|A quote I once read somewhere, in a book of fiction I think, claims that, “Many an honest fortune grew from dishonest gain.” To me this means that an enterprising but desperate individual will often seed their dreams with dirty money if they have no other choice. If they’re smart and lucky enough, they’ll eventually put a dampener on their illicit gain and “go legit”.
While most small online businesses are not exactly criminal organisations, they will generally put aside the things they had to do to “make it” once they grow into a sizable corporation. It’s like the car salesman who starts out as everyone’s friend, but soon grows to hate the poor customer once he’s selling Ferrari’s. Or the clothing store brand that starts out with friendly, well trained staff only to end up with untrained juniors on minimum wage that rarely help anyone.
I find the conflict between the ideals of big business and actions of “the average Joe” very interesting. A lot of actions that the “average Joe” will enjoy will often get on the goat of big business. You see it time and time again. The streaker will elicit a huge roar of approval from the inebriated fans at a football game, but will be despised by the stadium management, who can only think in terms of damage to their brand and concerns over their security’s reputation. In short, big business will always be at odds with the little guy, especially if their reputation or revenue is at risk.
I see this conflict exemplified online in the historic rise of Google. In it’s infancy, Google sold itself as everyone’s friend. Their original motto, “Don’t be evil” gave anyone who noticed it the warm fuzzies, and all of Google’s free services were a boon for customers and online entrepreneurs alike. Those who knew how to turn a dollar online were using Google early on to make cash hand over fist, as Adword clicks were only a few cents each and getting to the top of the rankings was an honest endeavor.
But then out of nowhere came the tumultuous Google Slaps that hit websites everywhere like a tsunami. Suddenly the little rich guy wasn’t getting traffic so easily anymore. Google began the transition from everyone’s friendly online service provider to corporate mogul, refining it’s activities so that its own revenue was maximised, regardless of the consequences to hard working website owners everywhere that helped it become king. To be Google’s friend post-slap, the online entrepreneur has to fit into strict content criteria that are not always easy to work out. Still, regardless of the potential risks, website owners everywhere began to tow the Google line. What choice did they have?
Once Google hooked the whole internet with their innovative free services, they suddenly changed the landscape and forced users to work for them. How nice it must be to have all the best information available on the entire internet available to maximises one’s own revenue. They don’t even need to create high quality content themselves, just list the work of others they prefer on page one of their search results and have website owners everywhere compete for expensive ad space available on the same page. It’s good to be the king.
Google’s corporate motto is no longer “do no evil” but, “do the right thing”, which since its decision to track all users data in Jan 2012, might as well be, “do whatever it takes for us to make as much money as humanly possible because that’s what we think is right”. This sanitised corporate motto reeks of dollars, suits and global domination. Perhaps that’s going a bit far, but is it? As a moderately famous article at Gizmodo.com puts it, “So why are we calling this evil?… Google has built a very lucrative company on the reputation of user respect… And now it’s pulling the stakes out”.
In the game of domination, he who wins makes the rules, and such is the case with Google. Their classic bait and switch tactics are as old as civilisation itself. They are powerful enough to let you play in their ballpark as long as you are willing to pay the cost, but they reserve the right to kick you out whenever it suits them. If you are going to swim with sharks, make sure you don’t injure yourself – blood in the water is unlikely to result in aid and resuscitation.
Regardless of what we think of Google’s tactics, one has to admit, it’s just business. As with all businesses, the bigger it gets, the more it’s focus will be on dollars and cents. The heart and soul of the business we originally fell for is guaranteed to eventually be taken over by puppet master’s in suits. The creature becomes a machine and all the parts better play their roles on time and under budget or there will be hell to pay. Customers, too, better play ball, if they don’t want to be forcefully ejected from the store.
If you are going to play the game of internet business as a maverick or lone wolf, you should first appreciate the awesome power of Google you are leaving behind. Operating in ways that conflict or directly compete with Google’s revenue streams is likely to get you excluded from all their choice properties, which can be painful should you ever come to rely on them.
So remember the golden rule – wear your black hat only as long as it takes to learn the ropes to play in Google’s ballpark, then don a suit and be prepared for a whole new ball game. Becoming a maverick in internet marketing is likely to leave you frustrated and disappointed, but it can be done. There is always room to carve a path with a different perspective, just remember to walk softly and carry a big stick along the way.