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When Marketing Runs Ahead of Ethics

Update (10/10/2007)

I received a call from the owner of Catholic Company today apologizing for the things I mentioned in this post. They had outsourced some of their marketing to someone who turned out to not be ideal. Thumbs up to them for taking care of the problem.

Update: I just checked the company's blogs and Google search terms and all of the things I have screen shots of below have been removed from the blogs and they no longer appear to be poaching on our company name. While I appreciate that they were removed, why did it have to be brought to public attention at all? Why would decisions like this have been made in the first place?

As you were:

Let me preface this post by saying that the company I am writing about is a direct competitor of ours and a darn strong one at that. I have never posted about them before because I am all for honest competition. It makes the competitors stronger. However, a couple of recent events have prompted me to write this post because I believe that the illustration of what happens when the desire for profit runs ahead of ethical considerations is instructive to all Catholic business owners. There are plenty of companies out there that will help you get your site publicized. There are many who will do it ethically. There are many who will not. You always have to ask very careful questions about what exactly a company is going to do to "help" you before you buy into their promises.

The company I am writing about is The Catholic Company. I hope that whoever bought the domain name for them was given a very large bonus. They have acquired several Catholic domains and companies over the years which all feed off of their product database. Not a problem. We have a storefront program for other Catholic stores that lets them have their own domain using our content. They also have several product blogs that feature products from their sites. Also not a problem. This blog is an official company blog and we post our newsletters and link to products all the time. The difference between what we do and what they do is that we are up front about it.

Consider this image taken from the official blog of the Catholic Company:

catholiccompanyoops.gif

The author of this post talks about how he just "came across" the website for Catholic Overstock. The only problem is that Catholic Overstock is owned by The Catholic Company. So, he didn't just "come across" it, he is just promoting his own company but acting like this is just some random company he stumbled across.

A couple of other examples from the "official?" blog for Catholic Overstock.

catholiccompanyoops3.gif

If you were writing a blog about your own company, would you write blog posts that sound like they are written by someone who just found your site on the web? Now it is pretty clear in spite of the blog providing no information about itself or the authors that it is just a link farm for Catholic Overstock. While we could certainly discuss the merits of using a blog with no real substance as a tool to boost Google rankings, the real issue is that these posts are written with the appearance of being from an interested third party instead of as marketing by the company.

A little bit of digging shows that the various Catholic Company blogs are powered by a company called Triangle Direct. Triangle Direct does various things including blog hosting, blog post writing and syndication and link building. The problem with companies like this is that they "link build" by paying bloggers to put links into articles or blog rolls or they create a series of "blogs" that are really only in existence to provide link real estate. They also put your links onto a series of blogs much as the link directories and link farms do - there really isn't a consideration about quality. It's about money. If you can find the various blogs owned by Catholic Company, you will notice that Catholic Company doesn't link to the blogs, only the blogs link to Catholic Company. This makes it appear that these blogs are independent of Catholic Company and its various sites in order to boost the perceived importance of Catholic Company to the search engines. It is possible that these blogs are being written by Triangle Direct and not directly by Catholic Company employees but that certainly shows a lack of oversite that needs to be corrected.

Another thing that Catholic Company is doing is hosting various domain names with the exact same content with different ip ranges. Huh? What this means is that to the search engines, it can appear that these duplicate sites are really unique domains which can lead to the same pages showing up more times in search results. For example, Catholic Company is located at 72.32.13.233. Catholic Books and Gifts is located at 66.150.161.141. Catholic Family Gifts is located at 69.20.102.17. Normally, all the numbers would be very similar to each other because you usually host identical content with the same host. It is possible that they are doing this as a backup in case their main hosting company goes down but since they all use the same database, it seems a little strange.

Finally, Catholic Company is buying ads on Google that pop up when people do a search for "aquinas and more". Yes, they own Get Fed too so they are really buying double placement when searches are done for our company name.

catholiccompanyoops2.gif

Now, I don't have a problem with competing on keyword ads for products like rosaries, but when a company is trying to poach on customers who are looking specifically for you, you could call it rude or you could call it unethical. Imagine that you call 411 to get directions to a specific restaurant but that the restaurant's competitor has paid Information to give directions to his restaurant instead. Would that bother you?

As a Catholic business you have to hold yourself to a higher standard than other companies. What may be legal is frequently not ethical and you always have to ask yourself if what you are doing is ethical. The things I mentioned above are all legal but they all bring into question the ethics of the company pursuing these marketing tactics. Don't let your desire for profits get ahead of your ethical considerations. It may increase your profits but it won't be good for you in the long run.

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  1. [...] Marketing Runs Ahead of Ethics II In the previous post on this topic I mentioned that Catholic Company had removed all of the questionable posts and stopped poaching on [...]

  2. [...] the previous post on this topic I mentioned that Catholic Company had removed all of the questionable posts and stopped poaching on [...]

  3. [...] How Not to Write a Press Release I recently stumbled across a press release that I assume was written by a Catholic company promoting its new products. While I commend the publisher for actually having enough business sense to make use of press releases, the manner in which this was accomplished veered into that murky area of ethics that I have commented on before. [...]

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