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Google no longer “helping”

Some time ago Google shifted from helping and enabling, to hindering, interrupting, and exploiting. The shift was quick, on a real-world time scale, but slow in search marketer hindsight. One could *almost* track the activity by plotting a timeline of Matt Cutts’ public personality changes. Matt’s public profile went from helpful, specific, and sincere to somewhat apologetic-but-still-trying-hard-to-help to a sort of frustrated-hopeful, before going into the basically-misleading mode we griped about for years, before he checked himself out on “sabattical” where he’s been for years now.

There is also that “the rise of Larry Page” thing, the “who the hell is in charge over there” thing, and the “wow is there anyone here who didn’t used to work for Microsoft?”  thing.

But perhaps most telling of all, were 1. the switch to manipulating webmasters (via the no-accountability Google Help Forums and the “trust me I’m honest” John Mueller persona), and 2. the shutting down of Google Reader.

I think the rise of the Google Ventures conflict of Interest and BigMoney lobbying are separate issues, driven by need and ancillary opportunism. You can’t have control and not pay the policy-makers, and you can’t bank THAT much cash and not invest in what you know.

They Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Reader

Google Reader (and the associated tech Google had bought up to control, such as SuperFeeder and related) was technology that web consumers used to stay connected to specifically sourced content. It was an outstanding curation tool, which of course bypasses search. I don’t think it was so much a threat to search, though… it’s pretty clear it wasn’t very widely used in Internet demographic terms. But it represented an alternative to search, and it enabled influencers to operate independent of Google Search.

The shift from helpful to hindering involves specific strategic steps calculated to stop helping and start hindering… such as shutting down curation tools and closing down tech that had been advancing the web towards better curated connections between sources (authers) and consumers (the market).

Of course there doesn’t need to be a deliberate decision to shut something like that down. Like a “donut hole lie”, where you effectively lie by leaving OUT some important part of a story, a Google manager can simply incentivize everything except a specific project, in order to kill it.

Didn’t Matter to Me at the Time

I didn’t use Google Reader. I didn’t really use any feed reader… but I have always struggled with curation, bookmarking, and keeping connected to specific sources I prefer and trust. And of course I utilized feed reader technologies in my SEO work, as much as it was helpful for advanced, technical SEO, or for enhancing reach.

But now, years after Reader was shut down and the complaining dwindled, I have had enough time to watch the alternatives not replace Google Reader.

I’ve been able to see Internet Infosumers lose focus, become less productive, demand less quality from Google Search, and change their habits to lower quality, less productive use of the web. I’m seeing them more accepting of crap answers, half-baked information pages, and unverifiable or unsupported marketing claims. Less demand for Trust Badges that used to help testify to veracity. More acceptance of the idea that “trusting what some web page said is ok, because the responsibility lies with them not me”, among the general population (in America).

Meanwhile, as in the days of Google Reader and the RSS feedreaders before it), the “smart people” have moved off the mainstream web for a larger portion of their research, to find the trustworthy content and authority. The used to use Readers to help them manage (while also using search), and now they use OtherThings to help them manage, supplementing search.

So Where is the Damage?

The mainstream is now more ignorant, less able to get informed, and more susceptible to untrustworthy or non-worthy-of-authority published content than ever before, after consulting Google Search, which has become for many “the Internet”.

Web businesses are now profiting by contributing to the very “cesspool” that earlier Google warned about… before it shifted from helper to exploiter. Google apparently decide to get into the cesspool monitization business instead f the Amazing World Wide Web of Organized Information. Of course good business practices and supply chain management would then dictate efforts to encourage more and bigger cesspools.

Was Eric Schmidt the Nice Guy?

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this for me, is that it actually seems like Eric Schmidt, the  guy we all knew in our hearts was capable of the nastiest explotation in the world should he desire to execute in that fashion… in a Carl Rove-like way, or perhaps a Koch Brothers or Charles Manson way, may actually have done a fine job controlling his natural insticts and “being nice” to all of us while running Google.

