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5 more reasons to hate Google

Sean X Cummings
5 more reasons to hate Google Sean X Cummings

It would be easy enough to cite 10 wonderful things about Google. As I mentioned in my first installment of this article, "5 things to hate about Google," the company develops amazing products that we all get to use for free. However, somewhere along the way, the company got lost and grew up too fast. Somehow the Googleplex became an island. Somewhere the magic that was Google got tainted by lots of little missteps. Like the banks, I fear Google has become too big to fail -- and I'd rather not have any companies that pose such a risk to the economy.

In this article, I'll examine five more company traits or practices that give marketers cause for concern over the path that our once-beloved Google has followed. 

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Session-based broad match clicks
Unless you know what you are doing in search, this will make no sense to you. But trust me, it sucks. The concept of session-based clicks has to do with "commercial intent." It's an attempt to try to predict whether a searcher is interested in a company that is listed in a search results page. In theory, this is great because it tries to match users with advertisers, and advertisers with keywords and consumers. In reality, it can be much more insidious. With hundreds of thousands of advertisers, session-based clicks artificially game the market and over-present advertisers on keywords for which there would normally be very few relevant advertisers, if any.

When Google runs session-based search advertising, advertisers get clicks they might not have wanted. In addition, based on observation, it most likely raises prices for all the other bidders in a keyword auction for a completely different keyword.

By introducing a session-based service, Google greatly expands the impressions of advertisers across the keyword universe, but attempting to predict "intent" really just results in a search universe in which more advertisers are getting more unwanted clicks on keywords they do not want.

The result? Google makes more money.

The issue? You can't disable it. I hate Google for that.

Positive and supportive customer service and respect for your agency's business is not a given with Google. It's considered a perk after you've spent tens of thousands of dollars a month with them. When someone at Google is personally benefitting from your agency account, then someone will listen. But the company will not help you get there unless you're starting with a lot of cash. Google does not see the potential of clients, only the reality of current ones. Essentially, Google does not have to work for the money. The company conveys the attitude that the millions of dollars you spend in display do not matter -- unless of course you are spending the same in search (and only with Google). That is an arrogant, myopic viewpoint. Google knows it has the best value for the dollar, and it often acts like it.

There are countless stories of Google reps going directly to clients, around the current agency relationship, to sell its services directly. The company does a great song and dance about efficiency and working directly, but it does not have the support staff internally, nor the knowledge of client brands, to effectively build these direct relationships. But if Google believes that the agency is in some way preventing it from getting more client dollars, it goes direct.

This makes perfect sense -- perfect business sense. Google is not in the soft-touch business of connecting with people and brands -- the same business and theories that those agency-client relationships rely on; Google is in the hard engineering business. If you'd like to look where Google does it right, look to DoubleClick. DoubleClick is in the soft-touch business, and it nurtures agency-client relationships and works with them to everyone's benefit.

The search team at Google, however, does not understand any of the long-term objectives of a client. To the search team, it's click-purchase-done. And the agency is left scrambling to pick up the pieces of the disaster. I have watched Google employees throw other Google employees under the bus countless times just to make themselves look better.

Google has a myopic understanding of agencies, brands, and need-states of consumers. It believes that people who actively search for specific information equate to sales influence, and should be measured the same as other channels. The company watches the Google Exchange and believes that AdWords is an actual strategy that provides them an understanding of market dynamics. It makes sense: For the vast majority of advertisers on Google, it is not about a brand. The long tail is about category interest, not brand interest.

The degree to which Google does not understand what drives people to interact with a brand could stun a heard of buffalo. But the company benefits from being the last stop for consumers. See a billboard, watch a TV ad, see a magazine insert, go to Google, and search for the product. The result? Search takes the credit. Search did not cause the sale -- it was the beneficiary of loads of marketing and advertising planning, usually years in the making. New product sales teams cover up their failures with sheer arrogance and the concept that they were just "experiments."

I hate Google for that.

"Welcome to Doodle 4 Google, a competition where we invite K-12 students to use their artistic talents to think big and redesign Google's homepage logo for millions to see. At Google, we believe that dreaming about future possibilities leads to tomorrow's leaders and inventors, so this year we're inviting U.S. kids to exercise their creative imaginations around the theme, "What I'd like to do someday..."

