Should Google Introduce a Negative Feedback Penalty for bad Merchants?

As the world’s biggest directory of online information Google has a big (huge!) responsibility to ensure consumers are protected. We’ve seen stricter privacy policies introduced across many of Google’s properties including changes to advertising practice for paid search ads and the introduction of secure search for organic searches (although I’m still skeptical this really was the real intention).  Google also provides information on how consumers can stay safe online here:


The safety center includes tips around cybercrime and how Google protects consumers from con artists and fraudsters. There doesn’t go into too much detail and the focus seemed to be more tailored towards paid search ads.

Does Google really do enough to protect consumers through organic search results?

Clearly there are a few things that Google do and there have been a lot of improvements over time. Google Webmaster Guidelines include quality requirements for a website that if broken can lead to immediate removal from organic search results.

Unfortunately Google’s quality guidelines don’t stretch to ensuring online retailers adhere to distance selling regulations. There doesn’t appear to be anything stopping an online retailer providing a poor quality of service and still appearing highly in Google’s organic search results.

Google not only want to provide users with protection but they often state how they want to ensure users have the best possible experience online. This includes providing relevant search results, but should also prevent unscrupulous vendors from appearing or making it clear to consumers they may be at risk if they use them.

Now occasionally things can go wrong and it wouldn’t be possible to protect every consumer from every purchase online. However, where there are multiple complaints against a company you can usually find evidence of this through forums, blogs, Twitter and Facebook etc. Where this is apparent Google should have more of a responsibility to display these results and conversations to consumers and highlight these complaints against the online retailer. This would allow consumers to make a more informed choice online and protect them from a potentially bad experience.

In the same way that Google enforces link penalties for spammy link building practices, should Google also enforce negative feedback penalties?

Bad Merchant Penalties

What’s interesting is that Google actually began talking about this in 2010 when some Merchants claimed their rankings were benefitting from negative reviews.You can read about this here:


As recently as last year Matt Cutts the head of the web spam team at Google talked about introducing changes to prevent poor quality merchants from ranking well in search results.

““We have a potential launch later this year, maybe a little bit sooner, looking at the quality of merchants and whether we can do a better job on that, because we don’t want low quality experience merchants to be ranking in the search results.”

You can also read a bit more about this here:


Based on some recent investigation of some UK flower merchants, it doesn’t appear as though this has been put in place yet.

There was a huge backlash against Interflora in the UK due to failed deliveries on Mother’s Day and poor quality flowers being delivered. They are big company and therefore the news about this hit the press quite quickly. These results are apparent in Google’s search results which at least gives consumers the opportunity to avoid Interflora if they choose.

What about other retailers that are less well known and don’t hit the press? What about companies that continue to offer a poor quality products or services online and still appear within results organic results with nothing to warn consumers?


A good example is another flower company called Prestige Flowers dot co dot uk. They appeared in the first page of organic results for ‘mother’s day’ but also had a lot of paid ads showing at the top of search results.

prestige flowers paid search results

prestige flowers organic search results

When I looked for evidence of poor quality service online it wasn’t difficult to find. The first page of results for “prestige reviews” returned a blog post from a disgruntled customer last year:


I looked on their Facebook page to see if any negative comments had been left there:

FB for prestige flowers

There were a few but mostly raving reviews about Prestige which was a little surprising considering the feedback I’d seen online. According to David Higgerson they had been removing the negative reviews so this does help to explain things. When I started to look a bit more closely I noticed the comments were ‘unnatural’ and overly enthusiastic.   I was also pretty sure I recognised one of the faces against the name Gordon James.

fake gordon james profile facebook

It took me a moment to realise this was none other than Martin Lewis the founder of Moneysavingexpert.com. A site dedicated to protecting the consumer and one that I use on a regular basis and thoroughly recommend checking out.

martin lewis money saving expert news article

I did find this quite ironic! I’m pretty sure Martin would be horrified at the thought of his face being used to promote a poor quality merchant through Social Media! This profile along with a number of others had little content about the person and the images appeared on multiple websites. (If you want to see where an image came from here is a handy reverse image search tool: http://www.tineye.com/)

I was also surprised to see Facebook hadn’t done very much about this but perhaps they will pick up on this article and ensure they are removed!

Twitter also had a number of comments relating to failed deliveries and poor quality service.

twitter profile for prestige

Suspicious after their Facebook profile seemed to have bogus profiles following I inspected their Twitter profile. I noticed their profile had a lot of Tweets and Followers but they weren’t following anyone else apart from Barnado’s (perhaps an attempt to look a little more caring?).

twitter profile 2 for prestige

It might not be possible at the moment for Google to remove these types of websites based on negative comments alone but I would have thought this information should be enough for Google to take some sort of action to prevent them being showcased. Or perhaps providing some sort of additional messaging next to that Merchants listing in results.

For now, I hope that when they do come across sites like this they look a bit more closely into other guidelines they may be breaking and use these as a reason to remove them from results.

I did a bit more digging on Prestige and am hoping this might be enough for Google to get on the case.

Paid Search Results

Violation of Google’s trademark policy?


The ad clearly states ‘waitrose flowers’ and directs users to the Prestige Flowers homepage which doesn’t show anything on ‘waitrose flowers’.

prestige and waitrose paid search results

prestige landing page


Spammy Link Building

http://carletongarden.blogspot *dot* jp/2012/11/my-how-to-videos-are-ready.html

prestige negative link building practices

I’ll be keeping my eye out on this one along with a few other ‘choice’ merchants. Oh and just wondering if Google does decide to implement a ‘negative feedback penalty’ can we please call it the ‘blob fish’?


I think that face represents how every consumer feels after they’ve had a negative shopping experience online!

How do you feel about a negative feedback penalty? Notice anyone else that really shouldn’t be showing in the first page of search results?