Can you imagine?

Of Course Not

We have to wait for the final Chapters to know what is really happening behind the scenes, but it’s pretty obvious that power brokers don’t need or want an organized, democratic World Wide Web. They need a cesspool they can manipulate, and at the peak of Helpful Google, Google Search represented the perfect choke point for content curation at scale.

And content curation at scale, by and for the power brokers, is exactly what Eric Schmidt gave them.


Location3 Denver : True Clients or Just Logos?

Looking at Location3 in Denver

Location3 is a “digital agency” in Denver, Colorado. It was recently featured as an “award winner”. Now we all know how those awards programs work. It’s nearly impossible to tell a legimiate award from a nonsense award, because a well-known marketing strategy is “create an awards program”.

The Power of Awards

Awards programs work…. and have been used by advertising agencies since long before the Internet became a thing. Even small, boutique vertical industry agencies are encouraged to create awards programs, because that allows them to grant “awards” to their best clients and friendly associated in positions of influence. Since people still respect “award-winning” people and agencies, they love getting awards. And since award winners typically brag about and link to their awards (which are hosted on the award-granter website), running an award program is a win-win for agency and client.

Until the trust is lost… and people come to recognize that most awards programs are full of BS. Has that happened yet? I’m not sure. But I am pretty sure the use of client logos has gone haywire, and I’m looking at Location3’s “clients and work” page wondering if this is for real or not.

Illegal and Inappropriate Use of Client Logos

One of the biggest struggles of a performance-oriented team is the way agencies steal attention and cause clients to doubt efforts. Performance teams deliver results, not promises. But while such teams are busy drawing leads and making the phone ring etc, client marketing leadership can get bored, and look at agency claims.

Let’s admit this right off:  in most companies, an in-house marketer’s career is not based on performance as much as it is based on the appearance of capability, and the promise of future performance.

A C-level marketing exec with an awesome performance team at work keeping up the business growth, still seeks a way to differentiate herself from her peers in the world of Marketing. In-house execs are also subject to the “what else are you doing” challenge from other C-level executives, even when targets are exceeded. And because of these pressures, even when they are achieving excellent results, they look at “what’s happening in the industry”.

And they find Awards. And award winners.

And when they look at the websites of award winners (like Location3), they find… a page full of impressive client logos, like below.

The logos of 55+ companies proudly displayed on the Location3 client page. Click for full-size view.

The logos of 55+ companies proudly displayed on the Location3 client page. Click for full-size view.

The Lanham Act, and the Legal Issues of Using Logos and Trademarks

Now I am not a lawyer, but I have been involved in lawsuits. And among those lawsuits have been suits brought by losers who painfully discovered that my team had displaced them in the SERPs and “stolen” all the commercial opportunity in the page 1 search results.

Second Page is the First Loser

Yes, that is correct. An incumbant, accustomed to sitting in the top 3 for some money terms, who may or may not have been paying some agency a hefty monthly fee to stay there, may get upset when their web site is displaced to page 2 and the phone stops ringing. And since anyone can sue anyone for anything, this sometimes results in a law suit that seems to be designed to frighten competitors (at best), or demand disclosure of methods and tactics used to win (at worst).

Lucky for me, I have a great legal team. Unlucky for them, I get very aggressive under such conditions.

As a performance-based team leader, I have little patience for such game-playing. I have less patience for lawyers who appear to have a need to get “Internet experience”, and appear to be abusing their client’s ignorance to get some experience on the company dime. Shame on you.

The Wonderful Lanham Act

This Lanham Act thing is a catch-all for lawyers seeking some cause for action. Look it up… it’s an act (law) that prohibits unauthorized use of trademarks (including logos). It is intended to prevent theft of business via hijack of trademarks, but is widely used by lawyers to stifle competitive pressures (in my experience).

Publishing a company logo on your client page, without permission from that company, is very likely a violation of the Lanham Act. Yes, even if you did work for them.

