Just Say No to Google Opportunism
During Nazi or Stalinist rule it was matter of life and death whether you were support the bloody regime or speaking out against it. Even trying to subvert it without speaking out publicly ended up fatal in most cases.
Nowadays we still have a choice as long as we live in democratic countries.
Nobody will kill or imprison us for opposing something publicly or privately. Yet when it comes to business the situation is already far worse it seems.
Without pleasing Google your business might end up bankrupt rather sooner than later. There are two ways of dealing with this menace: opportunism or independence.
Why Choose Opportunism?
I chose to call this post “Just Say No to Google Opportunism” because to me it’s what some marketers are advocating: opportunism in the face of an almighty Google.
Let me cite the definition of opportunism first so that we know what I’m talking about.
I rarely use Wikipedia as a source but this time they explain the term better than the dictionaries. It goes beyond the simple explanation to state:
“Opportunism refers rather to a specific way of responding to opportunities, which involves the element of self-interestedness”
Sounds quite innocent until now. What’s wrong with that? Aren’t we all a bit selfish? So far so good but that’s not all of course:
“plus disregard for relevant (ethical) principles, for intended or previously agreed goals, or for the shared concerns of a group.”
Before I try to show why Google opportunism is the wrong approach I’d like to summarize the points marketers usually make to defend Google:
- In case you want to engage in some kind of activism you’d rather have to deal with authoritarian regimes in Africa or the Middle East who commit real crimes.
- It doesn’t make sense to criticize Google’s decisions, instead you have to adapt to the new situation no matter how difficult it may be.
- Attacking Google is a waste of time and effort. You have to shut up and optimize even harder instead.
Most notably we should be thankful for any “free traffic” Google gives us and whenever the search giant decides to make us pay for that previously free traffic we can’t blame them for that change as far as I get the message right.
Before I go into details, let me cite my comment I posted on a debate which is a concise way of expressing my opinion here (I added some text decoration):
I don’t agree with this stance. Calling out criticism of Google as “bashing” doesn’t make sense. Not everybody can make some impact in Africa etc.
You can change the world right where you are though. In order to do so you have to point out power structures and bad decisions behind closed doors.
Another common point is that Google sends you “free traffic” and thus we can’t blame Google is just weird.
One Corporation Owning the Global Information Superhighway
Imagine that in real life: just one company deciding where the streets are leading to and changing the city map over night so there is no traffic to your store anymore.
Well, it’s just free traffic, isn’t it? So why don’t we abolish democracy and let Google decide everything by itself?
Shutting your mouth and letting the top down monopolist do everything by itself is just plain naive.
Google controls the global information infrastructure while being a for profit corporation that doesn’t care about you and me.
The only [way] to do something about issues is to care yourself and to speak out where possible. A blog is a good platform to speak out.
Arguing that it’s enough to fight for the few breadcrumbs Google is leaving for us while taking most of it for itself is also pretty selfish.
What happened with Google Shopping is that Google has over the years pushed down most of the other [shopping] search engines and now capitalizes on being on top itself.
It’s no accident that Google is under scrutiny by lawmakers all over the world and it’s not just “bashing”.
Imagine one company owning the global transport system and making you pay for it over night. How dystopian.
Google Controls Traffic – It Doesn’t Create it
There is no such thing as free traffic. You have to invest lots of time, effort and ultimately money to rank on Google so that organic search traffic is paid for as well. Also
the traffic is there no matter whether Google exists or not.
In case Google would disappear tonight I bet the traffic would still be around but people would be using other channels like Bing, Facebook or whatever means of finding what they want online.
Google does not create the traffic, it just channels it.
Google is a gatekeeper. The flow of traffic exist regardless of Google. Don’t thank the gatekeeper that there is water. Thank God for the free flow of water or traffic. In case the gatekeeper decides to block the flow.
I will blame him for making me thirsty instead of fighting the others who are dying of thirst as well. Now that we are talking about dying:
You think people are only dying in Africa and the Middle East? So we’d rather have to join the armed forces and drive the tyrants out? I don’t think so.
The Impact of Google on Life and Death
We can influence the world right where we are. Also there is no such thing as “the real issues”. All issues are real.
We don’t have to wait until people die to speak out against injustice. Just take a look at Apple and their slave labor practices in China. Nobody cared until dozens of people started dying.
Are people already dying because of Google?
Well, there are enough shattered businesses already because of so called Google updates and penalties.
I hear rumors of small business owners committing suicide after being hit by Google penalties or updates from time to time.
Even if there are no suicides yet we know that companies get out of business and employees get sacked because of the changes Google introduces quite often. I lost clients because of them.
When one corporation rules a whole sector it’s even worse, almost the whole access to information in a society – like Google does in many countries.
It ceases to be just a matter of business and it starts to be the domain of law and politics.
A democratic society can’t allow one company to decide about the world’s information. Even worse when such a company has been funded by US intelligence agencies ever since its inception.
Thus just say no to Google opportunism and speak out whenever the market dominance of Google turns ugly.
In case you don’t want ExxonMobil, Monsanto or Google to decide what’s good for you make sure to raise your voice once it does.
What’s up, Tad.
First off, thanks for the link and the mention. As you know, any publicity is good publicity.
I definitely consider you an online friend, but this is definitely not the first time I disagree with your take.
For starters, Google deciding to make e-commerce retailers pay for listings in their shopping results isn’t any sort of ethical breach.
