Recently Bing announced on its blog that it was going to start warning users about search results of pharmacies that has been cited by the FDA as a fake online pharmacy engaged in illegal activity – but is this a good user experience, or the slippery slope to another negative SEO opportunity?
That was the first topic on the most recent TWIO episode, and here’s what our guests had to say about it…
BEN MAGEE: I think it’s an interesting concept. I think once you start to distinguish between a good and a bad ranking factor, you can’t really get away from the fact that negative SEO wouldn’t exist ‘cause once you give it a value, you can give that across competitors or in other areas. I think they’ll struggle to catch up to Google as the market leader. They’re going to have to adopt similar techniques that Google do in terms of figuring out what’s real content, what’s a real website and what’s someone trying to be manipulative. So I don’t see any way around it personally.
PAUL HUNTER: I think from my point of view I was interested in this basically because it’s actually another topic completely but about Google fighting France at the moment – and in my view on this is it’s interesting to see a government agency having influence on a user experience, and for me it’s kind of, ‘Where does the line stop with that?’ That’s what I think Google are scared about.
DAVID BAIN: It’s quite hard to draw the line in lots of different places sometimes. So Rob, what are your thoughts with regard to Bing here? Obviously we’ve seen highlighted a few times before in Google search results, I’ve seen search results that have had certain government complaints and the search result was possibly removed as a result of that. So that seems to be happening with Bing at the moment. Is it going to roll onto other industries do you think, and could it be more of an issue with whether or not search engines should be dealing with being the governing body and making these kinds of decisions?
ROB WEATHERHEAD: Yeah, I don’t think that any search engine can be the judge and jury on any of these things. They’ve got to take their guidance from somewhere. I think from a user experience perspective I think it’s probably the right thing for them to do. All it brings into question is, as you put forward in the question, the negative SEO implications, the accuracy and how up-to-date the information they’ve been using is, and therefore the impact that has on the search engines. But actually, the principle of what they’re attempting to do, which is remove fake online pharmacies that may indeed be selling illegal goods from the search engines is a valid principle. It’s more about how they go about it and whether the information that they’re using is up-to-date and accurate, I guess.
DAVID BAIN: Stewart, do you pay much attention to Bing or do you just tend to focus primarily on Google?
STEWART ROGERS: I pay attention to everything, of course. Statistics tell me that only 7% of people pay attention to Bing in the first place, but the fact is this particular usage of information is actually pretty spot-on. Bing have done a decent thing here and the reason I absolutely believe that is because they’re not just looking at online pharmacies and deciding for themselves whether they are fake or not. The way that Bing are implementing this, and they’ve been really clear about this, is that if the FDA over in the United States has issued a warning letter to that site and therefore it may be selling drugs that are unsafe according to the FDA, then Bing will block access to that site. So it’s actually for the site a lot clearer than, say, something like a Panda-based penalty from Google. It’s much, much clearer because the FDA have sent a letter saying, ‘You are potentially doing a bad thing.’ Bing have picked up on that data and said, ‘Okay, we’re going to block access to that.’ Now if the pharmacy is a legitimate pharmacy they have to go through a certain amount of hoops and hurdles to appease the FDA, at which point it comes off their list, at which point Bing allows access again. It’s a much, much clearer situation than a lot of other blocking technologies. But the fact is that if Bing and if Google are stopping your computer from getting malware and all sorts of other potential dangerous, unapproved, misbranded prescription drugs, then I don’t see it as a bad thing at all, and the fact that they’re using FDA warnings is a perfectly reasonable way to do it.
DAVID BAIN: Hannah, is that your belief as well that it’s quite reasonable or do you have any concerns that search engines at some point in the future may become a little bit more judge and jury as opposed to just listening to rulings from government bodies?
HANNAH THORPE: I think that it’s good that it’s obviously coming from the FDA and of course using the legislation in that way is fine but you have to consider what the implications are for, say, if they don’t put a mark against someone that has got a warning or is about to get a warning. So people might assume that sites they can access are safe and if it isn’t clear that that isn’t necessarily true, and it’s not 100% comprehensive, then you’re kind of running the risk that people put too much faith into the search engine.
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