Don’t believe Google Autocomplete when it comes to scams
There were a couple of posts today based on the idea that Google Autocomplete (where it makes suggestions based on what you've typed so far) is a good test of whether a brand is a scam or not. Here's why that's no guide to anything (EG do you seriously think that many people need a hitman?)
Harry Brignull wrote:
Take a look at the Google instant autocomplete suggestions on Google.co.uk if you type the word “creditexpert” followed by a space.
and pointed out that the answers were cancel, login, voucher and then scam. Martin Belam followed up by referring to the "longer-term damage done to your brand online".
Wrong search term
But it turns out that hardly anyone searches for creditexpert - they search for [credit expert], as this graph from google insights shows (red line is for credit expert, blue barely visible line is for creditexpert).
With the more popular [credit expert] search term, the Google autocomplete suggestions are login, cancel, phone number and voucher code. Nothing brand-damaging there.
But even for the search term [creditexpert], the fact that Google shows the word scam as a suggestion doesn't actually mean anything.
The suggestions are meaningless anyway
What makes Google suggest the word scam after you've typed a brand name?
Here are several posts that show it's not necessarily to do with people searching for "brand + scam". Although once Google is suggesting it, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy because people click on it to see if it's true.
Google seems to have started to suggest “helpmegoto.com scam” because 2 sites have scam on the same page [ie not because people are searching for it]. Now that Google has suggested it, people will now click on the suggestions because of human nature to check out anything negative. This does not effect us but it is effecting 1000?s of companies around the world, and many business owners are not even aware of it.
We recently read of a case study where a brand new domain had acquired a ‘scam suggestion’ from Google Suggest. It was evident that nobody had searched for this domain, let alone searched for the domain with the word ‘scam’. What the domain owner found was that two scraper sites had scraped content from his site, and those two scraper sites had the word ‘scam’ buried in the URL.
The Centre National Prive de Formation a Distance (CNFDI), a long-distance learning institution, last year brought a defamation suit against against the internet giant, based on the terms that follow “CNFDI” when you type that term into Google.fr. The first one that comes up after the abbreviation is “arnaque”, which translates as “scam” or “swindle”... Originally, the French court had sided with Google, which claimed that the terms are generated by an automated algorithm based on search terms that users enter. Now the higher court says that Google should remove the offensive expression.
Klup.nl, a network of user-edited news portals, was sued by a local BMW dealer, Zwartepoorte, because a Google search for Zwartepoorte + bankrupt returned a result for Klup.nl with this summary: “Full name: Zwartepoorte. Specialty: BMW … This company has gone bankrupt." In fact, no-one at Klup.nl had ever written a story about Zwartepoorte going under - Google’s algorithm had joined together two unrelated sentences from the site for its index abstract.
This isn’t necessarily due to the company being a scam, but because the searcher is unable to find proof that the company is legitimate, they end up doing their due diligence. They add “scam” to the company’s name, just to make sure. That then creates a self-fulfilling Google prophecy, with Google Suggest showing “scam” and creating a reputation nightmare that doesn’t actually exist.
I am the Media Manager at The Hunger Project and it has recently come to my attention that one of the top Google Suggest suggestions resulting from a search for "The Hunger Project" (no quotes in actual search) includes the name of the organization along with the word "scam". Clearly, this is a potentially damaging situation for our organization, which works to end hunger and poverty in the developing world. We are an effective, United Nations accredited non-governmental organization, with 501c3 status, which has received recognition from top charity watchdog agencies, including a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. Unfortunately this negative Google Suggest result occurs when searching for my organization, but also for other well-respected organizations in the non-profit field as well.
Google merely has populated that term into the Suggest results from the authoritative complaint sites and the number of times a term is searched is NOT the only factor that goes into keyword inclusion in Suggest and in some cases, may not be a factor at all.
What’s scary for bloggers is the search tool’s potential to become a negative echo chamber. It’s natural, if not a bit healthy, for a handful of readers to take issue with a post or express dissatisfaction with an info product or business practice. But negative comments and keywords in online reviews and other user-generated content can coalesce, gather stream and finally snowball until it’s picked by Google Suggest. A couple readers griping about your “scam” or “rip-off”— on your site or elsewhere — can spur a feedback loop that ties unsavory characteristics to your blog and brand in the formerly clean slate that is a Google search field.