Doesn't that sound nice? Isn't it cool? And the winning doodle will be featured on Google's homepage on May 20, 2011.

So begins the simple contest that will construct one of the most powerful marketing databases of parents and children in the world. Worse is that schools, teachers, and parents across the country are readily filling in forms that ask for their kids' city of birth, date of birth, and last four digits of the their SSNs -- along with complete contact information of the parents. Wow. We now have a database of parents across the country and the age of their kids, where they were born, and the last four digits of their SSN? What could we do with that? Hmm. I wonder if thousands of companies would want to buy that information for millions of dollars...

I do not believe Google's "intent" is to sell those data -- but I do believe it is Google's intent to use them. If it were just a small program, it probably wouldn't scare me; it is the scope of the Doodle for Google effort that is frightening. With more than 400 state finalists being awarded, Google is encircling schools, parents, and students across our country. The company has even enlisted the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Girl Scouts of the USA to register students.

The result could possibly be the most informative database of parents and children in the United States -- and, more importantly, a database of engaged parents and their children. That is like hitting the marketing database lottery.

And what do all of the schools, the parents, and their children get? Four hundred state finalists get T-shirts. Forty regional finalists get a trip to the Google campus and their Doodles displayed in the Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as T-shirts printed with their Doodle. Even I have to admit, I'd like to be in the Whitney. A precious few -- three, to be exact -- get a $5,000 scholarship, and the single grand prize winner gets a $15,000 college scholarship. Oh, lest I forget, the school of the winning student's Doodle gets a $25,000 technology grant. Well, isn't that a nice way to get schools to barter the personally identifiable information of their students?

Seriously, the last four digits of a SSN? It's just hubris. Well, at least when the terminator arrives from the future, it will get the right Sarah Connor this time.

I hate Google for that.

OK, this is my conspiracy theory reason to hate Google. I mean, can you honestly write about a company so powerful, with access to so much information, without a good conspiracy theory? Can you? Here it goes...

If you want to know how our own government is spying on you, the names Carnivore and Narus should be etched in your memory. I live five blocks from the location of the AT&T internet backbone of the 2006 class action suit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In the suit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation alleged that AT&T allowed the National Security Agency to tap the entirety of its clients' internet and voice-over IP communications using Narus equipment.

What does this have to do with Google? Google has effectively replaced the Carnivore program and NarusInsight without intending to do so. And there is a thin wall between the information it collects and the government's obtaining it. Google is just too good at collecting information and not giving people enough options to opt out of its collection. It is one thing for our government to surreptitiously spy on its citizens electronically (which it is well documented in doing in countless cases); it is quite another for a company as powerful as Google to do it.

The difference? Honestly, our government is often fracked up when it comes to organization. Most times it doesn't know how to make sense of all the various systems of monitoring it has in place. And in a way, that allows me to debunk most conspiracy theories fairly easily. There is no massively organized secret government spying on all of us. Our government is just not that good. There is only our fairly incompetent and disorganized government doing it.

Google, on the other hand? Google is just too damn good. Too organized. It can make sense of too much data too quickly. And all of the information Google has is a subpoena away from the government having it in its possession. OK, that is a conspiracy angle I can get behind.

Imagine Mubarak having that information. Or King Abdullah. Or, worse yet, Muammar el-Qaddafi. Imagine that, and you will understand why no government should have access to such information. And that's why no corporation should have that much information. It's just too much power over the citizens of a nation. The powerful brain trust of a company like Google could be turned against citizens without them realizing it.

To complete the conspiracy theory, I'll add a little kick from Michael Crichton: "Don't you see the danger, John, in what you're doing here? [Search] is the most awesome power the planet's ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that found his dad's gun... You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had, you patented it and packaged it... Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Such is the danger of not allowing people the choice to opt out of data collection. I hate Google for that. I hate Google for being so good at what it does that conspiracy theories seem more plausible.

Conspiracy theory aside, let's end on a more practical note.

