Monday, November 29, 2010

Consumer Complaints: Better Than SEO For Google Promotion

This Sunday's New York Times featured a fascinating piece by David Segal, "A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web."

From the gist of the article, it seems that from the perspective of web marketers, any attention is good attention. Evidently a particularly sketchy Brooklyn web marketer, Vitaly Borker, has discovered one of the best ways to improve his standings in a Google web search rankings: insult and threaten customers and encourage them to complain via Get Satisfaction. 

SHOPPING online in late July, Clarabelle Rodriguez typed the name of her favorite eyeglass brand into Google’s search bar.

Michael Falco for The New York Times

Clarabelle Rodriguez said she had several frightening exchanges with Vitaly Borker, after complaining about a purchase from his site.

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In moments, she found the perfect frames — made by a French company called Lafont — on a Web site that looked snazzy and stood at the top of the search results. Not the tippy-top, where the paid ads are found, but under those, on Google’s version of the gold-medal podium, where the most relevant and popular site is displayed.

Ms. Rodriguez placed an order for both the Lafonts and a set of doctor-prescribed Ciba Vision contact lenses on that site, DecorMyEyes.com. The total cost was $361.97.

It was the start of what Ms. Rodriguez would later describe as one of the most maddening and miserable experiences of her life.

The next day, a man named Tony Russo called to say that DecorMyEyes had run out of the Ciba Visions. Pick another brand, he advised a little brusquely.

“I told him that I didn’t want another brand,” recalls Ms. Rodriguez, who lives in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. “And I asked for a refund. He got rude, really obnoxious. ‘What’s the big deal? Choose another brand!’ ”

With the contacts issue unresolved, her eyeglasses arrived two days later. But the frames appeared to be counterfeits and Ms. Rodriguez, a lifelong fan of Lafont, remembers that even the case seemed fake.

Soon after, she discovered that DecorMyEyes had charged her $487 — or an extra $125. When she and Mr. Russo spoke again, she asked about the overcharge and said she would return the frames.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with these glasses?” she recalls Mr. Russo shouting. “I ordered them from France specifically for you!”

“I’m going to contact my credit card company,” she told him, “and dispute the charge.”

Until that moment, Mr. Russo was merely ornery. Now he erupted.

“Listen, bitch,” he fumed, according to Ms. Rodriguez. “I know your address. I’m one bridge over” — a reference, it turned out, to the company’s office in Brooklyn. Then, she said, he threatened to find her and commit an act of sexual violence too graphic to describe in a newspaper.

It turns out "Tony Russo" has a few aliases, but his real name is Vitaly Borker. Borker figured out that by leveraging the negative comments he (and his company, DecorMyEyes) receive on Get Satisfaction, he'd climb in the Google search rankings and thereby generate more sales. 

By then, Ms. Rodriguez had learned a lot more about DecorMyEyes on Get Satisfaction, an advocacy Web site where consumers vent en masse.

Dozens of people over the last three years, she found, had nearly identical tales about DecorMyEyes: a purchase gone wrong, followed by phone calls, e-mails and threats, sometimes lasting for months or years.

Occasionally, the owner of DecorMyEyes gave his name to these customers as Stanley Bolds, but the consensus at Get Satisfaction was that he and Tony Russo were the same person. Others dug around a little deeper and decided that both names were fictitious and that the company was actually owned and run by a man named Vitaly Borker.

Today, when reading the dozens of comments about DecorMyEyes, it is hard to decide which one conveys the most outrage. It is easy, though, to choose the most outrageous. It was written by Mr. Russo/Bolds/Borker himself.

“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.”

I'm a huge fan of Get Satisfaction and its CEO, Wendy Lea, and it will be interesting to see how the company responds to the New York Times article. While the article could prove problematic for Get Satisfaction (e.g., if it prompts a spate of Borker copycats trying to leverage negative Get Satisfaction reviews to drive traffic), I huge opportunities for Get Satisfaction.  One possibility: encourage Google to begin to provide a companion link to Get Satisfaction to get a much clearer picture of the web marketer or distributor - a picture that Google itself can't or won't provide. 

 

1 comment:

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Consumer Complaints