Posted June 3, 2008 5:48 pm by with 13 comments

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Several major Google advertisers seem to have adopted a common war cry – “Get these pigs off of our backs!”

The tactic is called “piggybacking” and major corporations are tired of Google pimping out their valuable trademarks to smaller companies.

With piggybacking, smaller and lesser known advertisers use a large corporation’s well branded and recognized trademarks in an effort to enhance their ability to draw more qualified traffic from Google Adsense listings. The problem is not a new one. In fact, it has been occurring for several years despite Google’s written policy against the practice.

The question is “If Google has a policy against the practice, why does it continue to occur with such frequency?” Can you say – Moolah? Yes, the “do no evilers” at Google seem to be turning a blind eye, lest they disrupt that free flowing revenue stream called Adsense.

The problem for the corporations is that while Google continues milking the cow, it’s the advertisers that are feeling the drain. Rising market demand continues to send “keyword” prices climbing (sounds like more opportunity for SEO’s), and it now seems the big players have had enough. Several major travel and hospitality companies, such as Marriott, American Airlines and Northwest Airlines, have threatened Google that if the practice continues, there will be consequences. In fact, in August 2007, American Airlines filed suit against Google in a federal court seeking monetary damages for trademark infringement. The case is still open.

Leverage is another way to induce “behavior modification”, and although the big advertisers surely spend a great deal, there is a problem. How do you threaten a company that owned over 70% of the search market in 2007, and that continues to capture market share? Sure, Google investigates individual violations when brought to their attention; however the situation is similar to Ebay turning a blind eye to the tens of thousands of vendors that hawk branded “Made in China” knockoffs. At the end of the day, it pays to let the abusers play.

The bottom line? The only way the big advertisers are going to get the Google act is if they unite and make it financially more painful for Google if they don’t act. Well, my friends, that’s like asking baseball owners to control their budgets and stop paying guys like Alex Rodriguez a quarter billion dollars to play a boy’s game. It ain’t gonna happen.

Rejoice piggybackers – for the foreseeable future, it seems you can continue living – “High on the hog”.

What say you Pilgrims?

  • I say it’s definitely a problem…for the big boys :). I don’t see an end in the near future, as you pointed out, it’s financially easier for Google to let the “piggybacking” continue

    Did san-antonio-hotels-reservations pay you for the exposure?

  • Glad I’m not having to deal with anything like this for my site. Probably won’t have to either for the foreseeable future.
    This is why I will stick to SEO before venturing into the wonderful world of adwords.


    iPod Touch’s last blog

  • The problem comes in that Google has made it their policy to not allow it, it’s in writing, and the courts are on the “big boys” side. You can’t say we protect your brand, turn around and profit on doing the opposite and expect to not get an avalanche of suits filed. It WILL catch up to them.

    By the way, companies spend a lot of money and hard work building their brand and it is not okay to take misuse it, especially when they have registered the trademarks. That’s sleazy and actionable, and doing it to a big company doesn’t make it any less so.

    Terry Howard’s last blog post..More Lame Biz Stock

  • Sean Maguire

    @Jayson – I actually thought about that on the ad. But then I figured – I doubt anyone would call from reading this, and if they did – Hey! 70% off! 🙂

    @iPod – “Wonderful world of adwords”. Interesting choice of words!

    @Terry – I agree wholeheartedly. In my mind – it’s trademark hijacking, infringement or whatever else you might want to call it. It should not only be against search engine policy, but also illegal.

  • I hope what Google’s SERP in the future will not contains from the paid ads only. I like google, but if their serp will’nt meet my search criteria I’m change it on the another SE 🙂

  • I always thought of piggybacking as achieving better SERPs via authority social websites such as Squidoo and then driving traffic back to your landing page.

    seo guy’s last blog post..Should I experiment with online money lending?

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  • ppc guy

    Is this really much different than a new store opening up shop next to or near a rival? Gas stations do it, fast food does it and so do plenty of others. Should Bose continue to sell inferior products because they’re good at marketing instead of a rival offering a better product at a better price?

    Just because you show up for a brand search doesn’t mean you’ll get the click, or a sale. Most brand searches are going to get the click and conversion for the brand, but if the brand can’t offer the right product to everyone and another company wants to pay for the sale, they should be allowed to do so. Brands will get between 30-60% of the clicks and their conversion rate will be much higher than any other keywords in their campaign.

    The more Google or other search engines manually tweak their results, the worse it is for everyone except the biggest players. Have any of you noticed that more and more searches (even tail terms they’re not bidding on or even relevant for) are showing the big names?

    Let the marketplace decide where it’s profitable to advertise.

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  • Explains why Google suddenly decided yesterday to disallow an AdWords ad with the name of a major hotel chain in it. The ad had been running undisturbed for over a year.

    Andrej’s last blog post..Veoh’s got guts

  • Scaramanga

    This is not quit the same as a new store setting up next to a successful store, this is more like Joe’s coffee shop setting up next to Starbucks but decorating the store like Starbucks and calling themselves Starbucks.

    Sean’s point about this being a Moolah issue is spot on. Only if the threat to the revenue stream is big enough would Google act. It is interesting that Google works with a “white list” for US pharma resellers but not for any other product. Probably because someone at Google has run the numbers on what kind of lawsuit they might expect if someone were to get hold of the wrong drug.

  • This practice is one of the reasons I set up my website – 5 years ago it was nearly impossible to find a direct link to a hotel like the Del Mar in San Diego or the Mission Ranch in Carmel. When you googled them, all the listings and ads that came up were wholesalers. It annoyed me so much that I set up a website where I could provide direct links to the hotels, restaurants, activities etc. that I recommended.

  • Google should develop better filters to ferret out such poractice on the part of these people. At present, it only lends to devalue Google.