In the wake of an article entitled “Google search engine now detects bad businesses” that appeared on Macworld.com a few days ago, I feel compelled to share this story.
According to the article, Google will be penalizing businesses with poor reviews by either removing them from their results or pushing them below the fold, so to speak, so they aren’t as readily seen. This came after the NY Times ran a horror story about an online retailer who claimed his site’s popularity increased in direct proportion to the number of negative comments posted by angry customers. Increase it did, right along with his bad business practices.
Now, I’m a consumer and as such you’d think this would make me happy. Google, after all, is trying to deliver the best results for me, and showing me sites with good reviews is a good way to accomplish that goal. But already I’m seeing the negative side of this decision. Read on.
My friend is a DJ. He books gigs sometimes a year in advance and when he does, he requires a deposit and a cancellation fee. He has to. Events are planned long in advance and if he gets a last minute cancellation, there is little chance he’ll be able to fill it with another gig.
Recently a customer came to him and asked for permission to cancel the contract if her dying husband died before the party. He didn’t have to, but he told her that, per the contract, the $300 deposit is non-refundable but he would make a concession and apply it to another event in the future. I thought that was quite generous given that it meant he would lose out on income that day.
Well, sure enough, the husband died and the party was canceled. Shortly afterward the wife asked for her deposit back. My friend reminded her of the agreement, and that appeared to be the end of it. However, recently he received a phone call in which she threatened to leave a bad review on Yelp if he didn’t give her the deposit back. Reluctantly, he complied.
So, is there where online reviews are going? Are they a good thing gone bad?
I was aghast that my friend complied. I felt that if she had left a bad review, he could comment back and tell the whole story, the truth, and save his reputation. But he had already gotten a couple of less than stellar reviews and he was worried about how it would hurt his business, and hurt it could, particularly with this new change in Google. Google, after all, is just a machine. Will it be reading business owner retorts? Will it know how to judge those accurately? I think not. A bad review even though it was not deserved will probably still hurt, especially if it comes on the heels of a couple of others.
So, frankly, I don’t know if I think this move by Google is a good one or not. I love having reviews at my disposal, but there’s just too much room for dishonesty, prejudice, and even blackmail in the review system for it to be foolproof. I think I’d rather be the one who decides which reviews to believe, which ones should either reward or punish a business, and which businesses I should see or not.
On the other hand, if Google can keep the likes of that scoundrel in the NY Times article out of my radar, I’d be happy.
What do you think?
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