When Google attacks legitimate businesses
This is an old story, going back about 10 years. Originally published as a five-part series, it's here now, because it represents the point at which Google executives chose to become evil. Since then Google has become increasingly evil, burying content, videos, and viewpoints with which its wokester employees disapprove.
“When confronted by a man proclaiming his honesty and a woman proclaiming her virtue, ignore the former and cultivate the latter.” – unknown and thanked
“Don’t be evil.” – original Google motto
While Google disdain for the personal privacy of Internet users is well known*, this five-part series covers a subject only its advertising customers are aware of.
Perry Marshall is a marketer. Years ago he wrote the definitive book on using Google AdWords. Perry knows more about how to profit from AdWords than most people. He has experienced plenty of good...
“If you have a geek orientation and you love human psychology, then AdWords is an endless universe of experimental bliss. When you master it, it’s like a video game that spits out 100 dollar bills every hour on the hour. It’s crack cocaine.”
And some bad. Lately, there’s been more bad than good.
As a marketer, Perry knows how to attract attention. And his blog post titled “Google & the ex-wife nookie hookup” attracted more attention than usual, even from his avid followers.
“The dark side is, Google IS Big Brother. Make no mistake about it. Nameless, faceless people control the world’s information. Drones in India who make $5 an hour decide whether the business you invested $1 million building is legitimate or not. They kill you dead with impunity.
(Their shareholders will have Sergey’s head on a stick when they find out how abysmally they treat most of their customers. Eventually The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or The Financial Times or The Economist will run a big story about it. I’ll be happy to give them a few thousand people they can interview. But I digress.)”
Google has been killing businesses. Seemingly on purpose, the search advertising behemoth is wiping out businesses by closing AdWords accounts. Business owners who’ve been spending thousands with Google AdWords, one day receive a curt notification that their AdWords accounts have been suspended. No reason, no warning, simply cancelled without appeal.
Cancelling an AdWords account kills many businesses, because their owners relied on one medium – the Internet – for prospects and customers. These owners know no other method of bringing in new business revenue. Changing prospecting methods sometimes takes too long or requires resources not quickly available. And the business dies.
The question “Why is Google killing thousands of businesses?” is difficult to answer.
Is it a conspiracy to eliminate smaller competition for a few large advertisers?
Or is Google so big that it has no idea it’s $5 an hour offshored employees with zero business knowledge are killing businesses through their ignorance? In other words, is Google ignorant of its ignorance?
First, let’s get this fact straight — a business has one reason to exist, and that is to deliver profits to its shareholders.
A business is not about providing jobs, benefits, or lifetime security for its employees. It’s not about making a politician look good, although some tax-funded business owners like to think so.
A business exists to provide profit to its shareholders.
And as a business, Google – the giant with the motto “Don’t be evil” – is entitled to conduct its business in any way it chooses to maximize profit.
Second, this is not a sour grapes rant about the evils of big business. (If that’s what you want, go pick up a copy of the Toronto (Red) Star or any of the alternative weeklies run by socialists and communists, who believe those who are capable of winning in business must be coerced into supporting those who aren’t, as well as those who are too lazy to try.)
Say what you want about founders of Google being born into silver spoon lives and their Ivy League upbringing... they did the work. Plenty of other wealthy students graduate from Ivy League schools without founding successful and powerful companies.
Third, while compiling the evidence for this series I’m indebted to Lorena, Perry Marshall’s assistant, who did the hard work of contacting Perry Marshall’s legion of followers who have been burned by Google.
And to those willing to stand behind brave words originally typed in anger in response to Perry’s blog post.
Contrast them with those who at first shot off their mouths and keyboards, displaying bravery when typing... and who then reverted swiftly to cowardice when asked to stand behind what they’d written – yes, Casey and Ritesh, I’m referring to you.
Well, when asked to put their mouths behind their keyboarding, that thousand people dwindled into a handful.
