Posted November 14, 2011 12:02 pm by with 12 comments

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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?

  • Me

    Frank, it has nothing to do with SEO if Google does not want certain types of sites to rank well. But don’t let that stop you.

    These sites have a lot of .gov links and are authority. Regarding content: to describe what a business offers you don’t need 1000 words, and Google is good to ignore thin content for many sites.

    • Of course, it would be much more useful if you were to comment with a name so we could have a conversation about this but hey it’s a free Internet ….. for now. Don’t let that stop you :-).

  • Hi Frank,

    Thanks for the follow-up.

    We are definitely investing in SEO, and continue to refine and improve our system.

    This is hardly ambulance chasing, or a quick path to internet riches. Our FTC submission has nothing to do with a lawsuit or damages of any kind.

    In fact, we are taking quite a risk by filing a complaint, both with backlash from Google, and with people who defend any and every one of Google’s policies.

    We feel that the entire marketplace would benefit from increased transparency from the world’s most powerful company, and this complaint, requesting a formal investigation, is the way to bring that about.

    Gary is a brilliant guy, and truly a defender of free markets. You can learn more about him at this link:

    We’ll keep you posted as things develop.

    All the best,


  • I think there is some merit to the anticompetition complaints being directed at Google. They are trying to be both the platform and the product and that is what got Microsoft into trouble with regulators.

    It appears to me that Google is wallowing in a self-imposed naivete — that they can define things in terms they feel comfortable with regardless of how other people perceive what they are doing. This attitude inevitably leads to conflict and history teaches us that being inflexible in this way almost guarantees an escalation in conflict.

    Most likely the reason Google is pursuing these anticompetitive practices is that it is under pressure to improve revenue performance every quarter for investors. However, the alternatives to that situation are few and limited. Can anyone afford to take Google private and if so is there a compelling reason to do so if Google must change its business practices? Worse, if Google were regulated or somehow made into a public corporation, semi-owned by the government, would it not then have a bully pulpit for advocating change that its engineers may want to proceed in spite of public opposition?

    Imperfect though it may be, the current system at least allows the public to file complaints which, if they reach a sufficient volume, will force the government to take action. Google, if it is vigilant, can choose to correct its behavior and avoid that eventual outcome. They are most likely trying to manage the process by doing as many hypercompetitive things as they can without violating the letter of the law.

    But when a large corporation navigates by the letter of the law, it becomes almost inevitable that people will demand that the law be changed to more accurately reflect the spirit behind it.

    Google justifies its changes on the basis of “what the users want”. They will have to prove that users are actually asking for these types of changes, and doing so in sufficient numbers to justify them. If they don’t publish their data and methods for acquiring and analyzing that data, then this “what the users want” excuse will eventually ring hollow enough that it won’t satisfy either the critics or those who have to decide what shall be done about Google.

  • HC

    Wow… that almost sounds like a threat.

  • best seo tool great work here is some merit to the anticompetition complaints being directed at Google. They are trying to be both the platform and the product and that is what got Microsoft into trouble with regulator

  • hi frank reed
    Thanks for the follow-up.

  • This is what happens when your not using the right SEO advise! Great job on your post!

  • Ted Goudie

    I’m glad you posted follow up on this story, Frank. I was highly entertained reading the original post and ensuing discussion this past summer.

    Colin, you said:

    “In fact, we are taking quite a risk by filing a complaint, both with backlash from Google, and with people who defend any and every one of Google’s policies.”

    I don’t disagree with the first part of your sentiment, but the second part of your statement is misleading. I’ve don’t know anyone who works in search marketing who defends any and every Google policy. The majority of search marketers regularly and publicly complain about Google decisions and algo changes; Google’s intent and tactics are constant whipping boys foronline marketers.

    The difference between your stance, and the rest of the online marketing world: we realize that Google’s decisions are not aimed at our business, they are designed with consideration for the entire ecosystem of the web (I’m not saying Google’s decisions are right – that’s for another discussion). 8,000 websites might sound like a big number, but it is most certainly not in the context of the Web and its 3 million websites. Therefore, there are certain things all of us must do to achieve at least a minimum level of representation within search results. If you want higher ranking, you’ll have to move beyond those basics.

    The ranking suggestions and website improvements given to you, both by Google and the commenters of the previous discussion, frankly, identify that your sites are missing many of those basics. The idea that Google has actively chosen to target your business only works if you’ve got those foundational elements right, and there was universal agreement among commenters that you did not have those right.

    It sounds like your first thought was “Why is Google punishing us?” instead of “What can we do to improve our sites and user experience, which best practices tell us will lead to increase traffic from natural search?” You don’t have to know every rule to play the game, but you at least have to find your way to the field.

    As I stated above, I am in no way defending Google policies and practices. But I realize that there are things I can do to make sure I can maximize my chances to gain traffic for organic search, and that doing those things is a much better use of my time than complaining to Google, blaming Google, or complaining to the FTC.

    I’ll be following your case, and I hope that this entire situation helps improve your business.


    As a side note, I agree in concept with Michael’s comment below, but do we have the right to demand that of a corporation? If Ford builds trucks with three wheels instead of four, and cites “user benefits” as the reason, do we have the right to demand they share the data behind this decision? Do we hold Google to a higher standard because they control so much data and can have immediate and direct impact on so many websites and businesses?

    “They will have to prove that users are actually asking for these types of changes, and doing so in sufficient numbers to justify them.”

  • Mark Ilyanova

    Google is not a government entity – in the sense that they should be doing what is best for the most people – they can shove your sites as far into the depths of hell as they want. If you think it is unfair that they have all this power than do not base your business model on showing up on Google search. Business is not fair, life is not fair. This concept may be foreign to residents of other countries, no matter how much you like to think that you have your finger on the pulse of American business culture – we are not all here to play nice with each other. Maybe your preferred medium of whining about Google should be the ‘Occupy’ movement currently taking place where you can get together with the rest of the 99% and complain about how you were not smart enough, lucky enough, fast enough to market, etc. to be of the 1%. Alternatively, if the core of the issue is that you feel your company is being shat on by Google and this is preventing you from ‘building stronger communities’ and enhancing small business presence on the web then maybe you should create a product that does that instead of taking shortcuts because you feel that you have good intentions for an under served population (small businesses). Google exists to make money first, not feel good about themselves because they helped other people – I suggest becoming a hippie if that is your primary concern (hippies typically sit around and smoke pot and talk about great ideas that are good for everyone and how we can all work together and play nice but rarely put any of this to practice outside of protesting and starting drum circles). This might be more your speed since it is seemingly the approach you are taking versus Google. My thought would be that if all the free advice that was mentioned was actually implemented by the ShopCity CEO the lawsuits and complaints would not be the next logical step, rather they should be making sure to keep their SEO up-to-date. Apparently they either really want to just take the shortcut while putting on the facade of doing the right things or they have less than competent 16 year old who taught himself how to use a Mac addressing their SEO. Just pay someone with REAL SEO experience and stop complaining because you cannot get rich quick!

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