Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Topix to Google: "You Could've Given Us Help, But You've Given Us So Much More"

That quote - you could've given us help, but you've given us so much more - actually comes from the mouth of Bill Murray's character in Quick Change (one of the all-time underrated comedies) to a magnificently and contentedly unhelpful New York City taxi driver.

It could easily however have come from Topix CEO Rich Skrenta to the monolith that is Google. A Wall Street Journal piece details Skrenta's and Topix' frustration with Google over the company's change from a .net domain to the more popular .com. That change, on top of costing Topix $1 million in acquisition fees, may end up costing a lot more due to lost search engine traffic, the lion's share of which stems from Google.

It's painfully hilarious that the CEO of Topix, a pretty large and well known web company that reportedly receives 10 million visitors a month, received the following advice at a time when it could potentially lose millions of search-based visits: "…an email recommending that, if the switchover were to go badly, the company should post a message on an online user-support forum; a Google engineer might come along to help out."

Skrenta very rightly responded with, "'This can't be the process…You're cast into this amusing, Kafkaesque world to run your business.'"

A host of web publishers shares Skrenta's pain. Breaking through the layer of automated responses when attempting to contact Google is a Tolkien-esque quest that many have attempted and few have succeeded at. Because Google so tightly guards the nature of its search algorithm and system of "page ranking" web pages, it very rarely will dole out specific information about why a particular website moves up or down its search rankings.

Small variations in page rank can have an enormous effect on placement in Google's search rankings and effectively cause thousands or even millions of visitors to show up at a website. Or, in the case of the new Topix.com, potentially not.

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