Also, and not surprisingly, none of the esteemed dead-tree-and-ink publications were interested in this story. Nor was the firm I was editing and writing for when this story first broke. Google terrifies them all.
Instead it’s Dave Chappelle – older, whiter, and nowhere near as funny as the one you’ve heard of – and Securebuzz.ca [which no longer exists] who’ve chosen to expose how evil the company with the motto “Do no evil” truly is.
*Original link [http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ie/archive/2012/02/20/google-bypassing-user-privacy-settings.aspx] is no longer live. Get the story here and in numerous other places
In Part 2 we’ll begin the horror stories.
[Editor’s note: A business exists to provide profit to its shareholders. And as a business, Google is entitled to maximize profit any way it chooses. Since Google refuses to discuss its reasons for closing accounts with its customers, there’s no point in contacting it for comment.]
While Google disdain for the personal privacy of Internet users is well known, this five-part series covers a subject only its advertising customers are aware of. Perry Marshall’s blog post got this story moving.
“I like Google,” Perry said. “They’ve built this fabulous machine, and I also understand they are choked with a huge customer service problem. When you accept $5 advertisers, that’s a lot to deal with.
“Yet they’ve become increasingly hostile to legitimate businesses that spend large amounts of money – $2,000, $4,000, and more per month. A lot of advertisers get their accounts banned by $5 an hour people in India, or college grads who don’t know anything about business. I’ve watched a whole bunch of people get put out of business.”
Example – Jaco had a site that sold hydrogen engine hardware to modify a car engine for injected hydrogen. Google banned the entire category and refused to listen to the business owners.
Perry advised him to make a public relations stink about it, although he didn’t. Unfortunately, Jaco’s business was not sufficiently diversified outside of Google, and he had to shut it down.
“To Google’s credit this usually happens with problematic categories,” said Perry.
“I’ve never seen it happen with CNC machines or rubber duckies. It happens in areas where Google has problems – diet stuff, health stuff, and ‘make money’ stuff. Jaco’s problem was other people selling fraudulent ebooks claiming ‘double your gas mileage’, when you can only increase it by 15%.”
It’s basically due to false positives. To make these decisions Google uses either algorithms or people with no business knowledge.
Many times it’s not possible to tell how legitimate the business is simply by looking at the website. Perry’s account was once banned because of a link to a site Google doesn’t like.
“That site is owned by one of the best in the world at what he does. He’s not fake; he has a legitimate business. Yet Google doesn’t like him. Go to his site and you’ll see highlighter marker over text and bold claims. To a lot of people it looks scammy. So they decided he’s a scammer, and shut down my account for being associated with him.”
Perry complained to someone he knew at Google who put him in touch with someone else who instructed him on how to remove the link. If he hadn’t had that special “in”, which he had only because of his position in the marketplace, he’d never have found out why. Once a Google employee has decided to terminate an account, Google ceases all communication with the account holder.
“They shoot you dead and don’t tell you why. A lot of times they won’t take your phone call. And if they do, they won’t give you a straight answer. They have every right to do that. And we have the right to tell the world how Google does business.”
In Part 3 you’ll see more examples.
Coffee.org was spending $80,000 a month – a million dollars a year – advertising with Google. And Google shut down that account without explanation. Perry went to bat for them.
“I called people I knew, who had moved to another department. Then somebody else told me to read the guidelines on the website. You make all the changes they ask for, and they’ll still don’t approve you. Then they’ll say the same thing – ‘read the guidelines on the website’.”
Finally, after a year, they reactivated the account. Three, four, or five years ago Coffee.org had promoted affiliate programs that Google suddenly decided it no longer liked. Rather than notifying about these newly banned affiliate sites, they simply shut down the account.
What would Google shareholders think of its employees killing an account bringing in a million dollars every year?
“Basically my take is if you spend upwards of a million dollars a year and have a Google rep... and if you’re on the inside track... they may let you do just about anything you want,” Perry said.
