10 Reasons to LoveHate Google
Posted April 19, 2011on:
Such a strong word
It is a company that is loved, and yet surprisingly hated — if not despised — by some. It is the friend whose little strange habits and quirks we once cherished. But now they annoy and grate on our nerves. It is a company that we have held up as a shining beacon of hope — the giant killer. The company that could stand against Microsoft and the great evil empire.
But alas, the company is but the latest victim of the same pedestal on which we elevated Microsoft years before. Beware that pedestal, for it provides a perch that only looks downward. Sometimes when companies ascend to it, they start to believe they are separate, better versions of humans.
They start to believe their own hype; in that moment, they become lost.
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, between self-assuredness and hubris, and unfortunately Google is straddling that line. Why the perceptive shift in attitudes toward Google? What has the company done other than bring us fantastic tools? Tools, like Android, that have changed entire industries. Tools, like search, that have provided insight into the most remote corners of the world. Why is the simmering of discontent bubbling so intensely under the surface?
While researching this article, I was wholly surprised by the intensity with which people in the industry describe their dealings with the search giant. Where does it come from? Often, there is no single cause — just an attitudinal shift that, when experienced en masse within a company, can have devastating effects on external perceptions. It could be something as simple as an arrogant statement heard in a bar: “I work for Google, asshole — what do you do?” (I have heard several variations of this in San Francisco). Such a statement is designed to separate the speaker from others and infer inferiority on the listener. It’s a sad reflection of someone whose bitterness from being picked on in high school is rearing its ugly head. Part of the attitudinal shift we’re dealing with in this article comes from that separation — and yet myriad other things as well.
But before I start listing reasons to hate Google, a note of temperance: Whatever personal story you have with Google — be it good, bad, or indifferent — let us all cut the company a break. It is but a precocious 12-year-old. And although many of the employees score off the charts on tests of mental intellect, many are emotionally inept. But their hearts are really in the right place. They are attempting to manage insane growth the best way they can, and “do no evil” really appears to be their intent. And intention is extremely important. It is at the core of separating evil from ignorance. Sometimes the company makes mistakes, and because of its size, those mistakes and decisions are amplified.
Read on to learn about 10 company practices that are currently pissing people off. Then tune in later this week for five more. As you’ll see, you do not have to do evil to be a bit of a prick.
1. Free Products Kill Innovation
There are unintended consequences to Google’s success and approach to business that are insidious. Because its core business is so damned profitable, the company can dabble in other segments (that might or might not be core to its long-term strategy). In so doing, the company perverts the economics of that market.
Google Wave is the next big thing! Oops, I’m sorry — it’s Google Buzz (for now).
In the meantime, anyone that was going to compete with Wave gave up on that. After all, how do you compete with free, unlimited resources? Now that the company has ceded the market back, how long does it take to re-energize? I’m not saying Wave is or was the answer. But if you believed in that approach, Google set the market back by a year or two and snuffed out the oxygen from anyone who might have pursued a competitive approach.
One could argue that there’s something similar going on with Google Docs. Before Google got into the space, there were a few interesting startups that were trying to build a business. And then along comes Google. However, it could be argued that the company is investing just enough in Docs to make it work in a tolerable way. Is there any reason, given Google’s access to engineering talent, that Docs shouldn’t be the functional equivalent of Word and Excel by now? Rather, it’s a shadow of those programs, and Google is not closing the gap — nor does the company talk about a roadmap or timeline to do so.
By contrast, those startups had aggressive plans to be able to match and surpass Office due to the continuous improvement nature of the cloud. Yes, those startups could build the better mousetrap, but the world won’t beat a path to their doors because that path goes through — and is trampled by — Google.
“We tried. It didn’t work. We got bored.” This approach is not healthy for market evolution.
I hate Google for that.
2. Only big spenders get to speak to anyone
First of all, if you are lucky enough to get to work with a salesperson at Google, you are among the proud, the few — the people with insane gobs of cash to spend. The rest of the poor souls wander around aimlessly seeking guidance. In fact, Google’s utter lack of support for anyone with a budget less than $20,000 a month is notorious. The only good result cascading out of this situation is that oodles of SEM people are employed throughout the country to support the small businessperson’s efforts. In fact, this may be Google’s single largest contribution to the economy. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of people, are employed as a direct result of Google’s inability to service everyone.
