Small Businesses beware, Google is poaching your customers!

While pondering the implications of the Contextual Ads in Gmail I put myself in the position of an unsuspecting small business owner, and was amazed to learn just how focused Google was on introducing my customers to my competitors!

The Google ad platform does an incredible job of identifying an email’s context and finding the highest paying, or most clickable ad to match that context. In a setting like Gmail that means digitally reading the email from the Subject Line to the Body of the email to the Sender’s Signature, using that collected data to identify the email’s context and then finding the most suitable set of advertisers to display when the Gmail-using recipient is reading the email.

Here’s an example, check out the ads on the right (Also note that clicking on “More about…” will open a page with multiple Landscaping ads):


Gmail’s advertising engine is devastatingly effective here having served ads that are not only relevant to the subject of the email, but also to the geography of the recipient, making the ads a very potent way for those advertisers to “poach” the sender’s customers. But where does that leave poor Grassy Bass Landscaping? By sending a quote to a potential customer I have inadvertently surfaced a number of competitors, hardly seems fair! One way to minimise the impact of Google’s poaching prowess is to avoid building context through the subject line or body of the email, right now it doesn’t look like attachments are read so use the attachment to describe the work instead. That’s not ideal, but it may just avoid Gmail surfacing your most aggressive competitors right next to your mail.

Any small business that thinks Gmail is just another harmless, free webmail product should think again, it’s your competitors’ dream ticket to finding your customers after you have done all the hard work, adopt it as your own email provider at your peril.

UPDATE : In the Virtual Revolution, broadcast in the UK on the 15th February, the presenter raises these same concerns about Google’s approach to Privacy and Advertising Everywhere, some interesting perspectives here – Gmail is discussed at 1:44sec. [Note that this link will be broken if this video has not been authorised by the publisher]

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Google, a lot like a corrupt SatNav!


Google commands tens of millions of dollars each year (probably hundreds) through knowingly selling brand terms through AdWords (such as “cudo” for our business). Yet, users are increasingly using Google for everyday web navigation, so they knew where they wanted to go, they just wanted Google to help them get there.

This is a lot like punching a restaurant’s address into your satnav, but being taken to the highest bidding restaurant instead!

And as businesses grow their sophistication in SEO and they establish their listing at the top of the Organic pile for free. Allowing competitors to purchase a business’s brand term means the target business also has to buy their own
brand term else there is a fair chance an unsuspecting user will click on the competitor’s link, commanding unnecessary dollars from at least two businesses! This has lead to a Mexican Standoff between Group Buying sites, including the seven or so competitors currently spending their dollars on the term “Cudo” today.

In itself this is not necessarily evil of Google, it is opportunistic though.

However, once a business has been granted a trade mark they can then protect their brand from being bought on Google by law, yet Google seems to be oddly slow at applying any kind of block to AdWords, milking yet more dollars from a potentially struggling business over the 3 to 6 months it takes to limit the term in AdWords (Google may not block the term altogether!).

Why is it so hard to protect my mark on the world’s most sophisticated Search platform? Yahoo! and Bing seem to behave much less like a Corrupt SatNav with a clear policy on Trade Marks.

At Cudo we are spending over $50k each month buying our brand term on Google, that’s one expensive Mexican Standoff!

See below for an excerpt from a Trademark Case Study, found here

“Trademark Case Study

A Google Adwords client, who is a leader in the very competitive Network Marketing field, recently noticed a surge of infringements against their trademark which was being used in competitor ad copy on the Google Network.  Competition within the Network Marketing industry is extremely competitive and aggressive. The client became aware that their competitors were bidding on their trademarked search terms. This caused the cost to secure top positions for their ads to skyrocket from an initial $2.00 per click to $15.00 per click. Monthly expenditures increased from $1,200 to nearly $30,000. The estimated budget increased to $500,000+ for the year. Control of the top ad space in Google was their primary objective in order to dominate the ad-space for their branded trademarked term.

Given the level of aggression by the competitors and the extortionate cost been borne by the client, there was only one solution and that was to stop all advertisers from bidding on the terms.  Is it right that a business owner has to spend $500,000+ to buy their own branded name – a name that has already cost them millions of dollars to build?  This is $500,000+ the trademark owner has to spend because of a policy that disavows elementary business ethics.  Yahoo and MSN have recognized the injustice of such a slippery-slope policy and have taken steps to change it.  We filed trademark infringements with all three search egnines.  Yahoo and MSN results were clear within days.”

Twitter hash-tags have lost their mojo.


I spoke at iStrategy some time back in Melbourne and was blown away by the level of engagement from the Audience via Twitter, by far the most hash-tagged tweets I have ever seen. My iPad twitter ap was alive the entire time I was speaking with real time commentary about my presentation, can’t beat good-honest real-time feedback!

Only, it wasn’t.

I felt the entire time that Twitter and particularly the use of a hash-tag had lost its mojo. Previous when I have been speaking there has been a real balance to the Twitter feedback, some great, some not so great, and some just plain old brutal. But not this time. In fact, I don’t think there was a single tweet that could be euphemised as “brutally honest”. I suspect the medium is just too prolific.

In a conference of the size of iStrategy, which numbered around 300 delegates, there’s nowhere to hide and worse still there is a very good chance that the speaker you have just appraised will know what was said and by whom. And no one wants a possible confrontation!

As a speaker at the conference I wanted that brutal feedback, and I was looking for it real time to make adjustments to my session. But it didn’t come. I’d appreciate any suggestion that my talk was perfect, however I saw some sessions that were quite poor yet no negative tweets emerged!

I think we need to bring some anonymity back to twitter, at least find some other way to harvest the ugliest of commentary. Or accept that feedback is a gift, good, bad or ugly!