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ShopCity Opts for FTC Over SEO

Remember over the summer when we asked you, the SEO expert, to be the judge and jury on ShopCity and its complaints regarding Google’s alleged mistreatment of the sites? It was one of our most spirited post interactions in quite some time (we love how intense SEO’s get when given a challenge).

Essentially the readers of Marketing Pilgrim gave ShopCity A LOT of free SEO advice. It was even a place where ShopCity’s CEO, Colin Pape got into the mix. To his credit, he soaked up all the free offerings readily while trying to defend his tenuous position regarding Google’s apparent lack of respect for his some 8,000 domains.

At the time his cause was being represented by an antitrust lawyer who made his mark fighting Microsoft. This lawyer now is chasing Silicon Valley ambulances that lead to anyone who has a complaint against Google so ShopCity is his complainer du jour. But don’t worry he’s probably doing it for the good of us all ;-). Bloomberg reports

As the owner of the world’s most popular search engine, Google unfairly used its control of search results to damage, a website that helps local businesses sell products, and favored its own competing service, according to a complaint ShopCity made Nov. 11 to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

“From the day ShopCity launched its network, the upstart competitor faced the full measure of Google’s anticompetitive tactics,” Gary Reback, an antitrust lawyer at Carr & Ferrell LLP in Menlo Park, California, wrote to Richard Feinstein, director of the agency’s Bureau of Competition.

Gary, Gary, Gary. Don’t you read Marketing Pilgrim? Didn’t our SEO experts already point out how and its many sites didn’t understand the rules that are known by anyone who is paying attention in SEO like those relating to duplicate content and having the basics, like title tags, up to snuff? Even ShopCity’s CEO responded back in July regarding the state of his sites when it came to the basics

I don’t think we’re stuffing keywords, but we could definitely work to make them more succinct. Thanks for focusing some attention on it.

The merchants themselves enter the product descriptions, so we don’t have as much control over it as we would if we were publishing the content. We will try to provide better guidelines for them to follow – what length would you say is optimum?

Just wanted to thank you again for focusing our attention on the title tags, etc. We have updated our title schema for categories to make it more succinct.


Ahem, you’re welcome, Colin.

Now, just about 3 1/2 months later ShopCity has decided that their best way to get Internet riches is not through the hard work and discipline that is SEO but rather by taking their case to the federal government. Heck, 3 1/2 months is plenty of times to rise to the top of the SERP’s isn’t it (for those missing the sarcasm there that last piece was oozing it).

It’s not like Google has simply turned a blind eye or deaf ear or mute algorithm to them either. My source at Google stated

ShopCity twice asked for help on Google’s Webmaster Forums – and a Google manager told them how to fix their problems. In February 2011, Google manager John Mueller advised ShopCity to:

Additionally, If you have auto-generated content on the sites (such as imported content from other sites or directories), or pseudo-404 pages (“There are no X listed in this category.” or similar pages), then those are things that we’d recommend blocking from indexing (using a noindex robots meta tag for example). Searching for the texts that you use on those pages, it seems that many pages like that are currently indexed from many of your sites.

Finally, as Squibble mentioned, having over thousands of sites targeted to different cities will likely make it hard for our algorithms to get a bigger picture properly. In general, it’s probably better to use subdomains or subdirectories – it makes it clearer for our algorithms to determine how the sites are related (and from a marketing point of view, makes it easier for your users to recognize your “brand” of sites).

So once again SEO community, I turn ShopCity and their plight over to you. Have they done anything to make themselves look better in the eyes of Google? What has Google done TO them that you can see? What can they do other than get a lawyer and complain to the government that would improve their situation? Or did you give them enough free advice and maybe they need to do it the old fashioned way and either learn SEO or pay for the services you give to your existing clients?

In your estimation, how much, if any, is Google bending the rules in their own favor? Should we see the government or legal channels as the best resource to get positions in the SERP’s?

What’s your take on all of this. You are the experts. We ask you, again, to be judge and jury. What say ye?