Coming Soon: The Google Merchant Quality Algorithm

Mar 11, 2013 • 8:38 am | comments (27) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google PageRank & Algorithm Updates

Google Trusted StoreAt the popular SXSW conference Friday, Google's head of search spam, Matt Cutts announced that Google will be soon going after bad merchants with a new algorithm targeted at lowering their rankings in Google.

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land first covered this, quoting Matt's statement during his presentation.

Matt said:

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.

Google Goes After Low Quality Merchants

Clearly, Matt is telling low quality merchants to be prepared for a possible downgrade in ranking. This may lead to a huge drop in traffic, sales and revenue for these online merchants.

This shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Back in late 2010 Google took action against really sleazy merchants that specifically provided "extremely poor user experience." Since then, not much has been done there and only a tiny fraction of merchants were impacted.

Matt Cutts Pre-Announces Second Major Algorithm: Penguin

In 2012, Matt did a similar announcement, where he pre-announced what we know today as the Google Penguin algorithm. Back then, Matt called it the over optimization penalty and it was announced at SXSW.

For some reason, it took a while for anyone to make a big deal of this announcement. Danny Sullivan wouldn't let that happen this time and he wrote about it as soon as Matt announced it.

When exactly will this Google Merchant Quality algorithm be released? Probably in the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2013. Trust me, when it does - we will be on top of it.

Forum discussion at Google+.

Previous story: Google Update Brewing? March 2013


Alistair Lattimore

03/11/2013 01:00 pm

I wonder how far Google might take this exercise. For instance they could start analysing the usability of an ecommerce website to establish baseline metrics. How about using user experience type measurements such as how the page formatted, font size, colour, contrast. If primary call to actions are highlighted with sufficiently, how about usability of the shopping cart page itself, is creating an account mandatory, how much personal information does the merchant require. It is conceivable they could really go after this with vigor and ecommerce sites that should be thriving because they are trying to do right by their customers will bubble to the top while the merchants with little or no focus on the user sink to the bottom of the pond.

Chris Beasley

03/11/2013 01:37 pm

With PageRank there is no need to second guess their own search results like this, again. Obviously if a merchant provides a poor interface it will get fewer links, and if it gets fewer links, it will rank lower. Thinking that engineers at Google know better what people like than the actual wisdom of the masses is the same sort of arrogance that brought us winners like communism and every other failure of top down planning. Is Google in the business of measuring popularity or deciding popularity, the used to be the former, but lately they seem to be moving to the latter, and not to great effect.

Google is rigged

03/11/2013 02:03 pm

Trust can be bought at Google so rush and fund those Adwords accounts. paying Google is a sign of a non-spammy business. Google has their products listing 100% ads so they are trying to force every merchant to go there and buy ads, by cutting their free traffic


03/11/2013 02:10 pm

Dear "Bad merchants," to better serve our users we have downgraded your site and ruined your business. However we will gladly accept your site in Adwords and post your ad on top of everything else, if you pay us enough. We care about user experience. Larry and Glasshole Sergey

Terry Van Horne

03/11/2013 02:14 pm

@Chris beasley PageRank is why the algo is needed. "Obviously if a merchant provides a poor interface it will get fewer links, and if it gets fewer links, it will rank lower." You can still place a site using craphat manufactured links so the thought that lower quality will get fewer links is true but on longtail terms that are easily manipulated with low quality links that isn't so true.


03/11/2013 03:53 pm

Perhaps Google's frequent algorithm changes are viewed in such a negative light because they so often say that they'll cause sites to drop in the rankings. In the quotation above, they focus on the negative—Google says they "don't want low quality experience merchants to be ranking in the search results"—rather than focusing on the positive, that they want the highest quality sites to be high in the rankings.

Mike Gracen

03/11/2013 05:10 pm

Typical Google hypocrisy? Probably. I seriously doubt Google will be kicking any of these 'bad merchants' out of Adwords after their natural rankings drop and they all have to switch to the pay-to-play model to keep the traffic coming in.

Chris Beasley

03/11/2013 07:13 pm

Google has separate algorithms for dealing with artificial links. Google was founded on the premise that people, the wisdom of the masses, can rank pages better than machines. There is no perfect algorithm, what they're building is a rube goldberg machine. If there are artificial links, you can address that and devalue them, but if a site ranks, and gets lots of natural links, then they must be doing something good, and why would an engineer at Google second guess that (other than that they have a bias of importance towards themself)? They're sort of taking what was great about PageRank, and ruining it, and their SERPs are not the better for it. They're moving to an Alta Vista style system, which is ironic. Relying instead on computer evaluations and the opinions of the engineers in control, and less on human created signals.

