Google logo on a wall
PHOTO: C.E. Kent

“Don’t be evil” has been the Google tagline, mission statement, guiding philosophy from practically day one of its existence. In 2018, it quietly dropped the “don’t” from the tagline. Google was entering a new phase of sucking up personal data and sucking up giganormous profits.

Do you remember back in those innocent, hippy, don’t be evil days, when Google placed the ads in the right-hand column, so as to clearly differentiate them from the organic search results? Ah, those naïve do-gooder, don’t-be-evil hippies that they were. We didn’t deserve them. Thing was: very view people looked in the right-hand column and even fewer people would click. So, poor Google was only making billions from ads instead of the gazillions they dreamt of. So they quietly moved the ads to the top of the central column. And just so that everyone would know that these were ads, they placed a teensy weensy sign saying: “Ad.” Such ethical dudes.

But that was just the beginning for the rebranded “Be Evil” empire. Not satisfied with greying the line between ads and organic search results, Google decided to get into the highly lucrative Mafia Don business of shaking down companies for protection money. “When Google puts four paid ads ahead of the first organic result for your own brand name, you’re forced to pay up if you want to be found,” Jason Fried, one of the co-founders of Basecamp said. “It’s a shakedown. It’s ransom.” Of course, “Google doesn’t let you target any of their own trademarks this way, and won’t even let you mention ‘Google’ in your ad text,” John Gruber points out. No way. If someone searches for Google, there’s no way Google will allow Microsoft to buy ads promoting Microsoft products. That just wouldn’t be fair to Google.

Like all good Mafiosi, Google targets vulnerable industry after vulnerable industry looking for their protection money. Take travel. “TripAdvisor has one of the best link profiles of any commercially oriented website outside of perhaps,” Aaron Wall explains. “But ranking #1 doesn't count for much if that #1 ranking is below the fold. Or, even worse, if Google literally hides the organic search results.” The result? Google grows its ad revenues 20% a year in a global economy growing at under 4%, and the stocks of Expedia and TripAdvisor fall off cliffs.

What to do? Unless governments truly tackle Google, Facebook, et al, there’s not much you can do. Maybe there’s something. Do you have customers? If you do, then treat those current customers extraordinarily well. Make it a rule that the longer they stay with you the better you treat them: better discounts, better service, better everything. Current customers are like mini search engines. If they start promoting you on social media then that’s one of the best possible ways of you getting found, trusted, believed.

Your current customers are so incredibly precious today. Don’t be like 90% of organizations who mistreat, overcharge and exploit their current customers. Because if your current customers are out there searching for the types of products and services that you currently deliver to them, well that’s not a good sign for your future viability, is it?