Google Penalizes Local Businesses On City’s ’Shop Local’ Website
Google allegedly alters search results, hiding California city’s small business web initiative from searchers
Google, Inc., the search giant, whose Chairman, Eric Schmidt, stood before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 21st to address FTC concerns about anti-competitive behavior, faces criticism from a California community on its handling of an initiative to support local businesses.
ShopCity.com, which provides city governments, chambers of commerce and other local partners with turnkey ‘shop local’ programs, worked with the city of Corona, California, a city of 150,000 people located east of Los Angeles, to launch a web initiative called ’ShopCorona.com’ to encourage its residents to shop locally and support local businesses in January of 2010.
The City invested significant resources preparing ShopCorona.com for launch, populating the site with its official database of registered businesses and employing City staff to verify contact information collect email addresses and get every company in Corona setup with a login for their profile page.
The site provides local businesses with the ability to be found online, to open an online store, and conduct marketing activities through email, Facebook and Twitter.
“ShopCorona.com is a fantastic resource for local businesses and offers them all of the tools they need to succeed online, in a single easy-to-use system that is very cost effective” says ShopCorona.com community manager, Norbert Cichocki.
Cichocki continues, “we have had a great response from the local merchants, who recognize that they need to be more responsive to their customers online, but we keep facing the same question, that unfortunately, I cannot answer; ’Why don’t we show up on Google?’”
The site has struggled with a penalty Google imposed against it near the time of launch. The penalty, admitted by Google in a July 28th San Jose Mercury News article**, ensures that ShopCorona.com doesn’t come up in the search results where it normally would, instead placing it on pages 5, 6 or 7, where less than 1% of searchers visit.
For site supporters, including the city government, local businesses, local shoppers and business groups like the chamber of commerce, Google blocking searchers from reaching ShopCorona.com is both disappointing and puzzling.
“The Google penalty is both unwarranted and extremely harmful to the small businesses in our community who are actively using the site to reach new customers, but who aren’t being found in Google search results for no apparent reason. This is leading shoppers to patronize non-local businesses and internet-only sites like Amazon that do not support our community” wrote City of Corona Economic Development Manager, Judi Staats, in a September 21st letter to Larry Page, Google’s CEO.
“We have tried everything in our power to get Google to remove the penalty; following their standard procedures for having sites ’reconsidered’, asking for help on their forums, improving the quality and functionality of the sites - basically, everything the search experts have recommended to us - all to no avail” says ShopCity.com CEO, Colin Pape.
Pape continues, “It’s unbelievable that a site operated by a city government, with the highest quality local business database, an active marketing campaign and a professionally developed site, doesn’t meet Google’s quality guidelines.”
The City of Corona and ShopCity.com want the penalty removed so that local businesses can be found through Google on ShopCorona.com and the site can reach its full potential.
“ShopCorona.com is meant to demonstrate just what is possible when a forward-thinking, well-organized city government provides its community with an interactive ’shop local’ program using the ShopCity.com platform, but Google’s penalty against the site makes it very difficult to showcase just what the system is capable of. This has harmed our business tremendously, limiting our growth and our deployment into other communities” says Pape.
“In light of the antitrust hearing that is being conducted, we felt it was especially important to get the word out about Google’s treatment of ShopCorona.com and our company, as we are both competing in the ’local search’ space, and it certainly appears that they are leveraging their market dominance to prevent us from expanding our model” states Pape.
ShopCity.com is working with renowned anti-trust lawyer Gary Reback to protect the right of consumers to access ShopCity sites in various communities.
Pape says the company will continue to appeal to Google and plans to file a complaint with the FTC. Until the matter is resolved, they will use other channels including email marketing and Facebook to reach consumers.
ShopCity.com’s Community Commerce Platform powers 8,000 local marketplaces including ShopPaloAlto.com, ShopBuffalo.com, ShopCorona.com and ShopBirmingham.com, connecting local businesses and consumers in a way that strengthens the local economy. The company’s innovative exclusive partnership model enables media companies such as The Buffalo News (owned by Berkshire Hathaway) to provide local businesses with an online social commerce solution that is more effective than other alternatives such as Groupon and Yelp.
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