That might change, however. On April 5, Google introduced free AdWords support via 1-866-2Google. Between Monday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, current AdWords advertisers can speak to a real, live, carbon-based life-form.
Let’s say, however, you or a client gets banned from AdSense, and you want to find out why. Can you call someone? Nope, that number’s only for AdWords. Can you email someone? Nope. What do you do? You have to post to a forum and hope someone answers. Even if you do get a good answer, you still can’t do anything about it.
Case in point: A person I know who will remain anonymous (pay attention here, Google — anonymous) had a site that showed Google’s ads for years. Google sent him a ton of tchotchkes to indicate he was a great publisher. But one day in August, he stopped seeing Google ads. No email, no notice. Nothing. He had to post to a forum and wait for an “expert” to weigh in. That person suggested that the site was banned because it potentially had adult content. A user instructed him to use a form to appeal the likely ban. No answer. Another user gave him a link to a form to re-send the ban notice. No answer. Six months later, after being told it could take a few weeks to hear back: nothing. Google obviously has enough business that it can totally ignore long-time customers. If this was any other network, he would have a rep with a name, email address, and phone number.
I hate Google for that.
What if you are spending enough money to “count” and, thus, have a rep? In that case, I wonder if salespeople at Google go through some evade-and-deflect school to learn how to avoid any question that does not give the company more money. If you’re actually knowledgeable about the search business, from SEO to SEM and competitive offerings, you are often left in a black hole. Luckily, in my career I’ve had some very good salespeople at Google — ones who were upgraded from the fresh-out-of-school luddites with 4.0 GPAs and no clue about what clients are trying to accomplish with their businesses. But it took me awhile to get there — and close to a $1 million monthly spend with Google for that privilege.
However, I have heard several stories people asking their Google reps a question, and receiving a complete Stepford-wife non sequitur. Example:
Question 1: Can you tell me why session-based results are hitting us so hard?
Question 2: My client is in Palo Alto. Why have you just outsourced its management to India?
Question 3: Why is this landing page getting a Quality Score 8 and this one a Quality Score 9? What’s the difference?
Answer to Questions 1-3: Have you tried Google TV yet? Display is going to be huge.
… and I hate Google for that.
3. Frustrating hiring practices
Google gets countless resumes each day. How does it decide who works there? How does it decide who will help the company be the best? It makes hard decisions. It weeds people out based on numbers, using those numbers as a proxy for how they will help the company. Grade point average (GPA) is one of the numbers it considers. But what if that GPA is 20 years old? Is the proxy to determine future value to the company as valid as it is for someone straight out of college? Google seems thinks so — and that is where it fails.
Let me explain.
Mine is but one story of countless that were forwarded to me when I reached out. Google has recruited me no fewer than seven times over the past five years. The company recruited me based on industry experience and my 20-year career. But my GPA, from Cornell University almost 20 years ago, doesn’t qualify me to work there. I get an “I’m sorry” from a 20-something internal recruiter (who was in diapers when I graduated) when I disclose my GPA. It makes no difference that I’ve been in high IQ societies since before the recruiter was born. Or that I built a search-engine technology from scratch. Or, most importantly, that there have been numerous successes directly attributed to my involvement on projects, teams, and brands since graduating in 1992. A 20-year-old GPA disqualifies me. And that was a bitter pill for me to swallow.
I waited years to reveal the above information, as it is humiliating for me to do so — to believe that I was not “good enough” or failed in some way. I was at first angry, then sad, but over time the bitterness has dissipated. Granted, I still get to roll my eyes when I pick up the phone and it’s a recruiter with a great opportunity at Google.
The experience has since become a lesson for me. For years, I too used my intellect to separate myself from others, without considering them as whole people. I put people in the “other” box as a way to feel better about myself. But it was just a reflection of my own insecurities and emotional retardation.
So how does this hurt Google?
