Are Bad Reviews Good For SEO?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately regarding the topic of bad reviews on websites like Yelp or Get Satisfaction, or any of the other review websites online.  People are asking me if those bad reviews have an impact on the SEO of those bad businesses and if they are actually HELPING the bad business by providing an inbound link from a fairly reliable source (the review website). The recent buzz on the topic was started, in part, by a lengthy feature in the New York Times which highlighted how an online “designer” glasses reseller, DecorMyEyes.com, enjoyed high organic search engine ranking in Google for designer brand names and keyphrases like “designer sunglasses” – not despite bad reviews and complaints, but BECAUSE of them.  The owner was claiming that all the “link juice” from the mentions of the brands in the poor reviews on reputable websites are actually helping him rank for the terms organically and helping him get new customers every day.

But Is It True?!?

Google addressed the issue on the Official Google Blog earlier this month, tweaking their algorithm to penalize merchants that provide an extremely poor user experience, and explaining the issues they face when considering such upgrades.  As Google pointed out in their blog, many review websites actually use a bit of code known as a “rel=nofollow” which tells search engines that the link is not to be considered an endorsement and is to essentially be ignored.  Most of the “link juice” to the vendor in question actually came from articles by reliable news outlets writing about the owner’s arrest and antics!

Good Business Practices Still Apply

Even if this “Negative Marketing” was somehow helping the company rank higher in organic search results, a little research would have shown potential buyers that the business has a lot of negative reviews, complaints, and lawsuits against it.  Search engines are trying to provide users with the most relevant content to their search query.  It’s ultimately up to online consumers to use their search engines to research merchants.

I want to assure you that the old saying that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” just isn’t true online.

The unethical marketing techniques exercised by Decor My Eyes to take advantage of loopholes in search engine algorithms are just an expansion of “Black Hat” SEO tactics.  There may be short-term tricks for temporary manipulation of search engines, but algorithms are constantly evolving and changing.  Eventually, bogus tactics are discovered (remember keyword stuffing, anyone?) and improvements are made to the algorithms to make search results even more reliable.

The Truth About Negative Advertising

As a consequence of all this “Negative Advertising”, search providers and review forums such as Google, Get Satisfaction, Yahoo, and others have already taken direct action against Decor My Eyes.  I did a quick search on the brand names he mentioned ranking for in the interview for the New York Times article, and at the time of writing this post, he is no longer showing up in top results for any of them.

Look what happens when you start to search for the company name, Decor My Eyes, in major search engines now!

Immediately After the Word "my", Google Suggests a Scam

Interestingly enough, at the time this post was written, if you were too quick and used Yahoo Search, you could land on the company’s website without ever being alerted to any scams or complaints, as shown in the screen shot below.  Although, as soon as you start to type the word “eyes” into the search field manually, suggestions about scams and complaints start to appear:

Yahoo Search - "decor my" WITHOUT Warning of Scam

 

Yahoo Search for "decor my e" Suggests Scams & Complaints

Be a Smart Consumer

Bad companies like Decor My Eyes are only able to succeed because of uneducated consumers.  Consider this story as an example of why you should take the extra few moments to do some research on a company before giving them your business!

Seek out and read reviews to see what others are saying about the company.  Look for reviews by established community members, not people who are anonymous or who have reviewed a low number of business, because reviews by less established members are not as credible.  Note whether there are any relevant news articles in your search engine results for the company, such as the final link appearing just above the scroll on the Bing search results about the Decor My Eyes guy getting arrested in the screen capture below!

Bing Reveals the Reputation of DecorMyEyes

In this modern age of technology, consuming is easier than ever; we can even do it from the comfort of our home!  This is very convenient, but  it can also lead to the dangerous habit of engaging with businesses we know nothing about.  The best way to avoid being the victim of a scam is to do your research.  Search engines are also a great tool for researching company histories, not just what to buy.

Why Being Good Is Always Good For Business

This story should also serve as a warning to businesses engaging in bad practices in efforts to trick search engines and customers.  Search engines will continue to filter out “black hat” SEO techniques and scams like this “Negative Advertising / Link Building” tactic Decor My Eyes was utilizing.  Any advantages received from unethical ranking techniques are only temporary.  If caught using unethical techniques, search engines can penalize and even ban you.

There are also real-life consequences from the bad press, consumer reviews, and Better Business Bureau complaints this company has been receiving.  The website’s hosting and credit card payment service providers are ending their associations with Decor My Eyes for fear of being associated with an unethical business.  Search engines have also deliberately targeted his company as a result of the bad press.  In the end, the technique had failed, and eventually so will his business.

Businesses would be much better off putting their time and efforts into creating happy customers, writing valuable website content, blogging, and building a positive social media presence, which will only increase in value over time.  You’ll probably also get more sleep than the owner of Decor My Eyes, and not be afraid to have your photo in the paper!

What People Say Counts. Be Good to Your Clients.

 

This content originally appeared on the RealEstateSEO1.com blog. I wrote it while working at Boston Logic.