Can your leaders be sued for ignoring Google’s impact on your business?

Trond Lyngbø
Aug 27, 2017 · 12 min read

To use a military aphorism, the best general to win a war isn’t the one with the biggest army, the latest weaponry, or a vast budget — but the one who clearly understands the battlefield.

Without knowledge of the terrain and dynamics, a commander cannot deploy assets effectively and defeat an enemy. Business in a sense, is like war — with companies striving hard to defeat their competitors and win market share.

So, what should a leader be able to see today?

The most important thing is to understand how deeply and intimately online search influences buyer behavior. In a Google-driven world, almost every customer journey begins with an online search.

If you don’t see how your company’s search rankings and positioning

  • affects your customers,
  • impacts their decision-making, and
  • influences their buying journey

then you’ll soon be in deep trouble — because business critical goals and financial results depend on gaining and keeping a share of your market.

Unless you understand current marketplace dynamics, you won´t get the backing, budget and support you need to get things done effectively.

No longer can budget allocation be based on

  • gut feeling, or
  • how much you’ve paid in the past, or
  • what some “guru” raved about at a recent conference, or
  • a blog post by someone without real expert knowledge and/or experience, or
  • advice that’s too general to really matter in your case

It has to be rational, evidence-based, and backed by data. Otherwise, employees in your organization will feel like they’re fighting against resistance, figuratively banging their heads against the wall in frustration, and lose enthusiasm, interest and motivation.

Or, as I often see happening, they’ll just follow their leaders — and lower their own ambitions, adapt any idea that’s good enough to check off a few items on a checklist, and stop trying to reach their full potential.

What they should do, instead?

Business leaders should

  • try to tap into their full potential by changing their mindset
  • get into “knowledge-acquiring” learning mode
  • be driven by data
  • obsessively determine if investments will work before even spending money
  • direct budgets to areas where it will best impact key KPIs
  • plan strategies to optimize business value in every respect

Sadly, sometimes, the entire leadership adopts a mindset that it’s only the outcome which matters, and that details are bad for productivity. But the reason why analysis and insight isn’t actually moving them forward is because nothing is actually implemented!

The entire dysfunctional team now agrees that it’s a waste to spend time on comprehensive, time-consuming analysis and strategic action. It’s more appealing to these short-sighted folks to get cracking right away and do something fast.

So they blindly, unthinkingly, continue to add budgets to offline marketing — since no one has yet been able to prove that this is wrong!

It also helps them escape the need to

  • Figure out this whole “online marketing and SEO” thing, which (they believe) is time consuming, costly work.
  • Stay on top of changes, understand local SEO, optimize for Google´s 2017 version of matching customers with local shops closest to where they are.
  • Work beyond their own website and technology — and understand that SEO is no longer only about what’s published on your domain.

This behavior is self-destructive. It sabotages potential for long-term success. But “ignorance is bliss”… and so they continue to happily muddle along.

All of this can be transformed easily

And almost instantly.

  • Content producers can be made to follow instructions they are given, and do all that they are asked for — perfectly.
  • The overall business strategy can be supported in all ways possible.
  • The CRM team can implement exactly what they are expected to, and invite only satisfied buyers to leave reviews.
  • Happy customers will recommend you for free — without even being asked to.
  • Other people will look at the business as a safe place with impressive expertise, products and services that they trust.
  • And more people will start spending more money with you.

This can happen without anyone even realizing that these changes are being made. It doesn’t have to take more time, more effort or more expense.

Things just have to be done differently.

So why are so many business leaders reluctant to get started?

At first, the reasons given for not doing things for maximum efficiency and profitability sound convincing, intelligent, even correct. And when effectively communicated by a person in a leadership role, it can even influence decisions and choices — although the person clearly doesn’t even know the meaning of the buzz words and industry terms, technologies or opportunities, risks, weaknesses or details.

So, should someone in a business leadership position, or sitting on your board,

  • who doesn’t bother to understand how these things work in the real world,
  • who can’t appreciate the growth potential inherent in it,
  • who squanders learning opportunities and
  • who misses ways to profitably invest marketing budgets

… should such a person be allowed to risk the company’s future — just because of that individual’s need or desire to be accepted and acknowledged as a “smart person”?

When a board member doesn’t know things s/he is supposed to, but tries to compensate for the lack of knowledge with bluff and bluster, it’s sometimes difficult to catch them out before it’s too late.

A new strategy is deployed. Three years have come and gone. This leader (or group of them) gloss over the fact that the company has underperformed for the entire time, wasting millions and losing market share.

And all of this happened because they managed to convince themselves — and then, those in leadership positions who had to be convinced — that they should look forward and be positive, realistic and constructive… and jump right on to their exciting new business plan or marketing strategy which was going to disrupt everything and improve it out of all proportion!

But it didn’t.

