A fascinating story from the NYT about a company that intentionally generated negative publicity in order to improve its PageRank.
I ran across this article a few weeks ago and found it interesting because it illustrates some of the things we've been saying about ethical strategies for a while. Namely, that it might be profitable to behave unethically but that, in the long-term, the Internet will find you out and shut you down. The corollary: being ethical makes good business sense.
The subject of the piece is DecorMyEyes.com, a business that sells designer eyeglasses. Its owner discovered that treating his customers poorly --incorrect orders, insults, and even threats-- helped his business by increasing his visibility online. Apparently, there really was no such thing as bad publicity.
So he started doing it intentionally.
And here's where the story seems to violate our aphorism: When people went public about their stories of awful treatment, it only seemed to have the opposite effect.
The owner brazenly replied to his angry customers on a forum:
“Hello, My name is Stanley with DecorMyEyes.com,” the post began. “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’s all part of a sales strategy, he said. Online chatter about DecorMyEyes, even furious online chatter, pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales. He closed with a sardonic expression of gratitude: “I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.”
The owner (whose real name is Vitaly Borker) generated just enough negative feedback to game Google's algorithm, but not so much to be shut down by authorities. For a while he was able to keep enough business to offset the business he loses due to complaints.
That was, until the NYT story. A week after the article was published, Borker was arrested and charged with making threats and mail and wire fraud.
Since the press coverage, Google seems to be reworking its algorithm to better account for bad publicity. In the case of DecorMyEyes.com, at least, the effectiveness of these changes is still hit or miss.
Ultimately, it seems our assertion was upheld. Borker may have profited initially from being unethical, but once word from the forums spread to the wider press, he lost.