There's a fascinating story in the New York Times today about an online retailer who actually increased sales and profits by insulting, threatening and even cheating his customers because the more online complaints he got, the better he ranked on Google.
A woman who purchased eyeglasses on one of this online retailer’s sites was harassed and stalked for weeks because she tried to return a purchase. At one point the online retailer told her, "you put your hand in fire. Now it’s time to get burned." The woman told the New York Times, "This might sound like an exaggeration, but I feared for my life. I was actually looking over my shoulder when I left my apartment."
It turns out that the hundreds of online complaints being written about this bad actor were perversely fooling search algorithms into believing this was a quality site because it had a large number of inbound links. In fact, this retailer would intentionally begin battles with customers when he needed to drive an increase in traffic.
Unfortunately this is just a single appalling story in a huge trend we're seeing. There are a finite set of decent retailers you might want to buy stuff online from. But there is an ever-increasing number of spam sites on the web. We're at the point now where there are far more fake retailers than real ones online. The bad sites are getting ever more sophisticated in appearing to be legitimate, to both consumers as well as search engines.
Algorithmic search is sinking.
The only way to combat this and return trust and quality to search is by taking an editorial stand and having humans identify the best sites for every category. The algorithm can't find its way through the web's growing hall of mirrors anymore. And it's only going to get worse.