Jerry Doby

03/11/2013 08:17 pm

Google is in the business to make provide revenue...they have a disclaimer which disassociates itself from the merchants...the DID kick quite a few merchants out of Google Wallet so perhaps they are sincere in some sort of fashion.


03/11/2013 09:13 pm

I just wonder does Matt realise that nearly everything he works on deliberately drives more and more people towards adwords? Or does he really think he is doing good work? Yes finding bad merchants is good but we know as in all cases Google the innocent will be hit just as hard as the guilty and Google will win in either case.


03/11/2013 10:15 pm

Of course he knows, he's not stupid. He's just a miserable and despicable POS. Everything Google search does is to support Adwords

Alan Robertson

03/11/2013 10:25 pm

Large business = Brand = More money for Google. Small business = No Brand = Less money for Google = Low Quality Merchant Penalty = Small business has to pay more to rank = Small business goes bust. Google = Tyrant. What are they going to base this "quality" on exactly? How do you measure quality - the price you are willing to pay per click? Are they going to set up a "mystery shopper" department and time how long things take to arrive, what the product quality was like, the price the customer paid, what the service was like? No - but that is exactly what customers are looking for! When Google says "quality" what they really mean is "money" paid to Google.


03/11/2013 10:32 pm

Since when is Google the authority over Merchants? Is Google trying to take business away from the BBB? Yes it's their serps but since when did they get the authority to evaluate and punish merchants? This looks like a touchy subject when using the "merchant" term, there may be a battle with merchant organizations if they do this.


03/11/2013 10:38 pm

I love the commitment of the AdWords conspiracy crowd. You keep the rest of the folks amused. I haven't used AdWords in 9 years and anyone that knows how the internet works should have to.

20% project trolling forums

03/11/2013 11:19 pm

Yes Googler, every update your earnings and clicks on ads skyrocket. The conspiracy crowd is dreaming it, riiight?


03/12/2013 12:08 am

I'm not disputing the conspiracy. I'm glad there are people out there looking at things from that perspective every time there's a change, no matter what it is.


03/12/2013 02:01 am

No, there is nothing wrong with Google. Its only trying to improve the quality and they can do it, they have the full right. Its not about adwords every time.


03/12/2013 06:40 am

The only thing behind each and every update of google is he wants every big and small businesses in Adwords pocket and if you want to rank in google you have to opt in for Adwords.


03/12/2013 11:53 am

Well get ready to see more of amazon, ebay, overstock etc like big brands site. First you will see a box of PPC ads, then Google Shopping ads, then amazon, ebay, overstock etc. Then on second page you will get repeated results for these big brands, on third page Linkedin, Facebook, Digsitevalue, Tumblr, etc...NO PLACE FOR SMALL MERCHANTS..........

Brad Sellers

03/12/2013 05:26 pm

"should" have to? Freudian slip?

Jeremy Q. Butler

03/12/2013 06:20 pm

good read. usability matters.


03/12/2013 09:21 pm

@ Chris Beasley do consumers who use merchant sites 'link' to that site? I think not ... so how can it be that links to a merchant eCommerce site, natural or not, be a determining factor of quality of the 'merchant' factor of a website? PR has nothing to do with the user experience of a merchant site, it has to do with the perceived 'authority' of a site based on the information it provides, not the service it provides. Links pass on Page Rank, sites with PR are not the customers of merchant sites (with the exception of wholesale/retail relationships).

andrew kelly

03/12/2013 10:47 pm

At least it will get rid of alot of scammers out of the hirearchy of googles rankings


03/15/2013 05:09 pm

Google is trying to solve a problem which doesn't exists. I had a e-commerce website which was ranking pretty high before these Zoo updates. The site had a very high conversion rate of around 30-35%. However, after the updates it went down right down to the 10th page and has been stuck there ever since. My question is if people didn't like my site user interface or content, why would they be buying? Just because your algorithm thinks the site is not good doesn't mean that's the reality. Now the front page for my main search term is filled with major e-commerce companies who are selling the same products for a 10-20% higher price. How is this helping Google's users?

Miklin SEO

03/16/2013 11:19 am

In the end, Google wins.

Christa Joe

04/09/2013 10:12 am

Hi, So does that mean that this algo is absolutely targeted on e-commerce and online retailing websites only and not for other industry types?


09/15/2013 05:43 pm

Google and Matt cutts want big business and more corporate control of America they don't like anything new that can provide a good user experience because they don't allow discovery anymore

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