One of the great lessons I’ve had to learn over the years of doing business online is that of “standing in the stream”. In essence, what that means is that people are looking for stuff they want/need online…and they are going to search for it in whatever way makes the most sense to them. In the old-school model, you first needed to create a perception of need and then brand your product so that it was tied (in people’s minds) to your product as the solution. But, in the internet age, it’s backward…if you’ve got a product that meets a need, you find out what “they” (the peeps) are looking for already, and then you get out there and “stand in the stream” where they are already searching.

Since the Search Engines are the tool that most folks use to search, learning “where to stand” involves the study of keywords and keyphrases…and then using the content on your site, as well as the content of links coming into your site, to show the Search Engines that your site is the place where they should be to find their solution. Monitoring your position in the Search Engines allows you to see how well you’re placed within that stream…with the obvious goal being to be the first result on Page 1 of Google.

All this is fairly old news to internet marketing types. Also old news, but with new relevance, is that Google’s terms of service forbids the use of automated rank-checking tools. I didn’t know anything about this until a couple weeks ago…when I was BANNED by Google for using Aaron Wall’s delightful little Rank Checker tool (a Firefox plugin). And, yes….I’m aware that part of the key is to delay time between searches in order to emulate human searching. The simple fact is…Google has clamped down HARD on these tools…so they are no longer working well…or in some cases, working at all.

So, hey, you ask…what does it look like when you get banned by Google? Well, it’s bascially just a CAPTCHA screen that stands between you and Google’s search results pages. And it informs you that it looks like “your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application” and that you need to confirm that you’re human to continue using their service. However, the CAPTCHA is not always very readable by human eyes, in which case, you’re screwed. And, when things get really bad, you don’t even get the CAPTCHA…you’re just out of luck until you’re reinstated (I’ve only seen that one time). There’s no appeal process…no nothing.

Now, the interesting this is…once I discovered the problem…I completely stopped using automated rank checkers for about a week. Google apparently prefers that you use a standard browser to do ranking searches. OK…it’s a HUGE waste of time, but I can do that. So I switched my browser preferences to display 100 results at a time, and started using Firefox’s Find feature to search for my site rankings by hands. Guess what? I still keep getting banned. Now, that’s just WRONG. All I can assume is that my name/IP has been added to some sort of Rank-Checking Terrorist Watchlist somewhere.

But the larger question is this: If Google is going to go to all this trouble to shut down a normal webmaster function, WHY IN THE WORLD wouldn’t they provide a legitimate option for acquiring this ALREADY-PUBLICLY-AVAILABLE information? Isn’t this the same stupid logic that has earned the RIAA the reputation of “world’s worst business model”? Why don’t they Just MONETIZE it and offer it as a feature? It could be a premium add-on for Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools. Charge me $15-20 a month to monitor, say, 300 keywords across 50 web sites. Update them 3 times a day (if they can’t always be completely accurate up-to-the-minute…just trying to protect their server resources) and then everybody is happy, right?

Of course, I’m sure they have some defense about “potential for abuse”…since that seems to be their favorite excuse for everything they don’t do well or don’t want to deal with. But, really…this seems like a lost opportunity for additional income for them…and it’s really starting to get under my skin. BOTTOM LINE: When people WANT to comply with your policies as you’ve requested, but you provide no good options for doing so….something is wrong with your business model.