The Fight on Google’s Results Pages: Community Platforms

Dell’s Bob Pearson was right, a company’s corporate homepage is really

As I was doing follow up research on some of the vendors in the community space, I was entering in some keyword searches on Google to find different product pages. Although a common practice, it’s interesting to see which vendors buy sponsored links on the right hand column of the search screen. It’s not easy to tell if they’ve purchased these keywords directly to display if someone enters a vendors name, or if they bought greater search terms like “community software”, either way it’s an indicator of what Google, or the vendors think their most relevant competitors are.

Search marketing is a pretty normal practice, but over the years I’ve seen and learned a few ethical, and not so ethical ways companies do battle for mindshare. A few examples:

  • Brands often forget to purchase the paid keywords for their specific product name during a launch, a well placed blog post from a competitor mentioning the specific product name can yield some pretty tremendous search engine juice. History tells us that many press release link to the company’s homepage, but not to specific product pages, forcing bloggers, press, media, and analysts to do Google searches to learn more, the result? A competitors blog can easily be visible above the fold.
  • While discussed and reprimanded by Google and other search engines, when I was in web marketing, I heard cases of competitors supposedly clicking on our paid search terms, and since we had a limited inventory of pay per click, they would use up our inventory. Now I’m sure Google has ways around this (by looking at IP address or other behaviors) but every technology has a workaround.
  • For even more nefarious uses, former colleague and internet expert John Cass gives a breakdown how one vendor was using trademarked product names in search marketing strategy, and the difficulties of enforcement. (link via LiveWorld’s Bryan Person)
  • So what’s right and what’s wrong? Time tends to average things out, and those that play above the table will eventually look victorious, those that kick under the table tend to get punished –or others see it and walk away. On the other hand, all’s fair in business, there are no rules, and this just is an indicator of who’s hungrier for your business.

    Below are some screenshots of some vendors search engine results pages (SERP) and you can see the different sponsored links on the right. Here’s what I see when I search for Liveworld, Kickapps, and Telligent.


    Update: Sam Decker, CMO of BazzarVoice created this interesting matrix was created that shows which vendors are buying keywords for other competitors SERP pages. link via LiveWorld’s Bryan Person.