Dean's Flowers owner has thorny experience with Google AdWords
'It's unethical but it's certainly not illegal,' says search engine optimization company owner
The owner of a Halifax flower shop is warning consumers about the potential pitfalls of online shopping.
Like most businesses, Dean's Flowers has a website to help direct shoppers to their store and allow them to purchase arrangements online. However, when a potential customer does a Google search for the 97-year-old business, deansflowers.ns.ca is not the first result that pops up on the screen.
"When people do a Google search [for Dean's Flowers] a website that looks like it should be us and says it's locally owned and operated comes up so they place their order," said Holly Winchester, owner of Dean's Flowers, about flowershopping.com.
Winchester said she hears from customers who mistakenly do business with other sites after a bad experience, either with the quality of their order or paying in U.S. dollars for what they believe is a Canadian sale.
"When people are dissatisfied with the service [from these other companies] they call us to complain and they say I ordered a $100 flower arrangement and you charged me $135," said Winchester.
Google AdWords give some a leg up
The first three sites that pop up have purchased Google AdWords, a feature sold by Google that allows companies to purchase key search words, which give them prominence in Google searches.
That's the main reason Dean's Flowers is fourth on the list when customers try to find it online.
"If you scroll down the web page you might find us but people think when they see this website that they're on our site," said Winchester.
Peter Sickles, owner of Alphasearch, a search engine optimization company, told CBC News there is nothing illegal about what the other companies are doing.
"Essentially, these appear to be large companies, probably totally online, that don't actually exist here and are bidding on branded keywords for other flower sellers," he said.
He said within Google, there is nothing that prohibits you from bidding on any keywords but there are restrictions.
"You can't use those branded terms in your actual ad copy and you can't use them on your website, but it does not appear these companies are doing that," he said.
"They're just bidding on the keywords hoping to rank ahead of the actual flower shops and that can lead to confusion for consumers on which link actually goes to Dean's Flowers," he said.
"I think it's unethical but it's certainly not illegal," Sickles said, adding the only recourse companies like Dean's Flowers have is to put their own ads up there.
In an email to CBC News, a Google spokesperson said they want search results and online advertising to be helpful and trustworthy for everybody.
"We don't want users to feel misled by ads that we deliver, and that means being upfront, honest, and providing them with the information that they need to make informed decisions," the spokesperson said.
"We work to make paid and organic search results as relevant as possible and take feedback seriously."
The spokesperson pointed out that Dean's Flowers does appear prominently in the "knowledge panel" on the right.
Don't click too quickly!
Sickles advises people ordering online to be aware, pay attention and don't click too quickly.
"If you land on a website you've pretty well decided that it's what you're looking for in five or 10 seconds, so we all need to slow down a bit and take a little more time," he said.
Sickles said the internet is in many respects like the wild west.
"Internet marketing as an industry is very, very new so this is something that everybody is taking time to get used to," he said.
"I feel for companies like this."