Google’s Counterfeit Problem

It has been well documented that Amazon has a problem with counterfeit product being sold on its marketplace. eBay had a similar problem back in 2002–2006. When I was working at eBay, there were several lawsuits of large brands trying to keep luxury goods off the eBay marketplace. Eventually, eBay set up the VERO program, Verified Rights Owners, to clean up the fraudulent sellers from the market and protect consumers.

Amazon’s counterfeit problem doesn’t even come close to some of the problems I have seen lately in Google’s SERPs. Working in licensed sport merchandise at Fanatics, means we play wack-a-mole everyday to make sure our potential customers are not getting a cheap fake NFL jersey knock-off.

Just check on a query like Cheap NFL Jersey; just two legitimate vendors of authentic gear on the first page, where you would expect the official NFL shop to rank top of the page. One counterfeit site even managed to get a featured snippet on position zero:

Google SERP for cheap NFL jersey full with counterfeit

Two of the ranking sites have already been taken down, but the domains still rank in Google:

There could be countless customers who were defrauded and received counterfeit products, or nothing at all.

For years, Google has always used the mantra: “Best for Users” with every tweak they made to their algorithm. Their corporate motto, don’t do evil, has disappeared from their website ever since the quarterly revenue numbers were getting bigger and bigger.

The above screenshot of a Google SERP full with counterfeit sites doesn’t have any ads, but the one below, with no legitimate websites selling official licensed NFL merchandise, does have ads at the top and bottom. Only legitimate sites appear in the ads, which makes you think why Google is able to keep the ad platform clean of counterfeit sellers, but not the organic search results. It’s almost like it’s on purpose to generate more clicks on advertisements, but that is just my thin-foil-hat speaking;

Policing counterfeit product sites is a hard problem to solve, as so many of the domains are being hosted in foreign countries with little or no official way for rights owners to take action. However, Google has hundreds of PHDs working in Mountain View and around the world to work on hard problems. Maybe this problem doesn’t make the cut of the priority list!

You can see from the above screenshots that Google has taken action against a website which was reported as infringing on trademarks of the NFL, read the full complaint. The problem of only acting on an official complaint, is that it takes too long. The counterfeit seller can spin up a new site faster than any site is taken down, hence my reference to wack-a-mole.

It would be much better if Google would take proactive action towards the danger of counterfeit sites polluting the SERPs and defrauding customers. It’s in the best interest of the users to keep these counterfeit sellers out of the search results, so why not white list the official sellers of licensed NFL jerseys, and give these sites top rankings.

Because who do you think a customers getting a cheap knock-off from China will blame? They found the site on Google no less…

Disclaimer: off course, I have a vested interest in taking these counterfeit websites out of Google, but let’s be clear, no user wants to spend their hard earned cash on a cheap fake NFL jersey.