Is Ripping Off Customers Good For Business?

It is not very often that we see our beloved Google on the back foot, but a recent story in the NY Times about DecorMyEyes , an online opticians based in Brooklyn, might change this.

The story reveals how DecorMyEyes allegedly owes a lot of its high Google ranking to the way it consistently rips off and intimidates its customers.

The story goes that disgruntled DecorMyEyes customers had generated so much negative buzz online that it had unexpectedly helped the rogue merchant perform better on Google, making brisk business as a direct result. This of course exposed a fundamental problem with the Google algorithm in its supposed role of helping the ‘cream of the crop’ rise to the top.

The story has seen Big G taking an uncharacteristically defensive public stance. Perhaps even more significantly, the search engine has also made an immediate tweak or two (allegedly) to its search-ranking algorithm – the 21st century equivalent of the secret Coke formula!

The conclusion of the story seems to present a digital update of the old idiom that there really is no such thing as bad publicity.

BUT…

Google was unsurprisingly quick to deny the findings in its official blog and claimed to have already tweaked its algorithm to identify and filter out rogue online merchants. Google points out that most of the ranking effect was caused by references to DecorMyEyes appearing on some very authoritative web sites, thus even shifting the “blame” onto traditional media to some extent. This highlights just how important powerful links can be- beware SEO products and services which over-emphasise quantity over quality.

But not everyone is buying this explanation including many in the SEO community.

Google these days is phenomenally sophisticated, with technologies like sentiment analysis and social SEO designed to keep its systems as useful as possible to the end user. What’s more, with the likes of “latent semantic indexing” and “web 3.0”, future technology will actually allow computers to derive meaning and context from content.

The fact of the matter remains that Google, as clever it is, still doesn’t actually understand what we’re talking about. As they point out themselves, there will always be loopholes that people will find and exploit. No one company, not even Google, is perfect.

A customer is for life(ish), not just for Xmas.

The problem with the example of DecorMyEyes is that the company is seeing SEO in a very siloed way. If our only goal in business was to get traffic to a website by being top of the rankings, then this might indeed be a sensible strategy. But it’s not our only goal.

Companies spend millions, not only on brand management, but also on customer retention, and there are very good reasons for both. Companies will do almost anything within their power to stop you leaving them, as anyone who has ever had a mobile phone “free upgrade” will attest.

Customers are the single most important and valuable thing in business, although this insight often tends to be clouded in our busy day-to-day. When you delight them, they speak highly of you and they build your brand in the process. They introduce you to new customers and they buy more stuff from you. In short, they become more and more valuable.

While it may be easy to get customers to speak negatively about you and temporarily boost your SEO, long-term plans should focus on how you achieve this with positive reviews and customer referrals.

A huge part of what we do for search engine optimisation clients (naturally) involves the creation and distribution of SEO-friendly content. This creates an online footprint in the form of articles and links which Google can index, improving our client’s rankings for the targeted keywords in the process. The trick is to produce content that is on brand, targeted and relevant to the client and its customers, whilst containing the right amount of keywords for search engine consumption.

So to answer the original question – is ripping off your customers good for business? The answer is a definite no. In the long term, it will always come back and haunt you and is a fundamentally flawed business strategy.

After all, if this proves one thing, it’s that you can run from Google, but you certainly can’t hide- justice will catch up with you in the end.