Smaller advertisers don’t have those privileges.
“Furthermore, as far as I can tell, Google account reps have the ability to set quality score ceilings on your account. If they decide you’re in a gray area, they can set your quality score at 5 and you’ll never be able to buy your clicks as cheaply as a competitor whose quality score is 10.”
And so people with agencies and Google reps have a built-in advantage over smaller advertisers that don’t.
To make the problem worse, Google has reduced the number of advertisers it displays on an average search from eight down to six. In addition to banning smaller advertisers, Google is showing fewer advertisers.
“I have no doubt this makes them more money, and they have the right to do it,” said Perry. “But I think if people knew this is what Google does, they’d be upset.”
Shutting down accounts for no reason is not the only way Google has hurt businesses owners.
Jeremy Shoemaker of Shoemoney.com is a biz-op (business opportunity) affiliate guru. A couple of years ago somebody ripped off his affiliate marketing campaigns and cloned them, leaving his trademarks intact.
Jeremy figured out the only way that was possible was if somebody inside Google had done it and obtained a trademark override on the account.
At first Google denied it. So he pursued it, suing Google in the state of Nebraska.
The judge subpoenaed internal Google documents. Eventually they settled out of court and fired the guy responsible. Like any business, Google didn’t want bad publicity. It settled without making the documents public.
“My position is well, duh, of course somebody at Google can rip off your business if you’ve made it so vulnerable,” Perry said. “It turns out that when it does happen, Google is not forthcoming about it. Everybody likes Google. And so do I. But you can’t keep doing this stuff and getting away with it, even if it’s not quite as dramatic as a guy threatening to beat people up if you don’t buy his product. Well, if you’re big enough, and wealthy enough, maybe you can.”
Find additional thoughtful commentary on the case here: http://www.searchenginejournal.com/shoemoney-sues-google-employee-for-adwords-tos-violation/9736/
In Part 4 we’ll hear from more legitimate business owners who Google has threatened or simply shut down without notice.
Several Perry Marshall subscribers agreed to tell their sides of “the Google slap down.”
Gemma Laming wrote...
“So: what is my gripe with Google?
Point 1: the Google interface is as easy to use as the sticky end of a paint stirrer.
Point 2: if you get it wrong the Google system shuts you out in the most aggressive way imaginable.
“All I can say is that when I got the email a few weeks ago it had me in tears. If, and it is a very big if, Facebook get their act together, Google are going to find themselves wondering what hit them. Just like Nokia.”
Did they terminate her account?
“No, they just sent me a nasty threatening email that said they might. That was enough. They only threatened to close my account - but given that I did not even know I had made a mistake, that was pretty bad. Their interface was not easy to use, and not having a warning system makes it even harder.”
Brian Maroevich wrote...
“That article hit me right between the eyes because I was recently banned from Google Adwords. I was with them since 2003, spending hundreds every month and then they put me through the ringer…
Out of the blue 4 weeks ago, I got a ‘warning’ about three sites. I called them to find out the problem.
Long story short they said they were wrong about two of them, but the third had to change. So they reactivated my account. Thank God!
A week later I got another warning. I called to find out what the problem was. They said two sites (two of the same described above) were not in compliance.
One of the sites I did not own. I ran an ad directing a total of one click to it over a one-day period two years ago, and then deleted the ad.
But they said I was responsible for it. What?
However, they were going to keep my account open until they went through my account again. What?
In the meantime I was scrambling to make changes to the site I did own. I spent days making changes, going back and forth with them. And I would ask them, ‘What exactly is the problem is with it?’, and each time they said, “Make the messaging more holistic”.
And after a week I got a permanent ban. No reason. No second chance. Just a cold shoulder. No respect for my business over the years, no respect for my efforts. Nothing. I wish Yahoo and Bing and Facebook would crush them now.