Now back to Location3. That impressive page full of company logos suggesting “clients and work” included 55 logos from companies as impressive as Public Storage, ACE Hardware, Olive Garden, ATT, Discover, Charles Schwab, Dunkin Donuts, In-n-Out Burger, Red Robin, and Advantage Rent A Car. Wow. Impressive. There were actually 56, because HP SpartaCote was coded into the page, but the logo was missing.

Not My First Rodeo

Now, this is not my first rodeo. I know some of the games that are played with client lists and such. For example, an accountant who used to work for an account at a big agency, but now works at a small design firm, might think that it’s ok for his new employer to show that former client’s logo on the “our clients & work” page. Misleading for consumers seeking a desgn company, but quite often done.

I don’t think the FTC would be happy with that, but the Lanham Act is the law to cite.

Another common trick : a small PPC agency that helped a larger agency with strategy, may try to put that larger agency’s client logo on the “our work” page. This happens all the time. And it’s improper (and often illegal).

When Cheaters are Allowed to Cheat, Honest Players Get Hurt

Why do I care to question (in this case) Lacation3’s use of 55 corporate logos? Well, it’s not because I have any issue Location3. Honestly, before I was told about this new Awards Program and looked at the winners list to evaluate the credibility of the awards program, I had never heard of them.

I am concerned because my teams routinely avoid stealing client brand trust via this sort of tactic. In fact, all of the respectful (and knowledgable) agency people I know avoid such making claims like they avoid The Plague.

One of the first things you learn when you play with the Big Boys in marketing (big clients, big brands, big money players), is that trust is everything.

If agencies are permitted to play fast and loose with company logos, performance-based teams suffer because even though they do actually work with such projects, they cannot proclaim that on their own “clients and work” pages. When “agencies” do, with big bold proud pages like the Location3 Digital “our work and clients” page, it’s unfair. When such an agency wins an “award”, shouldn’t we care?

Personally, I’d love to see the world change and allow such use of logos (I think.. not 100%  certain).But since that’s not reality, I would really like to know if this awards program bothered to check candidates up for awards, for such things as respecing the law, etc. Maybe not?

The Litmus Test : Ask The Client-side Legal Department for Permission

I have no ill-will towards Location3. I don’t even know them. But I have serious doubts that many of those companies whose logos are proudly displayed on the Location3 client page, would be happy to know about that trademark use. And I think if they did know, many would say “take it down”.

I would like a level playing field, at least among award-winning agencies. After all, they should be held to a higher standard than fly-by-night Internet marketing companies. At the very minimum, that standard that requires not violating the law. Right?

Disclaimer: one of my teams recently did some work for one of the clients listed on that page. Real work. Real as in strategic, national, high-visibility work that is a highlight of the brand, seen by just about every online customer of that brand, and with which the agency and client teams are very, very happy. But we can’t publish their logo. Our team asked. They said no. As they should have. They need to protect their trademark. We got paid, and they are the brand. By law, they have to protect their trademark rights.

Which made me wonder, did Location3 get paid? Did they do major work, or just work for another agency (an Agency of Record, for example) that was subcontracting part of the work? I can’t tell. Location3 doesn’t say. And by all appearances, the companies are allowing Location3 Digital to publish their logos on the portfolio page.

Which Highlights Another Trick

As a side note, I have to point out another “trick” marketing agencies sometimes pull. They will do some work for free, hoping to be able to claim that client on their portfolio page. Again, a common tactic. It has been used by some of the best in the agency business (whom I will not name). But again, unless specifically permitted by that trademark owner, likely to be illegal (under the Lanham Act).

Let’s Have a Pool: What’s your guess?

I wonder, what if Location3 asked the legal departments of those 56 clients for permission to publish the logos on the Location3 client page. Would Location3 Digital get permission to publish client logos? For at least 30? How about 20? Maybe 10? How about 5?

My guess is on the very low end of that range of possibilities.





