"Google® Sells Data. Period."
This statement can't be emphasized enough, and it has vital implications for your business. In particular, it tells you what you should not do – and we are perfectly aware that this statement flies directly in the face of what has lately become "conventional wisdom." We intended that.
Google® ... Sells ... Data. ... ... Period.
And it's not just Google. Today, more than 4,500 companies are in the business of gathering and selling data – about your business, and about you. Their methods are insidious, and yet, so far, miraculously unchallenged. Their data is perceived to be more priceless than gold, and the fact that they collect it is – in the present, but dwindling, innocent moment – assumed to be "risk-free" and without social consequence.
When you "tag your friend" on Facebook®, you feed a global facial-recognition database which has been demonstrated to be able to identify nearly everyone in a crowd in Times Square in real time and to tell you things about them as they are walking down the street. Then they further analyze the picture looking for trademarked products that might be in the background: wear a North Face® jacket in a picture taken and posted by your friend, and you just might get a coupon from North Face tomorrow.
Google provides a free e-mail hosting service, really, for just one reason: so that it can read, and sell, what those e-mails say. Facebook and Twitter® provide convenient instant messaging so they can eavesdrop. Many of them provide a search service, not particularly "to help you find things that you're searching for," but rather so they can analyze, and sell, knowledge of what you're searching for.
Several companies now put "personal assistant" devices in your home so that they can analyze every word that is spoken in the privacy (sic) of your own home – whether or not you say, "Hey, Google." (Or, "Siri®" or "Alexa®" or what-have-you.) Your phone could be listening to you, too. So might your car, or (I kid you not ...) your refrigerator, microwave oven, or automatic vacuum cleaner. Yes, all of these things have been found to be eavesdropping in one way or another.
This brand-new "Internet of Things" has quite literally become an "Internet of Spies."
All of these companies are taking full advantage of the fact that no uniform system of laws or international treaties exist – yet! – which would prohibit or regulate these insidious activities, and they're lobbying very hard to keep such laws from being passed. "The handwriting is now on the wall," however. The title that the highly-respected security expert Bruce Schneier chose for his latest book is telling, and it isn't a joke: Click Here to Kill Everybody.
Meanwhile, these companies continue to work very hard to persuade you to play right into their hands, and to want to do so, because you suppose that you're doing something that is both harmless and of benefit to yourself.
Data Brokers Want To Persuade You – And To Do That, They Mislead You.
You've got something that these data brokers want – data. And they have a simple way to get it: they want to persuade you to give it to them, free of charge and in an easily-digestible form. Whether your business is a donut shop or a crematory, schema.org spells-out the things that these companies want you to tell them, and that list goes on forever.
(Notice, also, that the site proclaims to tell you how many sites have already furnished this data – millions of them, they say. This is intended to make you feel comfortable; part of a crowd. "If everyone else is doing it, it must be a good thing, right?")
Data brokers have used repetition branding techniques to establish and legitimize terms such as SEO – now down-playing its original meaning as an acronym for "search-engine optimization." They strived to make it a legitimate profession, with bundles of "three-letter acronyms" that you can attach to your name if you pay for the right "certification." (After all, they want their salespeople to be earnest, and to do what they do because they, too, believe that what they're doing benefits them.)
But, in the end, and from whatever angle you approach it, it all comes down to the same thing: "give us your data, because you want to, and we shall reward you." Perhaps they pay you money outright. More likely, they reward you with the promise that your precious web-site will appear at-or-near the top of Google's "organic" keyword-search results.
And, mirabile dictu(!), they appear to do just that! But – they deceive.
"Organic Search" is Useless – So Why Does It Appear To Be Working For Me?
Grab your pocket calculator – if you still own one – and let's do a little math, shall we? They say that there are about 4.6 billion (that's with a "b") indexed web-pages out there today (September 2018), and an unknown number of additional ones that haven't made it into any index yet. Meanwhile, if you conduct a keyword search for, say, "spark plugs," Google says today that it found about 109.1 million (that's with an "m") hits. (Although this is impossible to verify – their list peters-out into gibberish after about 75 entries – it's still a very big number.)
Therefore, if you sell spark plugs, your pocket calculator will tell you that your odds of appearing on anybody's search list –at all – ought to be only about twice as good as winning the Powerball® lottery. And if you sell, say, flour, your odds ought to be considerably worse.
"Ought to be. Ought to be. Ought to be ..."
So, why does your spark plug company magically appear on or near the first page? It's simple – Google owns the casino.
- Casinos aren't paid-for by winners ...
