Google uses paid search results to shake down businesses, says Basecamp CEO

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/09/04/google-uses-paid-search-result.html

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Google this…

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“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

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“Don’t be evil” is turning out to be harder than originally projected.

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When I search for basecamp on Google I don’t see ads, none, and basecamp.com is the first one. Maybe Google took those ads down to cover their butts?

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Mere evil would almost be better; what really grates is that it’s dumb evil. This kind of shady street-level grifting can’t possibly be good business for an advertising company of Google’s size.

If A pays $100 to squat B’s trademark, it implies B has something worth advertising, and Google is the only game in town, so the only potential way to not eventually get B’s business is to piss them off with this kind of thing.

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I just searched for Basecamp with DuckDuckGo and the first two results were ads based on the Basecamp search. I closed the page, reopened DuckDuckGo and searched for Basecamp again. No ads! Interesting game.

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I know this is probably not it, but you’re not by any chance using an ad blocker?

The better business bureau extorts businesses in essentially the same way.

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No ad blocker. Firefox with Linux. I do have Google Activity turned off. My normal search engine is DuckDuckGo. Using my distros default browser Falkon and DDG there is an ad for Monday.com, but with Google still no ads.

Interesting. When I do a Google search, I get one ad and it’s not Basecamp’s. (Basecamp.com shows up as the first non-ad result.)

With Brave on Android, the first DuckDuckGo result is for Monday.com.

I’m not saying this guy isn’t right, but IF he’s right, then it’s a pretty dumb move to poke the bear like that. Because if he’s right, then that’s not something Google would tolerate, either.

Standing on principle is one thing, but this would be paying the ransom and then shooting the hostage anyway.

There’s lots to unpack here.

For one thing, at the time of this comment, there are no ads on the search term “basecamp” (tested with Safari & Chrome on macOS, both logged in to Google and not via Private mode) . Did Google quietly turn them off while this storm brews over?

It used to be that Google’s ads were on the side and very distinct from the search results. Then they moved them to be on top of the search results (a very controversial move, of course), and (I think) they’ve gradually made them less distinct. That absolutely sucks.

Otherwise I don’t mind Google’s ad model. I think it’s a great way for an up-and-coming competitor to show up. The way Google works, you “bid” for an ad spot on given search terms (at some point, maybe still, the cost for the top spot for “mesothelomia” was stupid high, like $1/view or click). “Basecamp’s cool and all, but have you tried this competitor?” This is supposed to be the one benefit of a “free market”.

Saying you have to preserve the dominant’s position is essentially defending their monopoly.

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I’m using an ad blocker etc in my main browser and don’t see any ads when searching for basecamp on google. With the adblocker turned off I see one ad for a competitor on the first search and then no ads on subsequent searches. When using Edge which has no ad blocker and searching with Bing I see 4 ads for competitors to Bascecamp before seeing the first search result which is Basecamp. Results vary depending on browser/search engine/user profile/tracking. It’s a bit like customized political ads on Facebook - you don’t know what others see.

Actually the Bing search results deserve more analysis because they are absolutely terrible.
TLDR Don’t use Bing.

The first ad is for a competitor Smartsheet which is followed by 6 sub links to various Smartsheet web pages, none of which are marked as Ads. Then there are three more Ads to competitors followed by the actual Basecamp link which has 4 sublinks below to various pages on their site. Not that it less than the number of sublinks that Smartsheet received.
Next are two links to Garmin’s Basecamp software which is for planing routes to and from your actual basecamp and sounds like it should be the top hit as it actually involves a real basecamp - Garmin must be pissed as no one is going to find that.
There is then a “News” section with 3 links to stories about the Basecamp google shakedown.
Followed to a link to Basecamps twitter account.
And another 4 Ads to Basecamp competitors!
There is a video section for three videos on the theme of “Basecamp”, two about the Airstream Basecamp trailer and one for Garmin’s Basecamp.
Finally there is a related searches for “basecamp” with one of the 8 links pointing to Basecamp project management.
To tally up
8 Ads to competitors, plus 6 sublinks.
1 main link, one twitter account link and 4 sublinks to Basecamp
2 links to Garmin’s basecamp software
6 media links which will vary depending on the news/algorithm
8 “related search” links, one of which is for basecamp
To be fair there is a “card” on the right hand side for the basecamp company with links to the original site social media etc

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Amazon offers “product targeting”. You can advertise directly on your competitor’s product listing. The only recourse is to 1) return the favor and advertise on their pages and 2) target your own products to raise the bids. Everything you do in these cases will probably raise your advertising costs. Yep, great racket they have going.

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Maybe the folks at Airstream should complain, too.

Of course it also helps if your company name isn’t hopelessly generic. Ignoring stories about his Google gripes, Garmin has product called basecamp and a there is brewing company as well. lol