How Google tried to destroy a small business

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

13 May 2014

What almost happened

Here is an interesting story for you to consider. However, odds are you won’t be able to read it and that is the message. As it turns out, Marshal McLuhan was right. The medium is the message. One more thought before I continue. John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

So, this vital and real company built its market base from the ground up. It is a small company specializing in making other companies smarter and more effective. It competes with some international powerhouse brands with offices on every continent and lists of clientele that read like a who’s who directory.

“In other words, it does not have any obligation to tell you what it deems is wrong with your site or what it wants you to do to correct the problem.”


google_200x200This small company competes effectively with these big boys and wins more than it loses when going head to head. It approaches its new business differently. No dog and pony show. It usually sends one representative to the pitch meetings, never takes speculative creative or makes assumptions and believes its role is to teach— not lecture.

The web site the business built is over 3,000 pages deep. The company has filled it with articles, studies, resources and white papers. Even though this company has just two small offices, its web site drew on average of 600 visitors a day. Some came out of curiosity. Some came to learn something. A few came to seek the company’s services. This little company was found organically on Google’s first or second page for most of the keywords that defined the industry. It was all pretty impressive.

Despite being busy with its clients, this small company posted one or two blogs a day on industry opinions and changes. It added deep content on a regular basis, appeared on TV business news broadcasts, was interviewed by reporters and quoted extensively in every category from transportation to consumer goods.

That all changed on Christmas Eve of this last year. The company fell victim to a computer hack. For a few days in December, 12,000 spam links took Internet shoppers to the company’s web site where clandestine ads had been remotely placed selling Dr Dre headphones and counterfeit Uggs and Coach bags.

Google notified the company that day that it looked as if the site had been hacked. Google imposed something called a “manual penalty.”

Web traffic dropped from 600 visitors a day to 200. The company notified the web site host of the hack and the host found vulnerability in the company’s Contact Us page. Apparently, malware had been inserted as an actionable java script to pepper the site with the spam ads. The problem was fixed. The vulnerability was closed and all the malware was removed.

Google processed the cleaning up of the site and removed the manual penalty mid-January. Web traffic never recovered.

Last Friday, this once vibrant web site had 18 visitors. You can’t even find the site if you Google the company’s category and add the states where it resides. For all intents and purposes this company no longer exists on Google. And Google is the web.

The day Google set the manual penalty, web traffic dropped 88%. This means that Google controls 88% of the news information we all receive. If you believe the search terms you Google are simply a free portal of information, you are wrong. You get what Google wants you to get. No more. No less.

What makes matters worse is that Google operates with no restrictions. In other words, it does not have any obligation to tell you what it deems is wrong with your site or what it wants you to do to correct the “problem.”

If you have not guessed it by now, I am writing this about my own company. Stealing Share.

Our business is in rebranding and branding products, services and companies so that their brands can grow market share. We are good at this. Our roster of clients belies our actual size as we have worked on seven continents and our roster of clients runs from the world’s largest medical device company to the US’s most popular micro-brew. We have repositioned banks, credit unions, logistic companies, manufacturers, fast food chains, retailers, and destinations. In fact, I can’t think of a category that we have not worked in.

We have spent the last six months hiring experts to help us recover from the hack for which Google has held us accountable. The problem is no one knows what Google wants. They are all guessing.

What’s wrong with this story? Nothing if you think that a monopoly is a good thing. Our traffic from Bing has been unaffected. The problem is that Google has 90% of our searches.

We are in the age of the Sovereign State of Google. It has too much power because information is power and Google disguises itself as an unbiased arbiter of information. It is a despotic ruler. One that hides behind nebulous algorithms that it pretends are fair.

Have you noticed, as I have, that the first page or so of Google is made up exclusively of paid advertising and an assortment of news articles? That is not by coincidence. The free and fair search terms that defined the Internet some years back have been manipulated to force companies to buy placement.

Here is to hoping that we all wake up and shop around for a search engine the same way we shop for products and services. Unless we do, Google will remain more important that our elected governments.

Stealing Share will survive. We have a nice network of referrals. But it sure would be nice to have those that need us and don’t know us to able to find us.

See more posts in the following related categories: Google Stealing share


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