Google's marketing to the small business world is particularly disturbing and counterproductive. Google pitches AdWords as being simple, fast, and easy. It may have been -- years ago. But it has evolved into a 10-headed monster with five feet. When new businesses get in and run the platform, Google auto opts them into all devices and networks, and the keywords are all broad match; plus, if you use Google's keyword tool, it needs a trained eye to understand what keywords to add or not.

The result is that many businesses turn on AdWords, get poor results -- or their ads don't show.  What should they do? Here are the three resources every business running AdWords should know about.

  • 1-866-2Google. Yes, as of April 5, Google has alleviated one of the biggest pain points for advertisers in AdWords: phone support. Available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. This number is for current AdWords advertisers only.

  • The AdWords Help Forum can be found here.  

  • Meanwhile, the AdWords Online Classroom offers free online courses on a wide variety of AdWords topics, from the basics to tips to take your account to the next level.

Google is trying to sell AdWords as a simple product, but it is anything but simple to get it to work right unless you know what you are doing. The only thing that saves AdWords is the fact that search is so massively more efficient than other media that the waste can be tolerated.

The competitive forces, the people who game the system, the auto-bid optimizers, third-party conversion tools, SEM agencies -- they all work against the small business having a chance when it comes to AdWords. As a result, small businesses pay an efficiency penalty for not having the tools or the expertise to optimize campaigns for performance. They pay the price penalty. Yes, it is easy for small businesses -- easy to get their money, that is.

I hate Google for that.

Before you go agreeing with me on any of my points, let me explain why I write the way I do. You might have read my columns before but not understood my apparent outrage. So I'll let you in on a little secret: It's a trick. My writing has little to do with firmly held convictions or beliefs, but much to do about writing in a way that arrests, causes momentary outrage or exhilaration, and thus stirs debate. By planting a flag on one side, I give readers something to push against. I take positional stances on issues for that reason. So I can be your fodder, or proxy, for ideas. So you can rebel or support its ideation. For only in that dynamic tension do we all move forward as an industry.

Google does so much good -- and continues to do it every day. I hope Google continues to thrive and continues to be profitable; our industry would not be better off without Google. It is easy to throw stones at a company so big. It is easy to poke fun at it. It's easy to point out fears, real or imagined. It's easy to chide graduates that have difficulty connecting with others emotionally. It's easy because all you have to do is dehumanize them by making them an object. When you do that -- and I did it throughout this article -- it is easy to hate. It is very difficult to hate when you step outside your narrow-minded prejudices and see them as human beings -- see their humanity all working to help us.

There are people who work at Google -- good people who go to work every day and try to make it easier for you to access information. They try to be magical at what they do. And many succeed.

Google is ranked No. 4 in the top places to work by Fortune magazine. It operates the largest open-source code-sharing service at code.google.com, which benefits anyone with a computer on this planet. The company is a big supporter of and has the best policies and benefits for gay employees and their partners of any company I know of. And the company saves lives: Google has a Crisis Response team to assess the severity and scope of a disaster to determine whether or not Google is able to uniquely contribute tools or content to response efforts. Examples of Google's tools include Google Person Finder, which connects those seeking information about loved ones, and Google Resource Finder, which helps locate medical facilities and other emergency services during a crisis. Google might also provide high-resolution satellite imagery to crisis responders and monetary donations to non-profit organizations that provide relief services.

Remember, Google is but a precocious 12-year-old.

I hope you enjoyed these articles. And I hope you engage in the debate. Now go and do something magical with your life -- even if that includes working for Google.

Sean X Cummings is chief digital strategist at Suite Partners.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Jim Peake

2011, April 16

Excellent article Sean, all the more reason to move budgets to alternatives like Facebook for PPC and move more media offline then back online with things like variable data postcards and personalized URL's or pURL's. I expect a big shift in PPC dollars moving from Google to Facebook before the end of 2011, kind of like a giant sucking sound as Ross Perot would say.

Commenter: Jim Peake

2011, April 16

Excellent article Sean, all the more reason to move budgets to alternatives like Facebook for PPC and move more media offline then back online with things like variable data postcards and personalized URL's or pURL's. I expect a big shift in PPC dollars moving from Google to Facebook before the end of 2011, kind of like a giant sucking sound as Ross Perot would say.