Since those higher up in the hierarchy — and especially board members — have neither the knowledge and information they need, nor the details that show them the real picture of what’s been going on for years, they smilingly agree… setting the stage for an organization’s decline.

It takes an expert with knowledge and experience to point out that the entire plan was

  • lacking in strategy
  • so zoomed-out and general as to be useless
  • overly ambitious for the organization’s capabilities
  • didn’t have a large enough budget or
  • was short of suitable people to tackle the problems

But above everything else, the plan didn’t build on a solid foundation which would remain stable for years, and let the company grow by scaling up on a bedrock of achievement.

All these leaders, suffering from business myopia, wanted was to

  • get fellow board members to jump onboard
  • force their half-baked ideas down the throats of internal employees or external partners and providers
  • shut down every critical question with an accusation about that person being “difficult to work with”
  • sidestep any tough questions asked, or answer them superficially without data
  • focus instead on being motivating and constructive, than factual and pragmatic

As a result, those who could actually provide the hard facts and data, who might serve as valuable assets, were the ones who risked getting into trouble — maybe even being fired without a positive reference, or with a black mark on their professional reputations.

Unfair, right?

Well, I’ve seen it happen.

Many times.

It isn’t easy to

  • go against what leadership believes,
  • to be critical about the costly new strategy,
  • to ask tough questions in team meetings, and
  • to risk being accused of demotivating others, too.

Not when business leaders or board members are narrow-minded or ignorant about critical issues of marketing, SEO and organic search.

The smart ones realize their own ‘blind spots’ — and ask for help from people who would be able to provide all the information necessary to make decisions.

They do this before rolling out the strategy.

They also ensure that all data and information that might contribute to the desired outcome flows out of the silos they work in, and reaches everyone on the team, including decision makers.

They will streamline this flow of vital information so that it is timely, current, and frequently updated — so that all future needs are covered and the experts have access to relevant analytics.

The contrast between good leadership and poor ones is stark and huge.

And that’s why I believe the day isn’t far away when we might experience a rather scary scenario…

Business leaders being held legally liable for doing their job well.

Being a business leader in this brave new world

Each local leader, ideally, will be responsible for

  • getting up to speed on how local business marketing works in 2017
  • how their customers research and analyze products and services before buying
  • the path a proven customer journey takes

He becomes responsible for training people locally, involving them in new areas, technologies, platforms and knowledge necessary to operate effectively in a rapidly changing environment.

He also measures, analyses and reports on how effective each of his team members is at doing what they should.

He watches each of the ecosystems and local markets, seeking opportunities in every one of them, and makes data available to other local leaders so that they, too, can tap local opportunities.

And there will be performance-based rating

To ensure efficiency at these tasks, local business leaders themselves will be measured and rated on their performance. Any sub-standard performance will be harshly condemned, even punished.

As this role is business critical, if they don’t perform to expected standards, business leaders and board members will not just be fired… they might be held legally responsible for their incompetence!

That means they can be convicted in a court of law, because their actions (or, rather, lack of necessary actions) had consequences and adverse effects on the entire organization.

And because a person in their position is considered to be knowledgable, or is reasonably expected to have the expertise necessary to avoid causing damage, they can be judged on the competence with which they performed their job — in much the same way as any other professional like a doctor, or an accountant, or a lawyer might be held responsible for malpractice.

A critical mistake made by a careless, ignorant or ill-informed business leader could lead to

  • a loss off hundreds of millions of dollars
  • dozens of innocent people losing their jobs
  • a long-term revenue loss that could run to billions
  • falling from market leadership, maybe never to regain it again
  • stock prices taking a dive
  • owners losing millions in profit for years

Shouldn’t a judge and jury, then, go for the hardest punishment available?

Backed by the fact that the business leader(s)

  • broke the rules despite being expected to know better,
  • had the knowledge to avoid it, and
  • should have informed the CEO or board if they needed help

A panel of jurists wouldn’t accept the leader’s argument or excuse that

  • they acted based on what they personally believe, or
  • leadership didn’t provide the necessary resources, or
  • they couldn’t get others to understand or act differently (because that’s the responsibility a business leader is charged with!)
  • they thought it’s irrelevant for a local store to involve people in non-marketing positions

A cross-examining attorney may ask business leaders some difficult questions.

Why didn’t you teach a person working in your restaurant, or an electrician in your services company, or the lady at the cash register in your mall, how to get more positive reviews on platforms like Google and Facebook?

And no, he won’t accept an answer that the person had no ambitions in life, or wasn’t interested in learning marketing. It’s the leader’s job to foster such enthusiasm among his team members.

Why did you ignore hard facts that a certain method (or a combination of several methods) was more effective than the one you followed for getting customers in the door?

And he’ll point out that there are ways to find out quickly and easily what that is for your organization… that the expected standard behavior was to use these tools, get the information, and then make better decisions based on it.

