With some 1.4 million employees on its U.S. payroll, Walmart's world is about as large as the state of Maine. That's massive by any standard, but when you consider how social media amplifies that number, it's not simply a huge group but an influential one. No small wonder, then, that the earth's largest employer is taking greater measures to motivate and mobilize its people -- and opening up more opportunities for consumer brands to also reach them along the way.
These brands can not only leverage internal resources to further build off the boost Google offers them, but they can then take that attention and sell it back off to the highest bidder:
It's not clear how much ad revenue Walmart World has made or whether MyWalmart.com will become a profit center. But the former already takes in millions of dollars annually in ads from vendors seeking an audience with Walmart employees, according to people familiar with the matter.
If Google consolidates markets too aggressively then ultimately they create competition for themselves through vertical ad networks. In some cases (say travel) Google can buy out the market plumbing & then reassert control:
Wertheimer drew some criticism when he explained that “our airline partners were very clear” that they wouldn’t participate in Google Flight Search if online travel agency booking links were included in the core flight-search results.
But Google doesn't have that same influence over retail & each time they put the big brands front and center the more they reinforce that 3rd party dominance.
In addition to leveraging their workforce, it is also quite easy for these brands to use customer incentives to dominate social media.
The above is another reason why Google is pushing so hard to control the second click. If they can taste the traffic again they add efficiency to their own model while introducing another layer of friction to other retailers.
When users finally manage to leave the Google click circus, Google tries to pull them back into Google with the Google Related toolbar
In the above quoted AdAge article there is some skepticism around how much a company like Walmart can get out of underpaid wage slaves:
"It's really hard when you're a person making poverty-level wages, just had your health-care premiums raised 60%, and you can only get part-time hours, to be a good ambassador for the brand, no matter how much you love it," said Jennifer Stapleton, spokeswoman for Making Change at Walmart.
However I think that skepticism is misplaced, as the less a person has the more thankful they tend to be for the little bits they do have. Most people who have nothing do not realize how systems are engineered to screw them over.
It is only when you have free time to think & are not clouded by arbitrary short-term stress that you can ponder the bigger & more uncomfortable questions in life. As long as you don't consider those uncomfortable questions it is far easier to push anything, because you don't know any better.
"The entire web has become full of garbage. The web has become almost a digital Detroit." - Roger McNamee.
If Walmart's strategy works then this ultimately will be why Google's brand-only approach to search will fall flat on its face. If this is successful I would then expect Google to put out some public relations drivel about celebrating the diversity of the web & move away from brand in the next 2 or 3 years.
In the meantime, I expect Google to keep increasing search complexity such that it's prohibitively expensive to make & market a small independent commercial website. That will force many smaller companies to live inside the Google ecosystem, with Google ranking the Google-hosted pages/products/locations for those companies, so that they can serve ads against them and get a bigger slice of the revenues.
Google's ad network is far more profitable than even the lowest waged employee, as it doesn't need to be fed & is designed to be an agnostic & amoral yield optimization tool. And it is effective enough that the biggest retailers are now becoming ad networks.
Average products for average people - with ads everywhere.
Over 5 years ago I had a quick chat with the folks from Interspire about their websites, including their shopping cart at the time & offered a few tips to fix some of the obvious issues I saw. This was over a half-decade ago & under a different product name & entirely informal.
Anyhow...as they later ramped up on marketing, they at some point claimed that I somehow "certified" their software, even as the version changed, their product name changed, their mode of sales changed (from primarily pushing a downloadable software product to an SAAS model), many SEO fundamentals changed over the years, and so on.
Becoming Sales Copy
In spite of all the above changes, I have not viewed/used/reviewed the product in any way in years. Yet I am still listed as having optimized it.
Not only am I a feature on the sales letter, but I am a highlighted one AND the link is nofollowed :D
After I mentioned the above to them & asked them to take my name down, I recommended them to another friend who is an SEO, but they did not work with him. I think they sort of brushed off the issue by suggesting that they endorse us & send a lot of customers our way, however one can easily see that our logo isn't on pages like this one bigcommerce.com/products-we-like.php & even if it were, that wouldn't make it correct to say I somehow certified their software.
Does that faux certification impact their sales? I guess so, since the "feature" is highlighted, they are great marketers who do conversion testing, and I get chat messages out of the blue like: "hello aaron. just wanted to ask if you really helped out with developing bigcommerce shopping cart?"
Just today I got "Aaron, Love your work and insights! BigCommerce touts your expertise in creating their SEO features, so I bring this question to you. Using domaintools.com all the IP addresses for any BigCommerce cart show Sydney as the location associated with the IP. Doesn't this create a search results handicap for Big Commerce users who are located outside AUS and market primarily in North America? Matt Cutts says IP location makes a difference - youtube.com/watch?v=keIzr3eWK8I What is the best solution for using BigCommerce for shops based in North America? Are carts like Volusion, which show Simi Valley CA USA IP locations better than Big Commerce's Sydney AUS IP location for North America? Kind regards, -Marc "
Asking a Second Time
I forgot about the issue for a while & then about a half-year ago I asked a second time if they would please take my name off their sales material, based on a customer complaint:
this is the second time I have asked you to remove my name from your sales material for promoting the SEO viability of your product. It mis-represents a 5 minute off the record chat into something more than that, and what is worse the product has changed greatly since then. At this point the faux recommendation is harming my reputation.
I was just recommending the SEOBook community to the owner of -------.com and he mentioned to me that Interspire was still using your name as someone who endorses their product. He was surprised, with the horrible SEO issues inherent in the cart. I told him you probably didn't even realize they were still using your name. Anyway, just thought you might like to know. The cart is ok with loads of customizations (maybe most others are no better), but it sucks out of the box...lots of issues with URLs, duplication, etc., etc.