Google is hiring the same types of people — all thinkers and no feelers. Uni-cultures create market-based companies, not creative ones. Market-based companies will take existing products or ideas and make them the best and most efficient products, but they do not really understand need-states of consumers or how to develop the kind of products that revolutionize. They are innovators — and damn good ones — but they are not creative.
Without more background diversity in the humanities, a uni-culture breeds a like-minded reliance that isolates a company. Evolution has proven that diversity in a system wins. And as Google continues to grow, it should heed that advice.
Most of what Google develops is to feed the monster of search — to surround it, insulate it, and protect its single-source revenue stream. But what if, as is happening in mobile right now, search doesn’t monetize? What if search remains relevant, but becomes considerably less profitable? What if there is a short-term spike in profitability because of the multiple-screen-habit in-between technologies — but then it collapses? What if the thing Google is feeding dies? The company has no other viable source of income. If one company with a better mousetrap comes along, Google’s entire enterprise collapses.
The more mobile our society becomes, the more we need that better mousetrap.
Google is, and always has been, a one-trick pony when it comes to making money. Worse yet, the fundamental idea for how to make money on that product was not even Google’s — it was GoTo.com’s.
Google has been unable to diversify its revenue stream with the most significant brain trust ever assembled in human history. And this is a problem.
The in-or-out game that Google exhibits in its hiring practices is breeding discontent and anger. It provides incentive for some to “take them down,” and it makes them considerably more vulnerable. And a vulnerable Google puts us all at risk.
I hate Google for that.
4. The data Google collects is intimate (beyond personal)
People type things into Google that they wouldn’t tell their spouse, physician, or shrink. At Ask.com, when we introduced AskEraser (which allowed you to surf anonymously), we had to specifically stipulate, “When AskEraser is enabled, your search activity will be deleted from Ask.com (not third-party) servers…” See that little “third-party” bolded? Guess who that is? Ask.com is Google’s largest distributor of AdWords in the world. Did we want to prevent Google from storing data when people used AskEraser? Yes — but there really wasn’t any way we could force Google to do it. We asked; the company said no.
Why is this concerning? All you have to do is look at AOL. On August 4, 2006, AOL Research released a compressed text file on one of its websites containing 20 million search keywords for more than 650,000 users over a three-month period, intended for research purposes. AOL pulled the file from public access by Aug. 7, but not before it had been mirrored and distributed on the internet. AOL itself did not identify users in the report; however, personally identifiable information was present in many of the queries. Because the queries were attributed by AOL to particular user accounts, identified numerically, an individual could be identified and matched to their account and search history by such information. The New York Times was able to locate an individual from the released and anonymous search records by cross referencing them with phone book listings.
In January 2007, Business 2.0 magazine on CNNMoney ranked the release of the search data No. 57 in a segment called “101 Dumbest Moments in Business.” Read more about the AOL Search scandal here.
If Ask.com could introduce AskEraser, why doesn’t Google? If the company stands for “do no evil,” why not give consumers the choice? However, even more concerning was Eric Schmidt’s best answer when questioned on CNBC as to what Google might eventually do with that data (and the concerns around its privacy). To paraphrase, “Maybe people shouldn’t enter anything they’re concerned or embarrassed about.” Seriously, Eric? Are you really that clean? It’s spookier than behavioral targeting.
Google has the option to give consumers a choice to be anonymous, and it chooses not to. I hate Google for that.
5. Charitable AdWords grants
I know. Now you’re thinking, “He’s gone too far.” But hear me out.
Google makes a big deal about its charitable AdWords grants. And for the charities, it is a boon. The charities, which desperately need help, get grants to help gain visibility. Seriously, what could be so insidious about helping people? We should all give more to charity.
Well, Google really isn’t giving anything to charity. Essentially, all it is doing is introducing “funny money” into the economics of the auction system, where the company keeps all the proceeds.
These programs are often managed by the least sophisticated marketers, who have very low incentives to keep their “spends” down. This costs Google nothing, but it requires all commercial players to raise their bids to maintain visibility, thereby raising Google’s revenue. It is like Sotheby’s putting shills in the audience of its auction house, giving them money, and allowing them to bid up the price on the items up for auction. If the shill wins? No sweat, the company could just put it right back up for auction later. Funny money.