No, he won’t accept the naive explanation that a Chief Marketing Officer thought it isn’t relevant, because you’re already the most profitable business in the area, and have the numbers to prove it.

And it isn’t relevant to the prosecutor that a CMO has been the poster-boy in your organization for 30 years… and so he just decided to ignore all data and go with whatever has been working great so far, in his eyes!

Why are you not up to date with recent developments, or learning all about the new technology that’s driving current marketing trends?

And if the CMO’s answer is that normal people shouldn’t be required to know about new technology, or spend time and money on the Internet when there are long lists of other important things to do already, it certainly won’t go down too well.

The day may not be far off when a CEO or CMO may need to defend, in a court of law, decisions made about growing their business — because surely they know, as local leaders, that money is the most business critical KPI of them all. To generate a profit, you must get as many qualified customers as possible to come in through the doors of your business, and spend their money there.

That’s simple logic.

Any fair and reasonable judge will rule that making adjustments that account for how customers research and buy products or services is a logical thing for anyone holding such a responsible, influential and powerful position in a business organization.

So ignoring these facts and acting whimsically will be hard to defend oneself against, right?

A CMO who chooses to put his head into the sand, ignore his responsibilities, and act irresponsibly — causing untold harm to the corporation — instead of evolving and adapting to customers’ needs and adjusting the business from day to day will soon be in the unenviable position of trying to do just that!

Like any professional in other industries who gives bad advice or causes damage, business leaders should be made responsible for breaking the rules or falling short of widely accepted standards of functioning.

While it’s sometimes difficult to see things clearly in a fast-paced business environment, they should at least be smart and ask someone with expertise.

Or if they personally concluded that this isn’t possible to do with available resources, they should have made the right people aware of it and not let it go until they had all the facts.

And if the conclusion was still that it’s not possible for a local leader to achieve this within realistic terms, either because of poor leadership, low budgets, internal politics, company culture or other reasons, the local leader should have taken the decision to quit his position!

Yes, quit his high paying job!

Because not fighting for what matters, and living in denial by avoiding problems that loom ahead because you’d rather avoid internal conflicts, isn’t acceptable.

All internal battles can’t be won. That shouldn’t be expected, either.

But think about this.

If a financial advisor in a bank won’t do whatever’s necessary, in terms of following easy to understand rules and practices when advising others about their money, then he should go to jail or lose his license to practice… and also be responsible for paying back the money the client lost — plus a bit more, as a fine or punishment!

Why shouldn’t business leaders working for others, or decision-makers in marketing positions, or local leaders in departments or branch offices, be held to the same standard of responsibility?

If it turns out that their actions caused the owners of a business a multi-million dollar loss in annual revenue for years, and that they wasted money by acting on the basis of personal gut feeling and improvisation while ignoring facts, reality and data… then they should face the consequences.

Such excuses won’t stand up to legal challenge in any other field. Why should it in marketing?

Why do we accept leaders who have ignored Google, for example, for over 10 years now?

Leaders who only approach it as a nice little add-on to throw a few dollars at now and then… when it’s a proven fact that Google has become an integral part of people’s lives and in their decision-making prior to buying anything.

And why do we excuse business leaders who actually decide to do something about this Google-thing, but base their actions not on how Google is currently working, but cling on to myths — like:

  • for SEO, all you need to do is to add a plugin, or
  • let’s create a SEO friendly site and spend a few bucks on cheap tactics, or
  • only on-site technical stuff matters, we can do it in-house

This doesn’t work today. It’s common knowledge — and has been for years. Even non-specialists know it. Yet business leaders, who are expected to have much better information and knowledge, continue to treat SEO as just one more thing to tick off on a marketing checklist.

Something done to keep their back safe.

An alibi.

So that, if something goes wrong, no one can blame them — because they’ve “done their SEO”.

Well, that won’t work for much longer. Because as a leader, you are not a “common man”. And while a hobbyist or small entrepreneur may not be breaking any rules by ignoring the consequences of brushing aside “reality”, business leaders can’t break even one rule or detail before it

  • dramatically alters the entire organization’s overall outcome.
  • leads to life-long consequences for other people, companies and innocent third-parties.
  • affects the financial stability of families, some with small children, and their future

Business leaders and board members would do well to prepare for such a future — by embracing the reality of Google and appreciating the impact of search marketing and SEO on their sales, revenue, and profits.

The punishment for ignoring this might be harsh and severe in the years to come.


This Post Was Originally Published on Search Planet´s blog on August 25th, 2017 by Trond Lyngbø, in Norwegian Language, titled “Kan styremedlemmer saksøkes for å ignorere Googles betydning for virksomheten?

Trond Lyngbø is founder and senior SEO consultant at Search Planet, and columnist at Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. He can be found on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Trond Lyngbø

Written by

Trond Lyngbø is founder and SEO Consultant at Search Planet AS. Columnist at Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. @TrondLyngbo and https://searchplanet.no/

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