Google knows who you are, and (approximately, or perhaps exactly) where you are, and that you've given them the data that they asked for, and that now you're searching "to see if it paid off." Of course, "therefore, it does!" Pavlov was right: ring the bell, watch them drool. For Google, or any other data broker, it's as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
Or perhaps, even easier. People love to see statistics, and they're conditioned to assume that the figures which they see are accurate and unbiased. Data brokers will fill your web-browser with pages of comforting statistics which tell you that you're doing just the right thing. Magically, they're also telling your competitor – who also sells spark plugs – that he's doing the right thing, too. Since the two of you aren't in the same room looking over one another's shoulders, you simply don't realize that both of you "are at or near the top of the list." You innocently assume that it must be the same list.
"Surprise. Surprise. Surprise." Click. Bang. Dead fish, fresh bullet-hole in the barrel.
In classic style, both of you are being manipulated to feel rewarded for giving faceless companies information that they truly have no business knowing. You're persuaded to install "click tracker" HTML into your web-site so that other companies can know how often your web site is being visited and, most importantly to them, from where and by whom and for what reason. As payback, they furnish you with pretty graphs and pages of statistics ... legitimate or not ... that you could have privately collected entirely by yourself and kept to yourself.
Maybe they toss you a little bit of pocket change.
And so it is that many web sites these days seem to spend more time sending telemetry to other companies than they do furnishing content to the people who actually visit. They host so many of other people's advertisements that your ad-blocker is asking for overtime pay. Why do they do it? Because someone persuaded the owners that this was "the right thing to do," and/or promised to pay them a pittance of money.
P.S.: Now, take a look at our HTML. We don't.
Our Advice #1: "Don't Host Any Advertisements, Not Even Your Own."
Internet advertisements are dangerous because they consist of both images and programming. A visitor to your web site is now running software that neither he nor you have any control over. In addition to being profoundly annoying and time-wasting, advertisements are a fast and very efficient way to distribute malware.
Furthermore – "having worked so hard to get the visitor to come to your site, why on earth do you now want him to see a hyperlink that might now take him someplace else?" Especially if you have no idea where it goes?!
You shouldn't even post your own advertising on your site. Once a customer has arrived at your place of business, virtual or otherwise, he has no further need for advertisements to tell him how wonderful your company is.
P.S.: You might have noticed that this web site is "100% advertisement free."
Our Advice #2: "Don't Talk to Strangers, Even When They Talk To You."
We advise you to be quite circumspect concerning details about your business – and your personal life. Don't give information away unless you know to whom it is being furnished, exactly what is being furnished, and the true purpose why this is being done.
- The mere fact that well-known companies are holding their hands out, asking you for information, doesn't mean that you should fill those hands – even if they have engaged "professionals" to insist that you should.
You also should be circumspect about any data that you gather. If you have a legitimate business need to gather it, fully disclose this. Safeguard this information profoundly, even if it doesn't contain a credit-card number and whether or not there's a law demanding it. Never furnish or sell any information that you have gathered to anyone else, even in summary form. Strict laws are coming, and you may as well be on the right side now. (Plus, "it's the right thing to do.")
Good Business is Still Done "The Old-Fashioned Way."
Customers engage with your business, and keep coming back, because you establish and maintain a quality business relationship with them, just as you did back in the good ol' days. They discover you – not by doing a blind keyword search – by using some kind of domain-specific index, such as the Yellow Pages® or a domain-specific website/app such as OpenTable® or Yelp® or something specific to your industry. Perhaps they discover your advertisements or an article written by you in a trade publication. This ordinarily leads them to your web-site, where the initial contact begins to turn into a new customer: a new customer who has already started to learn about the company with whom he will be dealing (and so far it hasn't cost you a cent). Or maybe he picks up the phone because he wants to talk right away to a real human being.
Remember: when you willingly give up data, you also give up control over how the data is used, and you lose its benefits. A potential customer who wants to see your entire product catalog – complete with wholesale(!) and retail prices – should have to engage with you first. He shouldn't be learning everything that there is to know about you, if you have no opportunity to learn anything about him or to begin the sales process. If your product lines are specialized, as most company's product lines are, such a "data dump" is comparatively useless anyway. And if your products come off a slow boat from China and are therefore identical with everyone else who shopped from the same boat, why should you enable a search-engine to anonymously direct customers to the company that's currently offering the lowest price for that effectively-commodity item?
Data is very valuable, so every use that you choose to make of it should be purposeful. Don't give the stuff away. Don't even sell it.