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Tech Talk: Good service, not a top Google rank, brings success

I first heard about this snarly, nasty bit of Google slur while I was visiting family in Iowa for Thanksgiving. On my iPhone was a link from a client to The New York Times, where there was an article about how a company enjoyed top search rankings in Google, while in real life they were such terrible businesspeople that the company owners were later arrested for threatening the personal safety of their customers.

The owners of, according to the article, were providing bad customer service on purpose to attract negative reviews on the Internet. The reason for this controversial marketing plan? The company owners are convinced that the more negative PR they received on the Web, the higher their Google rankings were.

“I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works,” the owner said. “No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”

Google has responded to the story on its company blog and via twitter posts from Matt Cutts, who is the public face of the Google search rank/anti-spam algorithm development division.

What a top ranking gets you

When I started following this story, I laughed out loud. Here’s a news flash for everyone on the Internet:

Top rankings in Google are not a direct, guaranteed line to unimaginable riches.

Too many people think that a top rank will be an automatic pathway to the fulfillment of their wildest dreams, and I can prove to you, based on the experience of nearly one hundred clients, that this is not always the case.

A top ranking in Google is the beginning of the story, that’s true. The ranking will give you lots of new eyeballs, and if your listing in Google is an interesting read, you’ll probably get a lot of clicks through to your site. Genuinely interested visitors will probably become customers, and the others will drift away.

Here’s the truth about this terrible Web retailer: For all of its outrageous claims, its Web traffic was not that good. They received between 21,000 and 42,000 visitors per month, according to data from and To give some perspective, successful online retailers like have traffic of around 1.6 million visitors per month. has around 14 million visitors per month.

Nearly every website immediately loses 40 percent of these visitors due to bouncing (visitors who come to a site and then leave immediately), which means their “real” traffic ranges from 12,000 to 25,000. And if 1 percent of these views converted to paying customers, they had between 120 and 210 customers per month. If they made $20 in profit per customer, that’s $2,400 to $5,000 per month. Given their shady business practices, I feel like these numbers are generous.

Do the right thing

My guess is that the business owners were so hostile to their customers because they were hungry and afraid of going under. Sometimes people get mean when they’re hungry. The unfortunate item in this story is that they stapled their plight to Google’s brand and are trying to drag the search giant into their tempest in a teapot.

Here’s the thing: Online or offline, there still aren’t any viable shortcuts to running a good business. It’s human nature to want to take shortcuts and find a sneaky way around the rules of business, but so far the shortcuts aren’t effective. When I find one that works, I’ll post my last column from one of my private yachts.

Do the right thing. Take care of your customers and have integrity. That’s the fastest path to success that I’ve seen so far. It’s not a technical solution, but sometimes going “old school” works the best.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a Web consulting firm in Baltimore. Her e-mail address is [email protected] Follow her on Twitter, @marcidevries.