The charitable intent of the program (I am giving Google the initial benefit of the doubt here) has very unintended consequences. I wonder if the company claims the grants on its taxes. Seriously, wouldn’t you like a system where you could donate money, make more money back on the donation, and then have the balls to actually deduct the original donation on your taxes? I do have to give the company credit and bow down before the god of capitalism; the economics of that model are brilliant.
What about Google’s house ads? When Google is always No. 1, you have to bid like the No. 1 player just to stay in the No. 2 slot. For this, I actually cut the company a break. Broadcast networks have been doing this for years. They continually introduce house ads for other shows or things they promote. The difference? Usually they have to pay for the right to broadcast the event or show. Google pays for — oh yeah, funny money again.
I do not hate Google for this. I just dislike the perversion of the economics that results from it.
It would be easy enough to cite 10 wonderful things about Google. As I mentioned the company develops amazing products that we all get to use for free. However, somewhere along the way, the company got lost and grew up too fast. Somehow the Googleplex became an island. Somewhere the magic that was Google got tainted by lots of little missteps. Like the banks, I fear Google has become too big to fail — and I’d rather not have any companies that pose such a risk to the economy.
6. Session-based broad match clicks
Unless you know what you are doing in search, this will make no sense to you. But trust me, it sucks. The concept of session-based clicks has to do with “commercial intent.” It’s an attempt to try to predict whether a searcher is interested in a company that is listed in a search results page. In theory, this is great because it tries to match users with advertisers, and advertisers with keywords and consumers. In reality, it can be much more insidious. With hundreds of thousands of advertisers, session-based clicks artificially game the market and over-present advertisers on keywords for which there would normally be very few relevant advertisers, if any.
When Google runs session-based search advertising, advertisers get clicks they might not have wanted. In addition, based on observation, it most likely raises prices for all the other bidders in a keyword auction for a completely different keyword.
By introducing a session-based service, Google greatly expands the impressions of advertisers across the keyword universe, but attempting to predict “intent” really just results in a search universe in which more advertisers are getting more unwanted clicks on keywords they do not want.
The result? Google makes more money.
The issue? You can’t disable it. I hate Google for that.
7. No respect for agencies’ relationships with clients
Positive and supportive customer service and respect for your agency’s business is not a given with Google. It’s considered a perk after you’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars a month with them. When someone at Google is personally benefitting from your agency account, then someone will listen. But the company will not help you get there unless you’re starting with a lot of cash. Google does not see the potential of clients, only the reality of current ones. Essentially, Google does not have to work for the money. The company conveys the attitude that the millions of dollars you spend in display do not matter — unless of course you are spending the same in search (and only with Google). That is an arrogant, myopic viewpoint. Google knows it has the best value for the dollar, and it often acts like it.
There are countless stories of Google reps going directly to clients, around the current agency relationship, to sell its services directly. The company does a great song and dance about efficiency and working directly, but it does not have the support staff internally, nor the knowledge of client brands, to effectively build these direct relationships. But if Google believes that the agency is in some way preventing it from getting more client dollars, it goes direct.
This makes perfect sense — perfect business sense. Google is not in the soft-touch business of connecting with people and brands — the same business and theories that those agency-client relationships rely on; Google is in the hard engineering business. If you’d like to look where Google does it right, look to DoubleClick. DoubleClick is in the soft-touch business, and it nurtures agency-client relationships and works with them to everyone’s benefit.
The search team at Google, however, does not understand any of the long-term objectives of a client. To the search team, it’s click-purchase-done. And the agency is left scrambling to pick up the pieces of the disaster. I have watched Google employees throw other Google employees under the bus countless times just to make themselves look better.
Google has a myopic understanding of agencies, brands, and need-states of consumers. It believes that people who actively search for specific information equate to sales influence, and should be measured the same as other channels. The company watches the Google Exchange and believes that AdWords is an actual strategy that provides them an understanding of market dynamics. It makes sense: For the vast majority of advertisers on Google, it is not about a brand. The long tail is about category interest, not brand interest.
