An ethical lapse, or just not knowing any better?

~ THE EYE ~
Creative Commons License photo credit: KhayaL

Last night I was working on the web site for our local Scout camp.

Lots of Scout troops from out of state visit Glacier National Park every year.

Some of them use our local Scout camp property as a “base camp” for a week or two of treks they make into the Bob Marshall, Glacier Park and elsewhere.

One thing they depend on us for is referrals to quality local businesses for various outdoor adventures. We don’t have the staff, money or licenses to be an outfitter, so we refer them to professionals. Part of that process is providing these troops with contact info.

While looking up some websites to add to the “nearby activities” directory on the camp’s site, I noticed that when I searched for the name of one of the outfitters, a Google Adwords ad for their direct competitor appeared at the top of the page.

“How 1999…”, I thought.

What do I mean by that? It’s a reference to standard (and kinda dumb) stuff that businesses did online way back in 1999.

It could just be a dumb move. Or it could be unethical, which in this case qualifies as both.

Dumb and Dumber

I’ll address “dumb” first.

It could be that this business just doesn’t know any better and thinks they’re being clever by using their competitor’s name as a keyword to place their ad.

The “don’t know any better” thing doesn’t wash with me. Would they buy a Yellow Pages or newspaper ad with the other business’ name in it but put their own phone number in the ad? Of course not. Yet they do it in the hidden keywords of online ads and in their web site’s html source. The ad itself isn’t misleading, of course.

Like the Wild West, whatever you get away with online is legal and ethical, right? I mean It’s online, so the rules are different (if they exist at all), right?

Not hardly.

It’s obvious that outfitter-in-the-ad is advertising their business on Google Adwords using the business name of a competitor as a keyword. It’s equally obvious from the site’s meta info (source code that isn’t visible). The former is subject to discussion. The latter is uncool in any legitimate web marketer’s unwritten rulebook.

If “Joe’s Climbing Wall” had bought an ad to display when “climbing walls” or “climbing walls Glacier Park” is searched, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But that clearly isn’t the case. And no, this isn’t about climbing walls.

A big deal

You might not think this is worth talking about, so let me elaborate a little.

Imagine Ford’s reaction if every search for “Ford Mustang” resulted in seeing a Google search results page starting with Chevy Camaro ads and links.

Should I expect to see both companies in the ads and search results displayed when I search for “American sports car”? Absolutely.

The key here is that this isn’t what the searcher is looking for when looking for a specific business name.

Yeah, I’m yelling. A little, anyhow. Misuse of trade names – even at this level – will sooner or later get you bit. Misleading people in search results also annoys Google, who wants people to find what they are searching for the first time they search.

Placing Gain next to Tide on the shelf at your grocery is fair game (thanks Shane). It’s obvious to the consumer which is which in that case.

How’s your icemaker?

Even for the ethically challenged, using a competitor’s business name as an advertising keyword is a bad idea.

If someone calls your HDTV store and asks a question about the newest 3D TV models and your salesperson say “Well, our refrigerators all have in-door icemakers”, would you expect that prospect to have a positive reaction? How would you react to a totally out-of-context response like that?

It’s foolish.

Likewise, so is advertising your business using someone else’s business name.

The other shoe

What troubles me most is the signal it sends. It makes me question how the rest of your business operates. It could be an innocent mistake. It could be something the web developer did and didn’t share with the business. Further research indicates otherwise.

When it comes to sending Scouts out into the woods or on the water, that wonder extends to…

  • Whether your safety equipment is up to par, or in another ethical lapse, you just say it is.
  • Whether your staff is properly trained, or in another ethical lapse, you just say they are.

It’s the last thought you want in the heads of folks who funnel hundreds of young, out-of-state visitors to businesses like yours.

Are you thinking about 5 years from now? Really?

What about in other markets that affect yours?

Ever want to know at least a little bit of what Google might be thinking?

This 5 minute excerpt is the meaty part of a 45 minute long discussion about the future with Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Listen to what Schmidt says about the inevitable intersection of TV, radio, video, internet – ie: of media in general.