Hope all is well,
please do not require me to ask a third time to fix this issue
They said it would be sorted in a couple days.
Days Turn Into Months
Months later a friend sent me one of their marketing emails...there I was yet again.
Are they 100% certain that I have not worked for either of those companies? Did they bother to ask me before their promotional email went out? Of course not. I am just a blurb of sales text, inserted as needed to increase sales.
I asked in private for them to stop this multiple times. I am not the type of guy to "sick lawyers on them" or whatever, so I am hoping that this blog post will help the issue go away.
Respect is important. If you use someone's name in your marketing then you should stop using it if they ask you to.
I know their company is growing like a weed & growth can be hard to manage. For all I know their software is relatively good in terms of pricing and feature set when compared against other ecommerce software, however that is only speculation as I haven't done any sort of formal SEO audit.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend their stuff as an option for an ecommerce platform, but when their marketing says that I have done any sort of formal in-depth SEO work on it, that is both inaccurate and done without my consent or permission.
How long until the surveys include something like:
did you vote in 2008
what presidential candidate did you vote for
how do you feel about issue x
how strongly do you feel about your opinion on x
Then after the survey: "Thanks for your feedback. Candidate y supports your views on issue x."
Advertisers then get a report like: "in Ohio, 84% of the 289,319 swing voters with an average household income between $32,400 and $67,250 think issue x is vitally important and have a 6:1 bias toward option A. They respond to it more strongly if you phrase it as "a c b" and are twice as likely to share your view if you phrase it that way. The bias is even stronger amongst women & voters under 50, where they prefer option A by a factor of 9:1."
This isn't the first time Google experimented with cloaking either. Threadwatch had a post on Google cloaking their help files years ago & YouTube offers users a screw you screen if they are in a country where the content isn't licensed - yet they still show those cloaked pages ranking in the search results.
“The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
It is common knowledge that you shouldn't mix business and politics, however if one looks at history, many of those who gave us those sage words did precisely the opposite - and often illegally so - selling us down the river.
What is so obnoxious about Google's survey trial is that a big site that was hit by Panda was hit because they used scroll cloaking & didn't let the users get to the content right away. Googlers suggested users didn't like it & voted against it, and then roll out the same sort of "wait 1 moment please" stuff themselves as a custom beta ad unit.
“If you have ads obscuring your content, you might want to think about it,” asking publishers to consider, “Do they see content or something else that’s distracting or annoying?”
On the one hand they tell you to optimize your ad placements & on the other they tell you that those were not optimal & are so aggressive that they are spam.
For a while there was a period of time where you could use something like "would Google do this" as a rule of thumb for gray area behavior.
In the current market that won't work.
“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” ― Ansel Adams
We are better off if we ignore what Google is saying and follow one thing: Google wants more money for Google. When we make this assumption, everything Google does makes sense. Deception and doublespeak are logical and expected rather than shocking and upsetting.
When it comes to scale, as pointed out with Groupon, all of these rules go out the window. If you look at the biggest advertisers, replace their account with one with no history and the brand "Geico" with "SEOBook auto insurance" and the campaign will simply not run. You are spam. In some cases larger advertisers are able to run ads which are clearly deceptive and go against guidelines which they actively enforce on smaller advertisers. I have a strong suspicion now that this is in fact institutionalized in Google's rating process rather than any employee going out of their way to overturn some sort of penalty.
Google will not disrupt a site or advertiser that will negatively impact their own quarterly earnings. When Google does disrupt one, it is because they have a backup in place. That backup may be their own internal project or a competitor of yours who sends 95% of their advertising through Google's ad platforms. When Google claimed they were going after content farms, and Demand Media's properties (which are explicitly spam) were spared, the reason was obvious, because it would have visibly impacted their bottom line.
Brand is a deceptive concept. A hairy, smelly drug addict that compulsively molests women is not a sex offender but rather a globally famous rock star. Much the same holds true to many of the biggest brands. As long as a brand spams, that spam is opaque to Google's customer base and their customers do not bring a negative association with Google's brand. However, when that same hairy, smelly drug addict is anonymous he is a nuisance which destroys your reputation when you publicly associate yourself with him.
Google is like an oil company which not only dictates the price of oil but also chooses where an oil field will exist. Google is now "too big to fail" as indicated by the recent DOJ investigation which could have resulted in a felony charge for their co-founder, and most certainly would have for a smaller firm without $500m of liquid cash. We should be thankful that visitors are still directed to our websites when they could simply receive excerpts of what they are searching for.
My conclusion: first, I monetize my existing sites with Google's own products as much as possible. Second: I no longer invest my time or money in new businesses that require Google's traffic. Google should expect more walled content gardens in their future. Google's biggest challengers such as Facebook and Apple recognize this, and their platforms are very much walled gardens. That is too bad for the web as we know it today.
As a consumer I want Google to have the best, most trustworthy experience possible. They can fight SEOs and affiliates all day long and it doesn't bother me. I fully expected the innovative waves that helped the web destroy old media do the same again to itself. But, when Google lies, and do things that in fact damage that consumers experience no longer can I defend Google (when eHow first started popping up in 50% of the searches I did I was shocked; I am absolutely appalled they still show up on page 1 for anything, the articles are obviously written by authors that re-hashed another article in 10 minutes and often factually incorrect on top of it.)
Andrew Johnson submitted the above (less the image) as a comment here, but we thought it deserved to be its own post on the blog so more people get to see it.