If Google owned the YellowPages


Imagine if Google had owned the YellowPages.

It’s 1989 and I need to make it easy for people to find my company. I don’t have a big budget, but the YellowPages is one of my top priorities because it drives local customers to my store. You can’t just submit your business to be listed in Google’s YellowPages. Well, you can but nobody would ever see it buried next to the thousands of other listings that look just like it.

To really succeed you have to optimize your listing as an advertisement and make it noticeable. It’s the only real way aside from word of mouth for people to hear about your business.

Google’s YellowPages has a lot of guidelines for these advertisements. They need to be ‘natural.’ When you submit your advertisements, they can’t have fonts that exceed a certain size. They can’t contain certain language deemed to be low quality. They can’t be too similar to another ad. There’s a huge list of rules.

Last year, I made a mistake.

My ad designer used a big, bold 24 point font to make sure I stood out. It worked for a while but Google’s algorithm quickly ruled that it was in violation of one of their guidelines and when the newest edition of the YellowPages showed up on my doorstep I wasn’t listed at all.

Attached to my YellowPages book was a vague note saying that I violated Google’s YellowPages guidelines and that I wouldn’t be getting any more phone calls because my business was receiving a penalty.

No phone calls from my latest YellowPages ad was one thing, but Google went several steps further. I had a manual penalty which meant I wouldn’t be getting any phone calls from any listing. Ever.

I tried and tried to explain my error in judgement and asked Google why they didn’t just remove my listing or tell me to change the style of my ad. They told me to stop by their helpful support department and other business owners would be happy to help me figure out my problem. They told me I had no clue what I was doing and made fun of me.

Competitors of local business had even started buying ads that violated their YellowPages guidelines to sabotage one another.

The fate of my entire business rested in Google’s vague, algorithmic hands.

It’s scary when a company has an iron grip on a marketing channel but when a company has an iron grip on the way an entire world finds and interprets information it is downright terrifying.

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