Boston.com’s Bad Behavior
When I first launched Boston Mamas in July 2006, as far as I could tell (or as far as Google could tell me), I was the only kid on this particular niche block. That has changed in the last couple of years, however, with a number of national-with-niche-offshoot sites cropping up, as well as Boston.com’s BoMoms launch in May 2008.
I’ll be honest, when I first learned about BoMoms last spring I took it personally. Actually, when I saw the teaser on Boston.com, the tagline was so similar to my own that I thought they were covering me. (I’ve always thought the Harvard/MIT music and brain scientist turned blogger/designer story was an interesting one…) Then I learned that the editor – Alexandra Hall – actually is someone I knew very well in college. We spent many long, somewhat delirious hours editing the college newspaper together.
But I soon put things into perspective; it wasn’t personal. All of the major newspapers are hungry for eyeballs and have finally realized how powerful the online mom space is and are trying to stake a claim. So I wrote a very high road, “Welcome to the web and allow me to introduce you to my site…perhaps we can find a way to work together” type letter and sent it to the editors of The Boston Globe, Boston.com, and BoMoms. The Globe and Boston.com editors never responded, but Alex wrote back immediately and we followed with a really lovely in-person meeting; it was great to reconnect as friends, and as colleagues, we both were excited about developing some kind of synergy between the two sites.
All of that cheery personal development made Wednesday’s discovery even more challenging. I have no idea how long this has been going on, but apparently, whoever is behind online marketing at Boston.com set up a Google Adwords campaign such that if a user types “bostonmamas.com” into the search engine, the top sponsored ad that results is for BoMoms. Meaning, they created a campaign to intentionally and duplicitously advertise themselves as “Bostonmamas.com” (click here or on the thumbnail above for the full screen shot, taken February 18, 2009 - note the sponsored link in the pale yellow top position and the actual Boston Mamas link as the first real search engine return). You’ll get similar sponsored returns if you type keywords such as “boston mamas” - which I accept as technically fair game - but the point here is that this marketing campaign demonstrates clear intention to direct people looking for my specific domain name to their site.
I emailed Alex shortly after I was alerted to this matter. I haven't heard from her because she is out of the office this week, but I can’t imagine that she was involved in this bad behavior (aside from our personal connection, she is neck deep in many other projects, and is the mom of two little ones). But what bothers me immensely - and thus has moved me to write publicly on the topic – is the fact that Boston’s primary news source employed a sleazy marketing technique that my PR friends have informed me is the type of strategy that clients (semi) jokingly discuss, but wouldn’t dream of actually engaging.
In this challenging time for newspapers, this behavior feels like a step in a truly ill conceived direction. It is misleading for readers, and what I feel very deeply – particularly now as a writer, editor, and artist myself – is that the action is demeaning to the staffers and freelancers who pour their hearts into the creative content of Boston.com.
Finally, to me this incident represents a sad example of a major organization trying to take advantage - and ride the humble wake – of an independent blog such as Boston Mamas. I work extremely hard on the design and editorial of this site and suppose that on some level, I should be flattered by this behavior, and the fact that many people think there’s a formal, expansive staff behind this operation. The reality, however, is that Boston Mamas is run on a shoestring by yours truly, off my laboring personal laptop.
I hope that whoever is behind Google ad buying at Boston.com does the right thing and stops advertising BoMoms as Bostonmamas.com, and also ceases any other deceitful marketing ploys similar to this that impact other websites and businesses. Meanwhile, I would be grateful to hear your thoughts. Am I overreacting, or does this behavior in fact seem absurd and integrity-eroding for a major news outlet?
For time-stamped updates regarding this situation please scroll below the post and see BOLDED comments.
Click here for a follow up post (February 23, 2009).