“I’m so smart” vs. “People are Stupid”

As someone dependent on marketing for web publishing success, I am always evaluating people and their behaviors, comparing them against ever evolving models I use in my work. In-person interactions are far more valuable than social media, for example, for “understanding” humans. People do one thing, while saying another. I need to know why they do things.

Lately I notice a contrast of generations. Another one.

My people (educated or very experienced, between 35 and 50, bolder than average, and often more independent than the norm) have long lamented that people have been getting dumber. “People are stupid”, is a common casual remark among those peers.

These days I notice the “under 40” technology sector has inverted that lament. “We are smart” seems to be the new perspective.

I think this is a very important observation.

I don’t think anyone is all that smarter or dumber than they were before. I do believe that our collective education system has largey failed us. I do think the new emphasis on “me” has skewed perspectives, so that things like trophies and imposter syndrome are given much more credibility than they deserve. And clearly the efforts of TheMan to isolate and divide societies has worked to quell shame, societal health, civic duty, and other group-think powers that once benefited civilization.

If you are one of these self-declared wickedly brilliant tech sector workers, are you really so smart (and apparently deserving) as you seem to suggest?

Oh I know, the Higher education has failed us, so of course you haven’t accomplished formal educational credentials, such as Master Degree or Ph.D or professional credentials. Truly smart people can’t be expected to fit those molds.

And yes I do acknowledge that different people learn different ways, so it’s ok you don’t have formal schooling/training/good grades even at the high school level.

Resumes are history as well. Who stays in a job longer than a year these days? Not smart people, for sure. Show me a boss worthy of keeping super smart people on staff….they are rare.

Sarcasm aside, ideas are a dime a dozen. Yet sometimes it seems to me that the only thing some of these self-declared wickedly smart people have are ideas.

I’ve had more ideas than I needed since I was 3 years old. I suspect that’s the case for many of us humans.

I am looking for evidence to support claims of brilliance and smartness and awesomeness. I believe, and I want to discover confirmation.

Do I see credentials? No. Do I see a storied professional career of meaningful and impactful positions reflecting such ability? No. Do I find insightful tomes expressing topical expertise or profundity? No. How about an academic record demonstrating commitment, strident achievement, or even recognition from a society of capable peers? No.

Do I see find more traditional reflections of ability, such as a happy or at least enduring marriage or committed relationship? Any children? Any children who appear to be stable, happy, or potentially impactful?

Perhaps I need to look at health and wellness. Do I see healthy, or just fit? Do I see signs of wellness, such as curiosity, wonder, good-natured humor and occasional goofiness? Have things like joy and love and respect been anchored within a personality, or has character been overrun with disdain, contempt, ego, or compulsiveness?

Hard questions, but nothing harder than a first level human psychology class in college. First level. Perhaps even high school Health class.

The only consistent evidence I see is an ability to learn, in some contexts. I see that these “brilliant people” can dig into something new and perhaps esoteric, and get up to speed quickly. Like a coding language, or a computer skill, or a complex system of interacting pieces (such as a set of teams working on parts of a web project).

When I examine closer, I often find that really it’s a combination of boldness and determination that is creating this evidence, not actual performance. The work seems good, but is not actually great.

This may be part of the resume issue…move every year, getting credit for great projects when in reality it should be credit for digging in and pushing them forward towards a “this could lead to something” level. It could also explain the “not a good fit” issue I see, where super smart people try out jobs for a week and move on (these never show on LinkedIn profiles).

Could it be that these brilliant super smart people are actually super-determined opportunists?

People today may be ignorant and lacking in perspective, tolerance, compassion, or even health and wellness, but they aren’t stupid. And I dare say that many of today’s self-proclaimed smarties are desperate for something…something not yet identified or acknowledged.

My personal belief is that language and education is behind the failure to recognize and label it. I’ve often remarked that my early education in existentialism (high school and early college) drives much of my perspective on this….I feel quite privileged to have had some of the teachers I had, and lucky to have  learned from them during times when they themselves were questioning their own “meaning”.

There is of course a chance that the missing piece is simply “opportunity”.