The degree to which Google does not understand what drives people to interact with a brand could stun a heard of buffalo. But the company benefits from being the last stop for consumers. See a billboard, watch a TV ad, see a magazine insert, go to Google, and search for the product. The result? Search takes the credit. Search did not cause the sale — it was the beneficiary of loads of marketing and advertising planning, usually years in the making. New product sales teams cover up their failures with sheer arrogance and the concept that they were just “experiments.”
I hate Google for that.
8. Doodle for Google
“Welcome to Doodle 4 Google, a competition where we invite K-12 students to use their artistic talents to think big and redesign Google’s homepage logo for millions to see. At Google, we believe that dreaming about future possibilities leads to tomorrow’s leaders and inventors, so this year we’re inviting U.S. kids to exercise their creative imaginations around the theme, “What I’d like to do someday…”
Doesn’t that sound nice? Isn’t it cool? And the winning doodle will be featured on Google’s homepage on May 20, 2011.
So begins the simple contest that will construct one of the most powerful marketing databases of parents and children in the world. Worse is that schools, teachers, and parents across the country are readily filling in forms that ask for their kids’ city of birth, date of birth, and last four digits of the their SSNs — along with complete contact information of the parents. Wow. We now have a database of parents across the country and the age of their kids, where they were born, and the last four digits of their SSN? What could we do with that? Hmm. I wonder if thousands of companies would want to buy that information for millions of dollars…
I do not believe Google’s “intent” is to sell those data — but I do believe it is Google’s intent to use them. If it were just a small program, it probably wouldn’t scare me; it is the scope of the Doodle for Google effort that is frightening. With more than 400 state finalists being awarded, Google is encircling schools, parents, and students across our country. The company has even enlisted the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Girl Scouts of the USA to register students.
The result could possibly be the most informative database of parents and children in the United States — and, more importantly, a database of engaged parents and their children. That is like hitting the marketing database lottery.
And what do all of the schools, the parents, and their children get? Four hundred state finalists get T-shirts. Forty regional finalists get a trip to the Google campus and their Doodles displayed in the Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as T-shirts printed with their Doodle. Even I have to admit, I’d like to be in the Whitney. A precious few — three, to be exact — get a $5,000 scholarship, and the single grand prize winner gets a $15,000 college scholarship. Oh, lest I forget, the school of the winning student’s Doodle gets a $25,000 technology grant. Well, isn’t that a nice way to get schools to barter the personally identifiable information of their students?
Seriously, the last four digits of a SSN? It’s just hubris. Well, at least when the terminator arrives from the future, it will get the right Sarah Connor this time.
I hate Google for that.
9. Government spying and other conspiracy theories
If you want to know how our own government is spying on you, the names Carnivore and Narus should be etched in your memory. I live five blocks from the location of the AT&T internet backbone of the 2006 class action suit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In the suit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation alleged that AT&T allowed the National Security Agency to tap the entirety of its clients’ internet and voice-over IP communications using Narus equipment.
What does this have to do with Google? Google has effectively replaced the Carnivore program and NarusInsight without intending to do so. And there is a thin wall between the information it collects and the government’s obtaining it. Google is just too good at collecting information and not giving people enough options to opt out of its collection. It is one thing for our government to surreptitiously spy on its citizens electronically (which it is well documented in doing in countless cases); it is quite another for a company as powerful as Google to do it.
The difference? Honestly, our government is often fracked up when it comes to organization. Most times it doesn’t know how to make sense of all the various systems of monitoring it has in place. And in a way, that allows me to debunk most conspiracy theories fairly easily. There is no massively organized secret government spying on all of us. Our government is just not that good. There is only our fairly incompetent and disorganized government doing it.
Google, on the other hand? Google is just too damn good. Too organized. It can make sense of too much data too quickly. And all of the information Google has is a subpoena away from the government having it in its possession. OK, that is a conspiracy angle I can get behind.
Imagine Mubarak having that information. Or King Abdullah. Or, worse yet, Muammar el-Qaddafi. Imagine that, and you will understand why no government should have access to such information. And that’s why no corporation should have that much information. It’s just too much power over the citizens of a nation. The powerful brain trust of a company like Google could be turned against citizens without them realizing it.
