eBay is a big company that makes a lot of money, but it recently ran afoul of some rules that all businesses must follow. Industry expert Danny Sullivan recapped eBay’s most recent earnings call  and the results detailed in his “Search Engine Land” article weren’t pretty. Sullivan reported that eBay’s penalty from breaking Google’s unwritten marketing rules may have cost the online giant $200 million.

All the Different Rules

We all must follow different rules.

Federal law states that the US flag may not be used for advertising or embroidered on clothing. I’m reliably informed no federal penalty exists for doing this because any penalty is determined by a state or  the District of Columbia.

An HR executive I once worked with used to wash his hands of wrongdoing when an executive asked a tricky question about an HR law:

The speed limit on the highway is 55 miles per hour. My job is to tell you when you’re driving 55, 65 or 100 miles per hour.  Your job is to drive the car.

This passing-the-buck sentiment kept him out of trouble, I guess, although it wasn’t his job. I once tried the same line as a young director working for same CEO, Thousands of unfulfilled orders sat in a warehouse, I told him, but the credit cards had long been charged. The FTC specified that we were supposed to ask each customer for permission  to delay their order. He started and simply asked, “What’s the penalty?”

I stammered, admitted that I didn’t know the penalty. He told me to return when I knew, and in a moment of expediency, told me to call our attorneys to learn the answer.

Breaking Google Law

These days my answer and advice about legal issues is much simpler. I’m not an attorney so if I think a client needs that advice, I simply suggest they speak with an attorney.

But there are other rules out there now that can cripple a business.  Google, Bing, Facebook are among online giants publishing “guidelines”. Marketers have hair-splitting debates about each word.

Monthly, I tell at least once a customer that they are in danger of a serious problem with one of these companies, invariably Google. It’s not that Google’s rules are worse or better than anyone else’s. They simply control about 70% of all search in North America. Mess with them, even inadvertently, and your website and the online reach of your business will be harmed.  We eventually stop working with the companies who ask us about the penalties.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to push just a little bit when your agency or online marketer tells you that something on your website risks a Google penalty.  Make them explain the penalty so you don’t hear the copout of breaking a rule.  But when your agency is adamant, informed and seemingly well-versed in the issue, you ignore their advice at your own peril.

Silver Beacon has now saved two organizations from these penalties. One is on track now to receive well over one million pageviews. The other is doing fine too.  We talk with our clients about their stories not to brag, but to warn of the dangers involved in breaking a severe Google law.

Your attorney can hand you all the books with all the laws, but that doesn’t mean you should give yourself legal counsel. We can also give you all the guidelines for the big web companies, but only a trained marketer knows which “guidelines” are bad for your traffic and which could have the company manually remove your website from its listings.


Google Penalty Hits eBay’s Bottom Line” – by Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land
4 U.S. Code § 8 – Respect for flag” – Cornell Law
Google Hits eBay with Manual Penalty…” – by Matt McGee, Search Engine Land

Google and The Cleveland Clinic each lost an opportunity to control a new domain name type that could have influenced the already low reputation of medical information published online.

Both organizations have had their applications overruled to run a new TLD (top-level domain) for .med according to industry site Domain Name Wire.

The Top Level Domain Name Rush

dot org typeA top-level domain, called a TLD by insiders, is the short term that appears after a dot in an Internet address. Everyday examples of approved TLDs are .com, .org, .edu and so on.  The international organization that monitors and allows these names is called ICANN, which is just a very long acronym.  ICANN last allowed new TLDs in 2004.  Those included .asia, .mobi and others.  Four years earlier, less commonly used TLDs like .info and .biz joined the ranks of available suffixes.

ICANN proposed that the traditional 3 and 4 letter suffixes could become almost anything at a contentious 2008 meeting.  Each application required at $185,000 evaluation fee.

And the land rush started.

A startup named Donuts spent $57 million on 307 TLDs.  Google, using a subsidiary called Charleston Road Registry, applied for its trademarked terms as well as generic terms like .ADS, .LOVE and .APP.

ICANN keeps the evaluation fee regardless of the award.  That means a company like Donuts sent along more than $50 million for its applications.

The Big Deal – Why Generic TLDs are Dangerous

An ICANN panel ruled that neither The Cleveland Clinic nor Google were allowed to obtain the TLD called .med.   While either company could have registered all diseases, conditions and devices and then sold those names at “market value”, there existed, as in every generic word instance, an opportunity to steer traffic to one organization or charge exorbitant sums for a domain registration.  As a business leader you need to be learning more about domain names that could be registered in your industry and implement a brand protection plan.   You will always be able to protect your trademarked terms, but your competitors may already be planning to get the inside track on location-based or similarly generic names in your industry.


Source: “Google’s and Cleveland Clinic’s .Med top level domains rejected“, Domain Name Wire, 1/2/14
Source:  “New Generic Top-Level Domains“, ICANN, retrieved 1/2/14
Source: “New GTLD Current Application Status“, ICANN retrieved 1/2/14
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Sharing Business Value Reports

Antivirus company AVG pushed a great report to me earlier today called a “Threat Report”.   The security company with the ‘Freemium’ model wanted me to give them credit for protecting one my computers from a series of problems.  It’s a smart, relatively passive way for the company to prove its product’s worth to a user who is a potential up-sell.

silver-beacon-marketing-logoSilver Beacon Marketing does a similar thing, showing clients their return on investment (ROI) for advertising campaigns or other goals from our search engine optimization efforts.  That is proprietary data that few would publicize, but I’ve lost count of the number of times a referral has quoted their friend’s ROI to me. Sharing your business value is easy.

Bragging about the number of threats your computer stopped is something you might share with anyone.  The whole thing sounds like fun.  And even a small adoption rate can mean some great exposure.  Let’s say that the report showed your level of web savvy and a fun rating about your computer’s strength along with some Twitter and Facebook share buttons.  Your product gets valuable exposure every time someone sends that report to their Twitter or Facebook stream.

Enabling that sharing function is only a part of the battle though. Sharing has to be simple–absolutely frictionless–to get the best possible return.  And that’s what I experienced today when I reactivated a StumbleUpon account.

Signing up was easy–only four fields after I clicked “connect with Facebook”.  And the company was smart enough to ask, “Hey, since you’re recommending pages to strangers, how about recommending them to your friends?”

Why not?  That makes perfectly good sense.  And with each post to my Facebook page, StumbleUpon gets a big endorsement from me to anyone connected with me.

Asking that question is smart.  My Facebook friends might not have a StumbleUpon account, but all the work is done for me if I want to post a link to my Facebook page or other social media channels. That is completely frictionless.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to consider how your company communicates its real business value to stakeholders.  Special bonus points if you make sharing that information easy.