BrainTrust Query: Can You Trust Search?
a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from a current
article from Insight-Driven Retailing Blog.
An awful lot of referrals
to e-commerce sites come from web searches. Retailers rely on search engine
optimization (SEO) to correctly position their website so they can be found.
Search on "blue jeans" and the results are
determined by a semi-secret algorithm — in my case Levi.com, Banana Republic,
and ShopStyle show up.
The New York Times recently uncovered a situation where J.C.
Penney, via third-parties hired to help with SEO, was caught manipulating Google
search results so they were erroneously higher in page rankings. No doubt this
helped drive additional sales during this past Christmas as shown by their
36 percent rise in fourth-quarter earnings.
Last week, Overstock.com similarly
was found guilty of driving up search rankings by convincing university webmasters
to provide "discount links" to
faculty and students. In both cases, Google retaliated by dropping both Penney
and Overstock.com’s links lower in its search results.
Penney last week fired
its search engine consulting firm while denying any wrongdoing. Overstock.com
changed its practices to meet Google’s guidelines.
My friend Ron Kleinman, former
retail guru at Sun Microsystems, started an interesting discussion at the ARTS
LinkedIn forum. He posed the question: The ability of a single company to "punish" any
retailer (by significantly impacting their on-line sales volume) who does not
play by their rules … is this a good thing or a bad thing?
and Overstock.com were both in the wrong and needed to be punished, but should
that decision lie with Google alone?
Don’t get me wrong — I’m certainly not
advocating we create a Department of Search where bureaucrats think of ways
to spend money, but Google wields an awful lot of power in this situation,
and it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Now Google is incorporating more social
aspects into their search results. For example, when Google knows it’s me (i.e.,
I’m logged in when using Google) search results will be influenced by my Twitter
network. In an effort to increase relevance, the blogs and re-tweeted articles
from my network will be higher in the search results than they otherwise would
be. So in the case of product searches, things discussed in my network will
rise to the top. Continuing my blue jean example, if someone in my network
had been discussing Macy’s, perhaps they would now be higher in the result set.
I already have lots of spammers posting bogus comments to my blog in an effort
to create additional links to their sites and thus increase their search ranking.
Should I expect a similar situation in Twitter and eventually Facebook?
retailers need to expand their SEO efforts to incorporate social media as well,
but do us all a favor and please don’t cheat.
- Can you Trust Search? – Insight-Driven Retailing Blog
- The Dirty Little Secrets of Search – The New York Times
- Google Penalizes Overstock for Search Tactics – The Wall
- J.C. Penney’s Profit Rises 36% – The Wall Street Journal
Discussion Questions: First, what do you think of Google’s move to punish Penney and Overstock.com for artificially boosting search results? How will incorporating social media into search results likely impact the value of such results?