Basecamp CEO tweets Google’s ads are a ‘shakedown’
Jason Fried, CEO of “Basecamp,” says it can be tough for the average consumer to discern whether a Google listing is an ad since Google’s “Ad” qualifier is so small. “It’s so easy to miss,” he said. “The ads look more and more like organic results.’”
This story relates directly to a common complaint I’ve received from Attorneys, referring to competitors bidding on a business’ brand name and Trademarks. “Conquesting” is a common way for brands to show up when potential customers search for a competitor. The increase in competition across all areas of industry is forcing business’ to step up their game when it comes to Google Ads. This increase in competition is forcing businesses who once had a monopoly on the top positions in Google to share the space. I would argue many businesses simply were unaware of how good they had it. It was easy to establish a false sense of security out of a mostly empty playing field.
In this case, it’s a company who has always dominated rankings in Google organically for its name and brand, and had no need to run paid advertising. It was also a big player in an emerging market that now has fierce competition.
One business impersonating another business with the purpose of deceiving the public by using trademarked slogans or business names within the ads that are served to the public could be considered fraud. This goes against Google Ad guidelines. Fried did mention the company filed complaints about trademark violations with Google for ads that use Basecamp’s name, but added that ads of that kind keep popping up.
However, this isn’t just about the obvious cases of fraud as I’ve just described. The real subject of this complaint targets legitimate competitors, and their ability to bid on any business’ name or Trademark.
This is the kind of advertising headache Attorneys and Law Firms have known all to well, for many years. In my last article, a prominent Texas Attorney filed suit against 14 Law Firms for allegedly bidding on his Trademark and name in a similar complaint. The outcome of that case could be an indication of what direction the law, and Google will go on this issue in the future.
In a statement from Google, the company prohibits the use of trademarked terms in the text of an ad if the owner files a complaint. “Our trademark policy balances the interests of users, advertisers and trademark owners, ” the statement said. “To provide users with the most relevant ads, we don’t restrict trademarked terms as keywords. We do, however, restrict trademarked terms in ad text if the trademark owner files a complaint.” This is an important distinction to understand. You don’t see the keywords a business bids on within Google search results. You only see the Ad they have chosen to display when the keyword they are targeting wins the keyword auction.
In Google’s defense, one could argue that preference is being given to the business itself when a business bids on their own branded terms because they typically have the business name in the URL, and plastered all over their website. This improves relevance and drives down Cost-per-click costs for that name and related terms. This may not be the case however if you resist to make the proper investment in your Google Ads account, or don’t have it being managed by professionals. A poor performing account could leave you vulnerable to competitors burying your listing for your own branded terms.
The tweet is a screencap of an ad that Basecamp is currently running in Google Ads, and reads “Basecamp.com | We don’t want to run this ad.” The copy says “We’re the #1 result, but this site lets companies advertise against us using our brand. So here we are. A small, independent co. forced to pay ransom to a giant tech company.”
Fried mentioned that he previously hadn’t ran ads in Google but had no choice because of paid ads from competitors burying his organic listing, sometimes as far down as fifth place.
There are reports that the Justice Department is looking into Google’s digital advertising and search operations practices’ as authorities prepare an antitrust review of the tech giants’ market power. It makes me wonder if the recent combination of social media exposure, and lawsuits might influence Google to find some kind of solution, especially when 30 states are considering their own antitrust investigations against the tech giant.
Fried continued, “It just seems completely unfair”.
He also says, “You basically have to pay protection money to Google to even have a chance”.
Fried says the company is running the ad to stand up for small businesses having these kinds of problems with Google. When you put it that way, it sounds like a selfless endeavor, and as a fellow small business owner, one I can empathize with and get behind. However, I don’t know if I would consider a business that has 50+ employees, and Jeff Bezos as a minority stake holder, a small business.
In my opinion, this is an example of what happens when you have it easy for too long. I call sour grapes..
I’ll leave that up to the reader’s interpretation, and conclude my observation.
Brandon Speagle PPC Manager, Author, MDDS SYZYGY — Google Ads For Lawyers