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Hey, PCMag: Google doesn’t keep a blacklist

In Google: Judge, Jury and Online Shopping Executioner, Lance Ulanoff says Google—in updating its search algorithm to no longer reward with top search results businesses who have lots of negative user experiences—is potentially dooming other legitimate businesses:

Borker was very upfront is[sic] his dastardly business strategy and has only his self to blame for the world’s largest online search corporation summarily dismissing him for them web. But who are these other companies? How did Google come up with this list of companies with bad user experiences? How will these companies know if they’ve been “Borkered”?

Uh, read Google’s official announcement about the change. They didn’t come up with a list of companies. They updated their search algorithm. I’m sure they probably did some investigating to find a handful of Borker-similar businesses so they could test their algorithm, but they don’t have a static or periodically updated blacklist of “bad” businesses. They have a search algorithm. The algorithm got updated.

But what if some didn’t deserve it? What’s their recourse and where does Judge Google stop?

A computerized search algorithm will never perfectly return the absolute best results as determined by Lance Ulanoff. It’s an algorithm. Google’s been tweaking its algorithm for over ten years now, and it’s never been perfect, but it’s been good enough that people still use it more than any other search engine. Hey, I think my wife’s graphic design firm is the best, but if you search for graphic design firms on Google, she doesn’t appear anywhere on the first page. This is an outrage! What recourse does she have? Where does Judge Google stop? How could Google have condemned my wife’s business to a lower ranking than some worse design firm? See where this is going? You aren’t entitled to be at the top because you think you’re the best or that you’re just supposed to be there. As Ulanoff admits, even PCMag itself isn’t into such a supposed meritocracy:

PCMag.com doesn’t sell anything to consumers (aside from our Utilities Downloads), but we certainly work hard to be a part of the first page of any Google search relating to products and technology. Our methods are based on good search engine optimization (SEO) training—and mostly focus on topic relevance.

If you’re search engine optimizing instead of just being the highest quality content you can, aren’t you anointing yourself your own judge over what should be at the top instead of just letting the natural results rise to the top?

Here’s the most ridiculous example:

I have seen big companies struggle to shake off the burden of previous missteps. Perception is not only reality, it can be awfully persistent. Look at Symantec and its product Norton Internet Security. For years, it was a dog of a product that, while properly protecting your PC, turned it into a sluggish mess. A few years ago, Symantec completely rebuilt the security suite. It’s now among the fastest, lightest and most effective security suites on the market. Yet, when I speak to people, they still think it’s a dog and refuse to even try it. It’s like they have their own brain-matter-based search engine that’s stuck on all the bad info fed into it years ago. New, positive information can’t seem to rise up above the vast amount of negative sentiment they initially received about the product.

In Google’s new world, bad actors are always bad actors. They could be banished based on bad reviews, even if the company is busy cleaning up its act.

First of all, bad actors are not always bad actors. Somehow Ulanoff missed that Google updated its search algorithm. It’s not a static blacklist of businesses that are bad.

More importantly, if you do a Google search for antivirus, Symantec shows up in the first ten results. The idea that customers who have a bad experience with a product will not return to the product despite its later improvements has absolutely nothing to do with Google search results. That’s just life. That happened before Google. That happened before the internet. That’s a branding and marketing issue. That isn’t search result ranking.

If Symantec wants to fix its problem, it need a proper marketing campaign. And if Google wants to fix its problem, it needs to update its search algorithm, which it actually has done.

The irony is that Ulanoff’s “article” has risen to the top of Google News right now over other more sanely written articles on the same topic. Maybe Google’s next algorithm update project should be on punishing attention-grabbing headlines for poorly written articles.