The Trouble With Search Engines: When is Bad Publicity Good?

Search Engines Under A Magnifying Glass

There’s a school of thought which suggests that any publicity is good publicity. I don’t know how true this is of the offline world, but on the internet, the sites which generate the most buzz reign supreme. There’s a good reason for this too, and it all lays within the rules that search engines (such as Google) use to determine which websites should rank at the top of the search results.

Mr. Borker is the owner of a discount sunglasses website He’s been getting a lot of attention from the media lately because of the unique way in which he promotes his site. Instead of satisfying his customers with good service so that they leave positive comments and tell their friends, he does everything he can to make their shopping experience a poor one. From threatening customers over the phone, to sending his detractors photographs of their own home, he’s tried it all. The result? He’s managed to gain prominence in the search engines by generating negative buzz. The more angry comments and legal threats he receives, the better his site ranks. This is all due to the way that search engines determine a website’s value.

Search engines face many unique problems, but perhaps the most difficult lays in their inability to determine sentiment. Google decides on a website’s worth based on how many other sites link to it; whether the links are on a page with positive or negative comments is irrelevant. All links (known as back-links) count positively towards the recipient’s page, even if the owner of that page is someone like Mr. Borker.

Love them or hate them, search engine providers have become powerful enough to determine the success or failure of nearly every online venture. If there’s room for manipulation, webmasters like Mr. Borker will continue to find ways to game the system.

You can read more about by reading the New York Times article A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web.



Power & Money

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I'm a co-founder and writer here at Unfinished Man. I write, manage the look and feel of the website, and make sure that nothing breaks. I also reply to the vast majority of our emails, so if you're sending one through, I suggest you be nice. Everyone says I'm the least offensive of our writers, so they gave the email jockey task to me. When I'm not improving the site, I write about fashion, video games, politics, and anything related to science and technology.

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