It happens every now and then, in a forum, on a blog, and sometimes, even in court. What happens? Some web site owned by someone with an entitlement mentality experiences a drop in rankings and suddenly rambles on and on about the evils of Google and how Google has destroyed their business. It's not a new phenomena, but it is one that I was starting to (naively) think might be falling by the wayside. After all, we should finally be moving into the stage where businesses understand that they are responsible for their success, not someone else...right? Apparently, KinderStart.com doesn't see it that way.
KinderStart is a web site that describes itself as a directory and resource site for parenting and child care information. (Industry watchers claim that it's nothing more than a glorified link farm, but even that is beside the point.) KinderStart, like most companies, gained quite a bit of traffic thanks to strong Google rankings, until an algorithm shift saw it drop severely in the rankings. KinderStart claims that after the algorithm shift, it experienced a 70% decline in traffic and an 80% decline in revenue.
(Pardon me while I pull out my mini-violin.)
Because of these losses, KinderStart has brought forth a suit against Google to claim that the company has "unfairly" deprived it of customers and revenues by lowering its ranking. Thus, it is suing Google for financial damages and also demanding that Google disclose the method it uses to rank web sites. KinderStart says that Google's lowering of their rankings amounts to a stifling of KinderStart's "right to free speech."
(Now pardon me while I roll my eyes.)
Apart from the obvious childishness of pointing fingers and blaming someone else for your problems, there are several reasons that this type of mentality annoys me.
1.) Misunderstanding of Free Speech.
Yes, we have this great clause in our Constitution that guarantees us the right to free speech. What it doesn't guarantee is our right to an audience. In other words, go stand on the street corner and say pretty much whatever you want, but don't expect the government (or anyone else) to round up an audience for you. This is obviously the case with Google. Otherwise, every single company that wasn't listed on the first page of results for any and every keyword phrase would be suing Google for suppressing their right. Yeah...that's gonna happen.
2.) Failure to Accept Responsibility for One's Actions.
Despite what some webmasters may think, Google engineers don't sit around and roll the dice to decide which site they'd like to screw over this week. Instead, they work to fine tune their algorithm so that good sites rise to the top and not as good sites fall to the bottom. Yes, they make mistakes sometimes and good sites get swept up in the rankings shuffle, but for the most part, when a site vanishes from Google, it's because of something on the site that has made Google think it's no longer worthy of high rankings. Rather than complain about the drop, a responsible webmaster works to figure out what caused the problem so that they can fix it and regain those rankings.
3.) Failure to Appreciate a Good Thing While it Lasts.
This is one of the key points that many others within the industry have made. Rather than being thankful for all that free traffic that Google has been sending, and moving on when it's gone, companies get used to the extra traffic that gets sent by a search engines vote of confidence. I'd point out that this would be like Chrysler suing J.D. Power and Associates for awarding one of it's vehicles the "car of the year" award in 2004, but not in 2005.
4.) The Entitlement Mentality on the Web.
This is the one that gets me the most and it works something like this...a business builds a web site. They start off doing all the standard things to promote it, email marketing, print advertising, paid search advertising, maybe even some link development. Pretty soon, the site starts to gain some Google rankings and tons of new traffic starts to pour in. Seeing this new traffic, the site owner slowly starts to back off of other types of advertising. Pretty soon, the only source of traffic for the site is bookmarks, a few links and organic search traffic. Along comes an algorithm shift and said business falls out of Google's rankings. Overnight, business dries up and the site owner loses almost all revenue. Their response? Anger at Google.
Why in the world people think that they can put all of their eggs in one basket and then be upset when that basket gets dropped and all of their eggs break is beyond me. It seems that because many companies were able (no matter how unwisely) to build their businesses on the backs of free traffic, everyone and their brother decided that the search engines owed them a living.
Makes me wonder if I should go start filing suit against the people that don't sing the praises of Search Engine Guide to everyone they know. After all, we'd be making a lot more money if everyone with Internet access told everyone else with Internet access to come and visit us. If they're not going to do that, we clearly need to take them to court to explain to them that our right to free speech means that they have to start promoting us.
Think it'll work?
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Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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