Oh, and by the way…while all that was going on, they delisted one of my best sites. I asked what was wrong with it. I wrote all the content and made sure every page was good. All they gave was vague reasoning, nothing for me to work with.
So I asked the Google webmaster forums and got several ideas which I acted upon, and Google still will not get it back into their search engine. It had been up and running well for six years.
I used to Love Google.”
Jay Cross wrote...
“My friends and I were riding high, making $30K-$60K a month from thin affiliate sales for most of 2010. You’d think it was awesome (and it was, in some ways), but I honestly felt uneasy the entire time. In the pit of my stomach was exactly what you alluded to in your email: it wasn’t a real business. It was, at best, market inefficiency. Kudos to us for being the guys who capitalized on it, but it was never going to be a sustainable, life-long moneymaker.
Fortunately, we wised up in time to get out and use our cash on more sustainable activities.
Great job speaking truth to power on this!
“The longer I’m in this business, the more I realize the value of list and relationship building.
Fortunately I did that before getting booted from Google over a year ago (1st time).
IMO the key is providing good info with attention grabbing hooks and irresistible offers (kind of what Perry does).”
After six years, David Rothwell was forced to give Google his website, or else Google was going to ban him from advertising.
In Part 5 we’ll hear from a legitimate businessman who used only Google advertising for years, and who Google shut down without notice or comment.
Doberman Dan is an A-list marketer. Trained first by himself and then by the legendary Sir Gary of Halbert, Dan has sold millions of dollars worth of merchandise. One of Dan’s businesses used Google AdWords exclusively... until Google closed it without warning.
“A couple years ago I contacted an agency for Google AdWords accounts,” Dan said. “The owner – a certified Google AdWords expert at a big agency – called me personally. He said they wouldn’t manage my account, and he felt it was a matter of time before I was shut down. He thought I was slipping under the radar, because I managed the account myself. As soon as an agency starts managing your account you get a lot more scrutiny.”
Naturally, Dan asked what he was doing wrong.
“Apparently Google doesn’t like direct response advertising. They only like ecommerce sites and those with a lot of content.”
The agency owner told Dan that every time his firm managed an account with a direct response sales letter page, Google shut it down. The only sites he can manage are ecommerce sites like Amazon, or those with a ton of content in which selling is secondary. Any others have their AdWords accounts shut down.
“A few years ago, we got a notice that our landing page violated their policies,” said Dan. “We went back and forth with a rep, made the requested changes, and got it fixed. They only removed our page for a couple of weeks. They were reasonable and gave real answers. It wasn’t like the copy and paste form letter they’re using now.”
Eventually Dan got that account cancellation email from Google.
“The email letting you know your account has been suspended permanently is extremely vague. If you log into your account and click the ‘Contact us’ button, the answer you get is almost the same as the letter.”
Because he made his first successful business via magazine ads, Dan knows better than most marketers that he was supposed to have been exploring other advertising options.
“The cost per conversion was so much higher with Google, that it made more sense to spend that money there. I should have been doing media buys and testing various sites. The problem with that entire process is a lot of time I’m going to lose money testing these sites, in the process of finding sites that work and deliver decent cost per conversion.”
Dan’s site had been using software that put it practically on autopilot as a site can get. The software managed cost per click in a certain position.
“For a year, like clockwork I could count on it,” he said. “I knew I got 10-15 new customers per day, and down to the penny my cost of customer acquisition. In fact many times I didn’t even log into my AdWords accounts for months. It was that dependable.”
The software kept the number of conversions the same, while reducing costs by half. It was so cost effective and efficient he allowed it to become 90% of his customer acquisition. To the best of his knowledge he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
“To become 90% of your customer acquisition is a really bad business decision, but from a lifestyle position it’s great,” Dan said. “If I could have spent more money with Google I would have, except in that niche market I was maxed out. Plus a lot of the keywords that converted well for me were steroid-related, and they’re banned.”
Losing the AdWords account brought new customer numbers down to practically nothing overnight.
