Will Review Sites Destroy Organic Search?

by Brian Whalley

Date

November 29, 2010 at 6:00 PM

describe the image This week, the New York Times put a nail in the coffin of organic search in their article about distressed consumers buying from ecommerce sites ranked highly in Google. At the center of the Times’s criticism and commentary on how search engines work is the hundreds of consumer review sites around the web, such as GetSatisfaction , among others.  One site in question, DecorMyEyes, created a policy for themselves of harassing and deliberately making mistakes with their customers – Creating thousands of unhappy customers who were sure to go online and complain about their experience.

Many websites exist to pull together consumer reviews, including GetSatisfaction and the Better Business Bureau. These sites have tens of thousands of pages of user-generated content that helps them rank well in search engines. Unfortunately, people rarely spend the time and effort write to reviews on these sites from positive experiences, meaning that many review sites end up as collections of only the bad reviews.

The owner of DecorMyEyes, the focus of the Times’s article, realized that he could harness that energy to create thousands of inbound links for his website, boosting him up in organic search rankings. GetSatisfaction has since printed a response to the article , noting that links out from their reviews are tagged with the “nofollow” article, meaning that search engine credit does not pass out from them to the site being reviewed. Either way, enough reviews and links exist on the web to catapult DecorMyEyes.com to the top of the search engine rankings. Because of these review sites and search engine's current ranking methods DecorMyEyes was able to increase its traffic and customers by intentionally creating unhappy customers.

Marketing Takeaway

What is a good inbound marketer to do in the face of such overwhelming poor taste on the part of their competition? First, relax – The New York Times article notes that DecorMyEyes has many issues with their business as a result of their customer policies. They are very troubled financially, and are constantly threatened with losing their authority to process transactions by MasterCard and Visa. It appears that they are spending almost as much time trying to keep the basic mechanics of their business running as they are actually selling their merchandise. This also will not work for any business that depends on repeat business – None of their unhappy customers will ever come back for a second purchase.

The ultimate solution here will be part of Google’s continuing strategy of adding reviews and editorial commentary to links in their search engine results. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land wrote quite a bit about that yesterday , with examples. Google is doing their best to serve the best results their algorithm can show – We wouldn’t want them to take a direct editorial view and take a website out of the index because of negative reviews or comments – Imagine what would happen to so many sites around politics, religion, and other controversial topics.

Ultimately, as a marketer, you should continue to build links in the smart ways that you have before, and collect testimonials from your best customers and their experiences. Publish those on your website, and place them strategically as content around your website. They will both encourage the people that you shared to share the links with their friends, and provide comfort to the website visitors considering your business.


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