Search engine piggybacking

The Wall Street Journal reports on an internet phenomenon named “piggybacking” whereby “smaller advertisers use major players’ brand names, slogans or other trademarked words in the text of search ads to lure Web surfers to their own sites”. The practice has, quite rightly, attracted the ire of big players in a number of industries including the hospitality industry.

The Journal article notes that “Tensions over piggybacking have been simmering for a couple of years. Companies such as Marriott International Inc., InterContinental Hotels Group PLC, AMR Corp.’s American Airlines and Northwest Airlines Corp. say the use of their names and slogans in the text of other companies’ search ads confuses potential customers and increases their cost of doing business. They are particularly upset with Google, which is the dominant player in the search business. It controlled 71.2% of the search market last year, according to research firm eMarketer Inc. While Google and other search engines have policies against this maneuver, some marketers say the practice often goes unchecked”.

As an example of the practice the article notes that “a recent Google search using the words “Marriott Atlanta,” for instance, brought up an advertiser-paid link labeled “Marriott Atlanta.” That led to, a discount hotel-reservations site. But a link on the site for a Marriott hotel room in Atlanta ultimately led to an error page. Marriott says the site isn’t authorized to use the Marriott name in its online text”. Intercontinental hotels had a similar complaint as “a recent Google search with the words “Holiday Inn Orlando” brought up a sponsored link labeled “Holiday Inn Orlando.” It led to, an online travel comparison-shopping site”. At an even more malevolent level online criminals increasingly favor compromising legitimate sites with malicious code known as iframe code which redirect visitors to malicious Web sites.

For now Google says its system “works” and that they are “trying to balance advertisers and trademark owners and user interests”. Google can and must do better.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

One thought on “Search engine piggybacking”

  1. While I agree that Google must do better, I don’t think the article did a good job representing the actual problem.
    Google only enforces trademarks that they have been asked to enforce. I would guess that the ‘Holiday Inn’ hasn’t made that request.
    We consider the real issue to be the use of similar terms and trademarks in URLs. For a great example involving Macy’s go here:

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