“And here’s the thing – this happened in May. In my business, June, July, and August are terrible months. Business went way down, and part of it is the summer slump. The timing is kinda weird... I’m not only suffering from getting my Google account cancelled, it’s also the summer slump. I didn’t know until September how hard it hurt me.”
He had two sites... one was a long form sales letter selling a free book and putting respondents in an auto-responder series. The other sent respondents to a video sales letter. Both were cut off.
“If this were my sole income, I’d be out of business, broke, and scared,” said Dan. “My house would be in foreclosure and my family hungry. I’d be lucky to get an $8/hr job at Lowes’ right now. And I live an extremely frugal lifestyle, in a humble middle-class home with mortgage payment. I’m lucky. But think of the thousands of other people who’ve suffered at the hand of Google who don’t have other things to fall back on. God knows what’s happened to them.
“My sole employee has been let go because of this. All of those I contracted with who were dependent on me for their incomes are now out of work. And I’m only one tiny business. In what is a suffering economy they’ve now made it worse for tens of thousands who are going to lose their homes and livelihoods. Most business can’t afford to test other things. They don’t have the money or time; they need something coming in now.”
Google is doing this to tens of thousands of businesses... perhaps hundreds of thousands of businesses. Lousy timing, considering the USA is in the midst of arguably the worst financial crisis in history.
“This would suck happening when the economy was booming, a few years ago,” said Dan. “But at the very least I could go write some copy that paid well, or get a job as an in-house copywriter, or do other things with media buys or whatever. But now that the economy and cash flow are down people don’t have the capital. And they can’t get a job, not even at Wal-Mart. Can a self-employed guy file for unemployment? I’m pretty sure you cannot. You lose your business you’re screwed.
“They [Google] may have put thousands of people in foreclosure, when just a short while ago they had successful businesses providing employment and all kinds of value. Thousands of people who were contributing to the economy are now out of business. Multiply that thousand-fold like the crisis we’re in now. One guy out of business and four employees lose their jobs, and all other suppliers and vendors are affected and have to lay people off. The economy is on life support and they’re pulling the plug on small businesses. It’s a pretty serious blow in the worst economy ever.”
It’s not like advertisers have other online options. Dan gets 10% of the traffic from Bing that he got from Google.
“I wanted my own business to be free of all that control crap,” said Dan. “And now all of us in business are dependent on Google for one reason or another. If you piss somebody off there, they can literally make your website disappear forever. They’re that powerful. They can make sure you never show up in search rankings. I’m not saying they will or are, but that’s probably why so many people are too scared to say anything. And it completely defeats the purpose of having my own business.”
The fastest and cheapest way to get traffic to sites to see if an idea has any validity is through Google Adwords. It’s possible to get an answer in days, perhaps hours. Then you can invest sweat equity and money in building the business.
The only other testing option is to take out magazine ads, which requires months and much money before you see results. And tracking those results is much more difficult.
“Google Analytics tells me in days whether or not I had an idea with legs, or to abandon it,” Dan said. “Now I’ll have to spend months and a couple of thousand dollars doing things they way I used to back when I started. They’ve not only killed my business... they’ve also taken away my ability to start others. They stole my car and amputated my legs too.”
Why is Google arbitrarily shutting down so many businesses?
“I have it on good authority Google makes 80% of its money from about 200 advertisers – meaning big corporations that pay a lot of money to advertise,” Dan said. “And I’ve heard supplement manufacturers were targeted. The drug companies give Google so much money they’ve asked them to no longer accept advertising from small supplement suppliers.”
Of course there are other reasons Google might cite for closing the accounts of so many successful firms.
“One of the violations is collecting personal information,” said Dan “Well, every single site on the web collects personal information. Amazon needs it to send you their stuff. Every blog needs your email address to send you notification of a new posting. It’s like the government – make everything illegal, so they can come get you whenever they want.”