whether or not your site ranks well organically.

  • Ashish Gill

    Finally the Good merchants have something to cheer about…

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.abbot1 John Abbot

    Wow, it is amazing to me how many of you are completely missing the point here. There are a lot of websites out there that are complete scams, and are perpetrating criminal frauds on people daily. When Google ranks one of these sites as #1, it is pushing a lot of people to go to that and be defrauded out of a lot of money.

    For example, in our little corner of the internet universe we run a couple of online dating sites, and we go to great effort to provide a safe and enjoyable dating experience without having to worry about being scammed by other members. About half our employee time goes into finding and deleting such scammers, and then warning the members to stop any offsite communication. For our efforts we make a nice living by charging members a reasonable monthly fee for open communication with all other members.

    However, other sites are running complete scam operations in which they post thousands of fake women’s profiles (all scantily clad) and then when they get a fish signed up (and they get thousands) they have an employee get online and start contacting the poor sucker, pretending to be a number of these different “women”.

    Each time the sucker reads a message from one of these fake girls he pays a couple of dollars. Each time he sends a message he pays a couple of dollars. Anytime he communicates he has to pay for translation services. I’ve received reports by ex-members of these sites, now happily meeting real women with us for $35 per month, unlimited women, advising they have spent as much as $15,000 on one of these scam sites and never met a real person,

    By ranking these scam sites high, Google is actually supporting their criminal activity, and as a result a lot of naive victims are losing their shirts. The activity of these sites is very clearly fraudulent, but they get away with it by not really being in any country, so there is nobody to prosecute them. But it is still criminal activity, and Google is aiding and abetting them in this activity, which is also a criminal offence.

    Should Google stop aiding and abetting criminal activity that is costing a lot of innocent victims (and incidentally Google’s customers) a lot of money? Of course they should stop.

    And frankly they don’t need a lot of fancy algorithms to do that. It’s very easy for them to check out which sites are the scam sites. They just need a few employees to go sign up for one of these sites and see how quickly the attempted fleecing begins. If we can spend have our employee costs to prevent such frauds, then surely Google can afford an employee or two to test the sites they rank to see if they are fraudsters or not.

    And speaking of reviews, I can point you to hundreds of negative reviews about these scam sites posted by their victims. Again, Google doesn’t need to dick around until late in the year to come up with the right algorithms to lower these sites ranking. They are sitting around helping criminals commit criminal acts, and they should get off their collective asses and start doing something about it now. If they don’t then they should be prosecuted, because maybe the crooks they’re assisting can’t be found, but Google sure can be.

    The examples I’ve given are just a drop in the bucket. These type of criminals are running around in every area of the internet, stealing billions of dollars from innocent netizens and never being brought to task for it. Come on Google, get with it. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

  • http://www.pop-digital.co.uk/pop/ Pop Digital

    Could they find a way to use transactional data? The more chargebacks an e-commerce company has the more likely they are to be rogue.

  • Rasmus Nicolaisen

    We both do agree that it is a great idea for Google to exclude all the bad merchants and scam sites from the search results! I think everybody in here could agree with that.. But I don’t think any of us are missing the point, because it is somehow complex to make such a move from Google’s side point of view. There could be a lot of good websites who could be affected by a change/update like this, and Google would have to keep these things in mind, before they go out and start excluding websites. As discussed in previous comments, other websites could be affected by negative SEO from competitors. So Google really has to be careful, when it comes to realising such an update.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hinkle.larry Larry Hinkle

    Ummm. Bad merchants arent really the problem. Its useless result after useless result. Crack down on Yahoo Answers, Spokeo, LiveStrong, Askmefast etc.

  • http://www.andykuiper.com/ Andy Kuiper – SEO Analyst

    This should be very interesting… I wonder how many ‘good’ sites will get hit with the algo change.

  • http://webmastersadda.com/ Webmaster’s Adda

    They should have enforced this without even making an announcement for this, there are SEO’s who would have already charted plans to circumvent the rules even before the rules are created

  • Marc

    Google Play sucks on there shipment I order a phone on the 25th pay for 1-2 day shipping $13.99 and the 29th received on e-mail saying they were going to be ship soon. I called the support someone answers the phone out there house, asked me several questions then told me that I should be receiving a tracking number soon.
    This is ridiculous not only violate Florida laws for deceptive trading practice but bad customer relation. This whole thing is costing me stress & money since my work depend on a good phone.

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