To complete the conspiracy theory, I’ll add a little kick from Michael Crichton: “Don’t you see the danger, John, in what you’re doing here? [Search] is the most awesome power the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that found his dad’s gun… You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had, you patented it and packaged it… Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Such is the danger of not allowing people the choice to opt out of data collection. I hate Google for that. I hate Google for being so good at what it does that conspiracy theories seem more plausible.
10. It’s (not) easy for small businesses!
Conspiracy theory aside, let’s end on a more practical note.
Google’s marketing to the small business world is particularly disturbing and counterproductive. Google pitches AdWords as being simple, fast, and easy. It may have been — years ago. But it has evolved into a 10-headed monster with five feet. When new businesses get in and run the platform, Google auto opts them into all devices and networks, and the keywords are all broad match; plus, if you use Google’s keyword tool, it needs a trained eye to understand what keywords to add or not.
The result is that many businesses turn on AdWords, get poor results — or their ads don’t show. What should they do? Here are the three resources every business running AdWords should know about.
- 1-866-2Google. Yes, as of April 5, Google has alleviated one of the biggest pain points for advertisers in AdWords: phone support. Available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. This number is for current AdWords advertisers only.
- The AdWords Help Forum can be found here.
- Meanwhile, the AdWords Online Classroom offers free online courses on a wide variety of AdWords topics, from the basics to tips to take your account to the next level.
Google is trying to sell AdWords as a simple product, but it is anything but simple to get it to work right unless you know what you are doing. The only thing that saves AdWords is the fact that search is so massively more efficient than other media that the waste can be tolerated.
The competitive forces, the people who game the system, the auto-bid optimizers, third-party conversion tools, SEM agencies — they all work against the small business having a chance when it comes to AdWords. As a result, small businesses pay an efficiency penalty for not having the tools or the expertise to optimize campaigns for performance. They pay the price penalty. Yes, it is easy for small businesses — easy to get their money, that is.
I hate Google for that.
Before you go agreeing with me on any of my points, let me explain why I write the way I do. You might have read my columns before but not understood my apparent outrage. So I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s a trick. My writing has little to do with firmly held convictions or beliefs, but much to do about writing in a way that arrests, causes momentary outrage or exhilaration, and thus stirs debate. By planting a flag on one side, I give readers something to push against. I take positional stances on issues for that reason. So I can be your fodder, or proxy, for ideas. So you can rebel or support its ideation. For only in that dynamic tension do we all move forward as an industry.
Google does so much good — and continues to do it every day. I hope Google continues to thrive and continues to be profitable; our industry would not be better off without Google. It is easy to throw stones at a company so big. It is easy to poke fun at it. It’s easy to point out fears, real or imagined. It’s easy to chide graduates that have difficulty connecting with others emotionally. It’s easy because all you have to do is dehumanize them by making them an object. When you do that — and I did it throughout this article — it is easy to hate. It is very difficult to hate when you step outside your narrow-minded prejudices and see them as human beings — see their humanity all working to help us.
There are people who work at Google — good people who go to work every day and try to make it easier for you to access information. They try to be magical at what they do. And many succeed.
Google is ranked No. 4 in the top places to work by Fortune magazine. It operates the largest open-source code-sharing service at code.google.com, which benefits anyone with a computer on this planet. The company is a big supporter of and has the best policies and benefits for gay employees and their partners of any company I know of. And the company saves lives: Google has a Crisis Response team to assess the severity and scope of a disaster to determine whether or not Google is able to uniquely contribute tools or content to response efforts. Examples of Google’s tools include Google Person Finder, which connects those seeking information about loved ones, and Google Resource Finder, which helps locate medical facilities and other emergency services during a crisis. Google might also provide high-resolution satellite imagery to crisis responders and monetary donations to non-profit organizations that provide relief services.
Remember, Google is but a precocious 12-year-old.
I hope you enjoyed these articles. And I hope you engage in the debate. Now go and do something magical with your life — even if that includes working for Google.