Sure, it’s obvious. And it’s just one aspect of what he’s speaking of.

But are you considering it in your marketing? In your product delivery? In what your products and services look like? In who you have on your staff, the skills you’re looking for in new hires and the training you’re offering to existing staff?

You don’t have to be in the tech business for this to have a profound impact on you. Has the iPod has affected businesses other than those who make cassette players? Surely.

What often separates the big dogs from everyone else is that they think ahead, they look ahead and they position themselves to be at cruising speed when that next big thing gets traction and hits cruise control.

Focusing merely on survival is not only a great way to never make it to top speed, but to find yourself on the wrong highway altogether.

If your business uses PPC ads, your world just changed. Again.

Google is starting to offer the ability to advertise inside YouTube. Rather than repeat the YouTube / AdWords connection story here, I suggest you take a look at Website Magazine’s coverage of the YouTube advertising story.

If you are already using pay-per-click advertising in your business, the time to get your strategy figured out for this new search/ad opportunity is now, not a year from now. The lead dog has a better view.

Learning from Google

Today’s guest post is a brief story in Baseline magazine about how Google treats their employees.

Unless you work in an IT shop (ie: a geeky guy like me), you probably haven’t read Baseline, but I highly recommend it.

It was the source of the excellent coverage of the Delta Nervous System years ago that changed how Delta captures and utilizes info about their business, from all parts of their business.

This article, however, is about a visit to Google and some insights gained by observing how things work around there. To be sure, when you have enough cash to wallpaper the Pentagon, your business might do things others wont do, but the details of the implementation can be overlooked in this case.

Look at the consideration taken for the employee. For Google, or for you, they’re a critical piece of your business.

Competitors: How to easily keep an eye on them. Free.

When I was in the software business, I didn’t watch our competitors too much.

For one thing, I really didn’t consider them competitors. Sure, we lost a sale to them once in a while, but more often than not, it was due to (I kid you not) lies and deception, or a misplaced idea about what was important in the systems we do (yeah, call that a sales or marketing stumble – because better marketing should have eliminated those reasons). Sure, I recognized that they were in our market, but in many ways, they just didn’t get it.

We were the leaders in the market. I watched the competition to see what they had copied of ours, but only on one occasion do I recall that we felt the need to copy something someone else did (a visual sales tool – we were the last to do this).

As such, I focused on innovation, on interacting with customers to figure out what they needed etc. It worked for us. Everyone else was watching and copying us, and we simply kept innovating. It’s a tough position to be in, but it beats the heck out of being #2, where you’re always trying to catch up.

And of course, because the tool I use now didn’t exist.

Google Alerts.

Google Alerts lets you setup a permanent Google search of one or more of these areas: news, blogs, video, web sites (ie: search engine results) and Google Groups (Google’s NNTP newsgroups mirror).

For example, one of my clients owns a coffee shop (you may have picked up on that by now<g>), so I have a Google Alert that once a day does a search for new results on Starbucks. Blogs, news, web sites, etc.

I also have searches on my name (I strongly recommend you do this as well – but for your name<g>), the town where I live, social and political issues or personalities important to me, prospective clients, clients and a few other groups I won’t divulge.

I can either get these notifications as soon as Google finds them, or I can get them scheduled to appear once a day.

They come to my email.

Simple as pie, and extremely valuable. Not only is it easier to know what’s going on in my niche (and my clients’ niches), but it takes a lot less time and I see things that I might not ordinarily see.

Try it, I think you’ll find it quite useful.

Last but not least, don’t forget about what happened to Kryptonite, the bike lock people. In 2004, they ignored a blog about their locks being picked by a Bic pen. They knew about the blog post, but did nothing to address it.

After the story appeared in the New York Times – at which point they could no longer ignore it – Kryptonite found themselves replacing 380,000 locks worth over $10 million, and their attitude through the whole affair didn’t exactly endear them to their customers. Pay attention.

Another post on this subject – http://businessbloggingpros.typepad.com/business_blogging_pros/2008/04/another-tuned-o.html