During a Google Webmaster Central hangout just a couple of weeks ago, one of the participants asked John Mueller whether negative reviews hurt SEO.
Here’s how she framed her question:
“When I Google my brand name, on the first or second page of the results, there’s a site review website that pops up. And it has a rich result snippet with the rating and stuff, and it’s just a lot of user-submitted reviews about the website. And I’m not sure what impact this actually has, whether directly, or I suppose there would be an indirect impact if a user sees the reviews, and they are looking for reviews about the website. So I know there is that aspect of it, but I was wondering if there is any other aspect or any other impact on my site based on links that are maybe shared in the reviews.”
Mueller replied by saying “I don’t think you’d see any effect on the ranking of your website from that.”
The questioner pressed him for clarification and he said not to worry about it.
So the conclusion from that exchange is that SEO and reviews aren’t related. You won’t take a hit in your ranking if someone leaves a bad review.
A couple of weeks after that exchange, SEO blogger Barry Schwartz jumped on another Google Webmaster Central hangout to get some clarification.
He got that clarification. And it didn’t exactly agree with what you just read.
In his question, Schwartz summarized what Mueller said above. Then, he brought up a subject from 10 years ago.
That was the incident with a company called DecorMyEyes.
This is a story that would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
In 2010, Clarabelle Rodriguez learned the hard way that SEO and reviews didn’t go hand in hand.
She typed the name of her favorite eyeglass brand into the Google search bar. Towards the top of the results list, she spotted a link to a site called DecorMyEyes.com.
The site presented a professional appeal and offered what she wanted. She purchased Lafont frames and Chiba Vision contact lenses for $361.97.
On the following day, somebody named Tony Russo called to inform her that DecorMyEyes ran out of the Chiba Visions. He asked her to pick another brand.
She didn’t want another brand. When she told Russo that, he argued with her.
A couple of days later, she received the frames that she ordered. But they appeared to be counterfeited. And, to top it all off, she was charged $487 instead of $361.97.
She spoke to Russo again. This time he didn’t just argue with her, he yelled at her. He even threatened her physically.
It gets worse. Over the next several weeks, Russo repeatedly harassed Rodriguez and continued to threaten her.
Poor customer service? Well, yeah, to say the least.
But it was also a master marketing plan.
You see, Russo (whose real name is Vitaly Borker) was on a campaign to solicit negative reviews online. He even bragged about it.
Using the fake name “Stanley,” Russo/Borker posted the following message on consumer advocacy website Get Satisfaction:
“Hello, My name is Stanley with DecorMyEyes.com. I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”
It looks like he was going out of his way to get bad reviews to boost his website’s position in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Apparently, it worked.
To that end, he’d intentionally irritate 1/20 customers or so just so he could get more negative feedback. I’m guessing he practiced exceptional customer service with the other folks.
When Google caught wind of what was going on, the company made some changes in its algorithm so that unscrupulous strategists like Borker could no longer exploit the “no such thing as bad publicity” loophole.
Just to close out this part of the story, Borker has since been arrested multiple times on mail fraud and wire fraud charges. In April of last year, he was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.
And if you try to visit DecorMyEyes.com today, McAfee will give you a warning that the site is slightly risky.
In response to Schwartz’s question about the DecorMyEyes.com incident, Mueller revised and extended his remarks about whether bad reviews hurt SEO.
He said that if all signals point in a negative direction (as would be the case with a company like DecorMyEyes.com today), then yes, that could have a negative impact on your ranking.
But Mueller went on to say that such a thing is pretty rare.
Still, it could happen.
However, if just a few people are mad and write some bad reviews, that shouldn’t have any impact at all. Especially if the overwhelming sentiment is positive.
Mueller went on to say that for Google to pick up on negative sentiment, it needs to be a very strong signal. In other words, you need to enter DecorMyEyes.com territory.
If you’re getting those kinds of reviews, though, you deserve to lose rank.
Mueller also talked about the case from 10 years ago. He said that Google probably uses a similar algorithm today, but it’s almost certainly evolved since then.
So can bad reviews hurt SEO? Yes.
But not just a few bad reviews here and there. You really need the tide of public opinion to turn against you.
If you’re good at practicing customer service, that’s not likely to happen.
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