Mean Guys Do Finish Last

Last week the New York Times featured Vitaly Borker, an online retailer who deliberately abused his customers so they could complain about him online. Some of Borker’s behaviour was completely outrageous, and included alleged threats of litigation and violence, both physical and sexual, against disgruntled customers.

The complaints by customers actually helped his Google ranking, which in turn helped him secure top search placements and more business,

He stumbled upon the upside of rudeness by accident.

“I stopped caring,” he says, and for that he blames customers. They lied and changed their minds in ways that cost him money, he says, and at some point he started telling them off in the bluntest of terms. To his amazement, this seemed to better his standing in certain Google searches, which brought in more sales.

Before this discovery, he’d hired a search optimization company to burnish his site’s reputation by writing positive things about DecorMyEyes online. Odious behavior, he realized, worked much better, and it didn’t cost him a penny.

Borker’s antics had The Globe’s Amber MacArthur asking, “Is rudeness the key to Google search success?” (On an interesting side-note, it appears Borker behaved quite well on his Amazon affiliate.)

Google responded to the Times piece with an announcement on December 1 by Amit Singhal that they would be altering their algorithm to account for retailers like Boker and others like him,

…we immediately convened a team that looked carefully at the issue. That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live. I am here to tell you that being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google’s search results.

…in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result.

In the latest chapter of this saga, Vitaly Borker was arrested today on mail fraud, wire fraud, making interstate threats and cyberstalking.

In this case the collaboration of many different parties helped rectify a significant online problem. The media coverage prompted voluntary changes by the private-party Google, and spurned and investigation and action by public law enforcement.

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