I’m not a Web retailer, and if I were I would probably find this exchange more painful than fascinating, but as it is I can just sit back and enjoy the weirdness of it. Forbes has a piece up about “Google Hell,” which is where Web retailers end up when they fall out of the top Google rankings and into the search engine’s less accessible “supplemental index” of low-scoring Web pages. This can cause a severe drop-off in business, and often retailers don’t know why their sites have been re-ranked. One example Forbes cites is a diamond retailer called MySolitaire.com:
MySolitaire.com, another online diamond business, spent January to June of 2006 in the supplemental index. Amit Jhalani, the site’s vice president of search marketing, says he figures that cost his business $250,000 in sales, and he says he still doesn’t know why the site’s pages got Google’s thumbs-down.
It gets more interesting when you read the blog response by one of Google’s search czars, Matt Cutts, who calls MySolitaire.com out on some shady system-gaming tactics they pulled that were designed to fool Google’s ranking system, and which probably got them shoved down the list. And don’t miss the comments on Cutts’s post, full of tales of woe and rough justice from rankings-hungry webmasters complaining about how they’ve been treated. The whole exchange pulls back the veil on how directly Google rankings can be turned into cash, and how desperate that makes people.
I think it’s clear that Google has an insane amount of control right now over who and what gets read on the Internet, but it’s worth pointing out that a) Google has come by its power honestly — it’s consumers who have given Google that control; and b) the Googlers have been pretty good stewards of that power so far (though there’s very little compelling them to be good, and if they get hit with black kryptonite and turn evil, that could be horrible for the Web as a medium). Also, c) it’s beyond me why somebody would try to build a business on Google rankings, something a non-Googler ultimately has no control over, in the first place. It’s like building your house in a flood zone. (Or is that what we’re trying to do at Time.com? Don’t answer that.)