A story that appeared in the New York Times this weekend about an obnoxious and threatening e-retailer is nothing short of horrific. It tells of one consumer’s experience in dealing with a virtual bully — a eyeglasses retailer who used his negative reputation on the Web to game Google in sending him traffic.
Vitaly Borker, the founder and owner of DecorMyEyes.com, told the NYT in a surprisingly candid admission, “I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment,” he said. “So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”
Google acted quickly by apparently tweaking its algorithm. It didn’t say exactly how or what it did, but it admitted that sentiment analysis is difficult.
As it turns out, Google has a world-class sentiment analysis system (Large-Scale Sentiment Analysis for News and Blogs). But if we demoted web pages that have negative comments against them, you might not be able to find information about many elected officials, not to mention a lot of important but controversial concepts. So far we have not found an effective way to significantly improve search using sentiment analysis. Of course, we will continue trying.
In the most straightforward, no bullshit statement from the otherwise enigmatic search giant, Google added:
We can’t say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day. That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings—beyond what we’ve already said.
So on to my favorite topic — the need to balance algos and human editors. Google is naturally cagey about its backend because it doesn’t want anyone to figure out how it works. Fair enough. But you can’t ignore the fact that any person of the right mind would have spotted what DecorMyEyes was doing and so take it lower in the results.
I’m also interested to see how sentiment analysis will affect content farms. As you’ll have seen from my previous posts, I’m not totally excited about how these companies are in effect also gaming Google with top-notch SEO while delivering low-quality content. I’d love to see an algo that’s smart enough to tell the difference. But until then, human search editors and community managers should get to keep their day jobs.