We’ve discussed this before and will likely discuss it again. Google. Google is again being scrutinized concerning their business practices. Anyone who has worked hard to generate significant search engine optimization for a client will know that Google keeps it a moving target. Their motto is “Don’t be evil.” However that hardly qualifies as verifiable transparency and accountability. The idea is nice, but what happens when their income streams thin out? About 8 or so years ago well financed marketing managers were falling all over themselves to give Google money. A click for Mesothelioma was worth $75 or more. That’s just one click!
It sounds absurd and that’s what it was. It took a while for the executives to realize that their ROI was going to make them look quite silly. In fact, many remained in denial for years. They dreamed that they could just pay Google and get all the sales they wanted. They assumed that the lack of conversions (or actual sales) was a mistake of their staff and just tried again with a different “guy”. Like someone who paid too much for their car (or a Mac owner) they bragged to their friends about how great their hot rod is. Their friends jumped in too. However, when pay-per-click did not deliver much beyond bills, as the now proverbial “ad blindness” set in and clicks only kept getting more expensive the “fancy car” failed to deliver for many of the markets that patronized it. The inexperienced still rush to buy up their “keywords” in hopes of a marketing miracle. However, the only marketing miracle is that Google made a killing in a market that had the lifespan of a Great Dane.
So the game is over, the hay day is exhausted, and Google is handing out vouchers for $75, $80, and $100 worth of free ad space. Sparky, our beloved but old Great Dane is spending most of his days sleeping on his mat and the vouchers amount to putting vitamins in his food. All they will do is allow the uninformed to discover for free how little value there is left in PPC advertising. After they’ve spent their $75 voucher and generated a few hundred clicks and maybe 2 or 3 conversions into something whose return amounts to ten or twenty bucks, then only fuzzy math will convince them to spend more. It’s an act of desperation that will mostly net folks that cannot use a calculator. There are some niches that this works in, but it is but a shadow of what it once was.
So where does that leave corporate Google and their motto “Don’t be evil?” It’s easy to do the right thing when the wind is blowing your way, but true character is only demonstrated when things get tough. It’s obvious there aren’t any Mac fans here, but one thing Steve did manage to do is create a sustainable fantasy. Google’s PPC fantasy was not sustainable. So what is Google doing to remain profitable? After all, “organic” search results don’t pay them, or at least they shouldn’t. The funny money valuations of “audience potential” are the stuff bubbles and bankruptcies are made of. Enter the FTC.
The Federal government, along with a lot of the more paranoid of us techie types, have our suspicions that Google’s “organic” results aren’t really as “organic” as they appear. You can believe what you’d like, but a company that built its business on scraping other people’s sites for content only to turn around and ban other sites that do the same thing citing “copyright” violations as their grounds sure doesn’t seem capable of not “being evil.” Press releases can say all kinds of things, but the cash cow was adWords and that dog just ain’t hunting. Android is great, and nobody really knows for sure, but on the face it seems to be open-source and royalty free. In fact there are rumors that Google has been paying manufacturers to use it. Yes, maybe 5 years ago Google could afford to have high standards, maybe they can for another 5 years. But, try to knock Wikipedia out of the top spot on a key term for your niche market, try to get about.com out of your way. About.com just so happens to run Google ads, Wikipedia, well while their is no obvious connection they are Google’s example of a “content is king” site. So it may well eat up so many SERPS simply as evidence in Google’s “don’t be evil” favor. If corps are paying for “organic” SERPS positions the connection will not be obvious. If Google is purposely burying their competition on top searches you can bet they will have some more obscure examples to show the Feds, and if they don’t now they will when the time comes.
What will the FTC find? It just depends on how deeply they dig, but Google is a corporation and they will do what they need to to keep the revenue coming. What will the FTC do if they do find impropriety? Well, here’s our guess, they will find a young man named Saddam Hussein and make him an honorary citizen of Detroit, then wink at him and tell him to “do the right thing.” In other words, it’s not likely any good will come of it. Sure Google is gaming the system. At least they have demonstrated a realization that there are limits to how much we will tolerate before giving Bing another chance. The government on the other hand seems to see no limit at all to how far they can manipulate. I say if Google wants to sell search engine positions let them. Just let the public know what they’re doing and let us decide how we deal with them. What we don’t need is “ObamaSearch 2011”.