The Cutting Edge

The official blog of Knife Depot

Why Does Google Lust for Amazon and Loathe Knife Depot?

Imagine if the most powerful Internet company — one that handles 100 billion searches for information a month — prohibited everyone except for the world’s largest e-commerce store to advertise for a specific product. What would that look like? It would look like this.


Above is a screenshot for the search term “throwing knives,” one of our most popular categories at Knife Depot.

We used to to run Google AdWords for throwing knives, but in May, Google turned off all ads for the search term “throwing knives” after they designated it a weapon. Obviously, we disagreed with such a characterization, but weren’t surprised, as in March Google had prohibited all ads for “Assisted Opening Knives” and canceled our entire AdWords account because we sold completely legal spring-assisted knives.

We were eventually reinstated on AdWords, but now for the second time Google has banned our ads for specific products, while Amazon continues to advertise for those products. And it doesn’t end with throwing knives either. Who’s currently running ads for the term “assisted- opening knives?”


Yeah, you guessed, Amazon is in the house, joined by Walmart and Cabella’s. It’s a mega-brand menage-a-trois, with poor Knife Depot relegated to the sideline.

If you looked a year ago, there would have been probably close to a dozen sites advertising for this term. Now, it seems that Google has managed to successfully eliminate all advertisers except for their big-spending compadres.

Why does Google Apply Its Adwords Policy Unfairly?

That’s a fantastic question and one that your pals at Knife Depot have asked ad nauseum to AdWords support staff over the last year. Over hundreds of emails, Google has rarely countered our claims that they are favoring big brands. In fact, in one email this spring a customer service representative affirmed our point:

“I am still waiting on an answer to my reply where I asked for a universal enforcement of the policy OR we allow knife depot back online. I replied and said, I refuse to tell knife-depot they need to remove a product category that 7 other competitors are advertising & selling the same products. I then named each domain, called out the double standard, and requested that they state the clear differences that allows these competitors to serve & knife depot to be suspended. Still waiting on this reply.“

Google’s AdWords support staff is an intractable bureaucracy that makes decisions based on policy edicts that they seemingly have no power to influence or change. Clearly, one huge element of that policy is to never take down ads or suspend the accounts of big-spending AdWords partners.It happens in organic search, too

Google’s relationship with mega brands — specifically Amazon — are well documented and were even investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in 2010. Many web marketing professionals say that Google’s organic algorithm is tilted toward large brands as well. Aaron Wall, of the site SEObook.com, has pounded away at this issue and put together this great infographic chronicling the rise of brand importance to Google over the years.

At Knife Depot, we’ve experienced Google’s small-business crushing desire to elevate Amazon to the top of search engines on our organic results as well. For close to two years, we’ve held the number one position for the search term “throwing knives.” Yet, just this week, a single Amazon product page overtook our entire category page.

We never expected to hold that spot forever, but we at least hoped that it would be sites that specialized in knives that would overtake us.

The bottom line is that by providing advantages in both organic and paid search to big brands like Amazon, Google is exacerbating an already uneven playing field. Companies like Knife Depot, a 10-person outfit based out of Prairieville, Louisiana, are literally having their business sliced away.

We sell knives; that’s our livelihood. Meanwhile, the massive brands, who sell anything under the sun to make a buck, routinely skirt Google’s regulations. And it’s not just in the realm of knives. If reading this blog post makes you despondent and feel the need to get high, don’t worry, Ebay has your back. They’re apparently the only company allowed to run ads for “herbal incense,” an intoxicant that mimics the effects of marijuana and is banned across much of a country. Go figure, huh.

What can you do to stop the mega-brand advantage?

If you think Google’s preferential treatment of mega brands is unfair, then sign Knife Depot’s petition at Change.Org to demand a merit-based search algorithm that doesn’t favor big bands.  Let’s ensure the Internet is a place where businesses of all size can compete fairly.

8 Comments

  1. Man, that’s the stupidest thing ever. Most throwing knives don’t even have an edge on them (intentionally), so it sucks to categorize them as weapons, but then to allow one company to advertise while all others are banned…that’s total BS. Google needs to get their crap together.

    • Our Google merchant account was suspended this morning.

      Google’s email says:

      “In particular your Merchant Center account ID (xxxxxxx) is in violation of the following policies:

      WEAPONS

      Google Shopping doesn’t allow the promotion of weapons or devices designed to cause serious harm or injury. The promotion of weapons includes guns, gun parts or hardware, ammunition, bombs, knives, throwing stars, and brass knuckles.”

      They also violated their own restriction policy by suspending our account without warning. Their own policy states we are to get 3 warnings on the issue. This came out of the blue.

  2. Daniel, awesome post.

    The big brand advantage is money. And no matter how you slice it, money makes PPC ads work. Amazon has a lot of money, small businesses don’t. So the obvious conclusion is that Google makes more money out of Amazon and so is willing to let a lot of their bad stuff slide. It’s either that or risk losing them (as if – where else are they going to advertise?! :D).

    That’s beyond unfair and makes the motto “don’t do evil” sound like a cackling witch. SEO has been hurt too? Damn – were there any penalties or warnings? Time to kick up a social media stink and keep digging for a response – injustice hurts.

  3. Daniel, I’ve personally noticed the increase of the “major brands” dominating the organic search results for a lot of different things, just like what has happened to your results. I understand Google’s desire to push back against all of the spam sites out there, but it seems like it’s moving way beyond that.

    Also, thanks for the info graphic link about the rise of Google’s relationship with brands. Definitely a must read for anybody running ads with the search engine. It definitely seems like it’s getting harder and harder to play on the Google playing field.

    Great article, I’ll definitely be studying this topic and I’ll help fight the battle against unfair practices by Google. Thanks!

  4. As much as I hate to say it, organic Google search results are pretty much free advertising. As such, Google is pretty hard to boycott or walk away from. There really is no recourse except to try to stay one step ahead. The problem with Amazon is that Google really, really likes them. They have a tremendous amount of trust in Google’s eyes, due to the fact that they are so well regarded by so many. As such, the little guys tend to get pushed aside, even if they are more relevant. A shame, but there are ways to work around it to some degree.

  5. If it’s any consolation, we at Knives Town have experienced the very same treatment. Suspended multiple times, we most recently were required to rename “Combat Knives” and “Military Knives” to “Tactical Knives” in order to continue being listed. Mind you, the exact same knives are still for sale, they just had to be renamed. As you have stated, this rule does not apply to Amazon, Wal-Mart, Cabelas or the like. My guess is that when a search term is only available to the deep pocketed few, its value rises and a campaign on that word is then more profitable for Google. Also, if the number of keywords that will ultimately pathway to a knife are reduced, then those remaining words again are more valuable. It’s not about ethics, its about $$.

  6. You should contacting your State Attorney General, the US Department of Justice and the Interstate Commerce Commission to complain about unfair trade practices. that could get their attention quickly.

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