Is Google being evil, peddling SEO and Adwords?



Two things happened in the last week that made us wonder: “Can Google really be doing this?”.

First, we received an e-mail from a search marketing client of ours, in which he mentioned as a FYI: “.. by the way, we received a call from Google offering us their campaign management for SEO and Google Adwords.” Considering the context of the communication and the demanding nature of the client, I didn’t take it too seriously and rather viewed it more as a veiled threat, to keep us on our toes and keep delivering more than what would typically be expected for the service fees we were billing them.

So, I responded saying that I can understand Google aggressively pitching their Adwords services directly to small businesses—- they definitely do that here in Asia, particularly in emerging markets like India—- but the level of service and account management that one can expect is fairly elementary, unless a company is spending at least over a couple of thousand dollars in Adwords spend each month. I also wrote that I cannot understand Google providing any SEO service other than referring to their webmaster guidelines and academy. It would literally be unthinkable, I said, that Google will offer a SEO service as that could kill its search engine. I also asked the client for contact details of the person who had contacted them so that one of our folks could speak to them directly and understand the pitch. That didn’t happen though and we left it at that.

Then, a couple of days later, we were trying to set up billing details for another client who had some trouble with their credit card and netbanking system. We did an online transfer of funds on behalf of the client from our account and waited for the campaign to start. When that didn’t happen, the PPC account manager tried contacting Google support. She received a call shortly thereafter from someone at Google support, telling her that somebody from the client organisation had just called Google and told them that they shouldn’t entertain queries from On Target but instead deal with the client’s staff representative!

Obviously, this set some serious alarm bells ringing and we raised it with the client asking for a clarification as to where we stood. The response from the client was telling: in addition to pledging their support for us and a long-term relationship with a ‘partnership’ mindset, they said the Google support person was in fact trying to pitch for the campaign to be managed directly by Google instead of doing it through a search marketing agency like ours!!

It will be next to impossible for us to get a clarification from Google on this. I’d also like to believe that the problem was the individual manning the Google support desk, who was trying to channel business for some company of his own choice for personal financial benefit rather than an institutional strategy. At the same time, it also feels like lightning has struck twice too closely together to completely ignore these as mere coincidences. In my mind, the question, is Google turning evil carries a bit more weight than it ever did previously. I’d be happy- and really hope- to be proven wrong.

In the meantime, a lesson I take away from this and an advice for other SEO/SEM agencies, particularly in India: stay alert and watch out!

– Manoj Aravindakshan

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