Secondly, you seem to prove my point over and over again in this response by confusing yourself and all other marketers with Google’s actual consumer. Google’s product (search) is still completely free. The only thing that changes is that marketers, like you and I – who by definition are self-interested and engage in opportunism all of the time – have to pay for a traffic stream that was once free.
Thirdly, to assert that “not everybody can make an impact” on true human issues is not only a dangerous fallacy, it’s a disingenuous one. Of course you and everyone else can, but you have to put in time and effort into said activism.
Fourthly, I explicitly mentioned that Google, Inc. has engaged in breaches of ethics in a variety of ways, and those things should be addressed.
Lastly, do you ever wonder why non-marketers aren’t complaining about the changes to Google Shopping? Let me give you a hint; it’s because they don’t stand to gain or lose anything. Their search for stuff to buy won’t be impacted in any significant way. If they don’t find what they’re looking for on Google, they’ll just look elsewhere (e.g. Amazon, eBay, Shopping.com, etc.).
So let’s be honest with ourselves, Tad. You and I (and all other marketers) are opportunists by trade. If you think that complaining about Google’s changes to their search landscape will help you do a better job of marketing, then by all means, continuing doing so. I have found much better ways to spend my professional time and so I chose to advise my readership of that personal insight.
Now then, if you want to talk about fighting the power, ethics, morality, and the rest of it, I’m your Huckleberry. I operate multiple blogs that deal with such topics and actively try to perform community service and online activism for what I believe to be just causes.
And on the list of causes to stand behind and take action on, Google’s change to their Shopping Engine results is so far down on the list that it’s laughable.
P.S. Why didn’t you just chime in on my actual post? I had a lot of folks that disagreed with me do so.
“I still hope the community can be used for actual debates (what sadly rarely happens)”
I’ve noticed this happening to more and more online sites. And not just in SEO, but gaming, tech, politics, etc. Everything is becoming more polar or just spam.
Back to the main topic, I think both sides are partially right. I don’t blame Google for charging tolls for the use of roads they created. Just about any business would if they though they’d make money. But I also think that the web would be better served if a non-profit search engine was formed (like Mozilla was for applications).
Hugo: It’s already after midnight here so just a few points…
Google Shopping turning “ads only” aka paid inclusion or “commercial relationship” in Google’s Orwellian newspeak might not be the biggest ethical issue in the long line of questionable actions by the search giant.
Collaborating with the Chinese dictatorship is a bigger one for example.
Nonetheless Google has repeatedly downranked other shopping search engines recently, Panda almost killed them off completely. Now they capitalize on their market domination. So yes, this absolutely is a problem beyond business as usual.
Personally I’m always a human being first and a marketer second (or rather optimizer because I don’t like to call myself a marketer).
So I don’t separate as strictly as you obviously do. My opportunism goes never as far ignoring ethical aspects of my business.
Last but not least: Why do average people not “complain”? They don’t even understand what’s going on. They get force fed Google’s own services above everything else and they obey and click. It’s on us the specialists who deal with the intricacies of the ever-changing search landscape to point out what the problems are.
Brett: Exactly, non-profit is the right suggestion here. At least some oversight from an organization like the EFF. Right now Google actually governs us on the Web but we can’t influence those in power over at Google.
Hmm.. I can agree with both Hugo and Tad on points..
I chimed in on Hugo’s post because I liked the message I got out of it regarding Hugo and his crew’s position as a supplier of services. If you are aligned to help a client, then I don’t think they want to hear about your ethical stand on G as much as they want to know how you can internalize shifts and make practical actions to keep their business afoot.
On the other hand, I think all of us can agree, as people, that G does some VERY questionable (downright fucked up?) things.. I’ve been keeping track for a while if you dig through my personal posts.. I think that it is a separate conversation (for us in the profession). Tad, I do think G needs to be ‘called out’ again and again, but we also have responsibilities to clients and as professionals who both (understand Google and understand wants/needs of clients/consumers). I mentioned on Hugo’s post that I would question someone’s ability as a marketer to see no other alternatives than G, but can you get clients to so readily disengage G? Most likely not – it’s likely they’re more concerned with its potential to generate money than ethical discussions (though again, Anthony the person is aligned with a lot of Tad’s ethical sentiments above).
Both of you are great minds, I learn a lot, and it’s cool to have a professionally-open discussion.
I appreciate the debate and eloquence, especially the points being made about how Google controls the flow of information, and what dangers that poses.
There hasn’t been a monolith this big that has as many heads and hand in as many pots as Google, and their dominance is growing: so who keeps them in check?
My inner capitalist free market pig says, “They’re free to do with their index as they please: it’s their index…”
My Orwellian feathers get ruffled and want to ask, “They’re about to own mobile. They dominate search for English-speaking countries. They know no real competitors (having obliterated them with Universal Search and various algorithm updates). How big and monopolistic do they get before we’re so dependent on their growing array of products there’s no turning back?”
Maybe Orwell was a poor reference, but it’s pretty frightening to be on the other end of Google’s fickle temper as a small business owner, who up until now has been dependent on their traffic.
I did an interview with a former “friend” of Google, Tim Carter of AskTheBuilder fame – he’s going to testify against Google for the first time this year for the FTC.
I think it’s pretty telling. The interview is at my blog (just search “Does Google Really Reward Quality, Original Content? An Interview With AsktheBuilder Tim Carter” and you’ll find it).