By Brian Patterson on Mar 31, 2011 5
Update: This change by Google was short-lived. About a week after they blacklisted ‘scam’ they added it back. Many companies are again dealing with this Online Reputation Management issue. If you need assistance with this or a similar problem, let us know.
In a move that is making waves through the Online Reputation Management community, Google has blacklisted the word ‘scam’ from its Autocomplete (formerly called ‘Google Autosuggest’) algorithm. For those not familiar with what this all means, here is some background on the issue.
As you probably know, when you begin to type a search phrase into Google, a number of keywords drop down as you type, suggesting queries that maybe of interest to you. For instance, if I begin to type in ‘Kmart’, Google recommends some other keywords that I might be interested in, such as ‘Kmart coupon’, ‘Kmart locations’, etc.
While many companies have no problems or issues with what Google suggests, there is a not-so-small group of business, products, and services that have struggled with Google over the words that it is choosing to suggest. Take the company ‘Direct Buy’ for example:
Direct Buy is a membership club for furniture… I think of it as sort of a very expensive Costco that just sells furniture and other household goods for what they claim are cheaper prices. So, lets say you are considering joining Direct Buy and paying their membership price which runs into the several thousands of dollars range. Most people, before taking that plunge, will do a bit of research on the company. I would start with Google, and if I began to type in ‘Direct Buy’ and was presented with ‘Direct Buy scam’, you can believe I’m going to click on that and investigate the allegations.
This problem afflicted tens of thousands of companies. Using a combination of scraping Ripoffreport.com and running the scraped data through the unofficial Google Autocomplete API, we quickly identified hundreds of companies that had this problem. Some are actual scams, while others are real, legitimate companies that have just a few unhappy customers who have taken to the internet with a vengeance. Some of the companies we identified with the ‘scam’ autocomplete issue were:
However, as of Monday, March 28th, it appears all of this has changed. Whether a company is truly a scam or not, it appears that google has blacklisted the term ‘scam’ from being included in Google Autocomplete. As such, all of the aforementioned companies and individuals no longer need to worry about consumers being nudged to examine if they are a scam or not. It appears that ‘rip off’ is also blacklisted, while ‘ripoff’ is not – way to not be thorough, Google. Take a look at Direct Buy’s Autocomplete as of today:
For those companies that are legitimate, and are not scams, this is a great day. Previously, it took just a few unhappy customers, disgruntled former employees, or unscrupulous competitors to complain in enough places to influence Google into suggesting ‘scam’ along with a brand name. For these companies, this blacklisting change is right and just. However, for outfits that are true scams, the real people hurt here are consumers – they will no longer be hinted by Google that something may be a scam.
Hat tip to Distilled for first picking up on this.