Trader Trouble, ACLU Complaints, and Dealer Websites: The Industry’s 2018 Digital Year in Review
“Stray from the truth, and whoever corrects you can be dismissed as “the other side.” The strategy runs on a dangerous assumption — that we’re not all in this together.” ~Time Magazine
We are all in this together — the heavy truck and equipment industry that is. My role in the industry is interesting in that I digitally get to touch nearly every facet of the industry. Inspired by Time’s Person of the Year, the Guardians of Truth, I have compiled my year in review to help industry professionals understand how the digital landscape has changed in 2018.
The 9 most important stories of 2018:
- Trader Trouble
- Machinio Legal Woes
- Sandhills Publishing ACLU Complaint
- HeavyIronJobs.com & Industry Employment
- TerraVerse Patent
- The Best Dealer Websites: My Little Salesman
- The Worst Dealer Websites: Sandhills Publishing
- hiQ Labs v. LinkedIn
- Used Equipment Guide & Venture Capital
But why should you care? The heavy truck and equipment industry is notoriously analog and at least a decade behind other industries such as automotive. Print ad revenues are down 24 percent and digital ad revenues are up 48 percent. The industry has been slow to adopt a digital-first strategy in part due to ignorance and misinformation, but tomorrow’s winners are taking deliberate steps today to own their own digital destiny.
Trader Interactive (TPI Holdings), the company that operates several “Trader” brands and domains including EquipmentTrader.com, CommercialTruckTrader.com, and others was sued by the company that operates TrailerTraders.com for violating the Lanham Act (trademark infringement). The TrailerTraders.com name has been used since 2010 and was granted the trademark by the United States Trademark and Patent Office in 2012.
In 2016, Trader Interactive attempted to register the “Trailer Trader” mark and was rejected based on the likelihood of confusion with TrailerTraders.com. In response, Trader Interactive petitioned to have the TrailerTraders.com trademark cancelled, which was also denied. In spite of this, Trader Interactive moved forward with launching TrailerTrader.com which forced TrailerTraders.com to sue Trader Interactive for federal trademark infringement and federal unfair competition, seeking relief including damages and all profits realized by Trader Interactive’s “deliberate and willful actions.” It appears Trader Interactive has taken the TrailerTrader.com website offline, but the case is ongoing with resolution expected in 2019. Read the full complaint here.
Machinio Legal Woes
Machinio was acquired by Liquidity Services this year, but only after a lawsuit brought forth by Alan Ross Machinery Corp was dismissed in July. Alan Ross alleged several claims against Machinio including violation of the Lanham Act (trademark infringment), violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (hacking), breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference with prospective business advantage.
The short version is that Machinio was acquitted of any legal wrongdoing, but the long version is much more complicated. As a search engine operator, I am constantly educating and disambiguating Machinio’s claim of being “a global search engine” as many dealers have condemned many of Machinio’s business practices.
Alan Ross Machinery has filed an amended complaint that was dismissed later in the year, but based on an internet forum post by a user claiming to be the owner of Alan Ross Machinery, there are more legal proceedings to come. Read the amended complaint here.
Sandhills Publishing ACLU Complaint
Sandhills Publishing, a major industry name that operates MachineryTrader.com, TruckPaper.com, TractorHouse.com, and many other brands, has been named (d/b/a NeedWorkToday.com) in a complaint by the ACLU to the EEOC alleging gender and age discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint stems from evidence that “the company has a pattern, practice, and policy of targeting job advertisements” on Facebook’s advertising platform that excludes “all female and other non-male prospective applicants and all prospective applicants over 60 years old, from receiving the job advertisements and opportunities.”
Additional complaints have been filed against Facebook for enabling Sandhills to engage in potential discrimination. The digital world hasn’t been kind to Sandhills with anonymous employee reviews about the company’s sexist dress code that includes requiring female interns to wear skirts to interviews and alleged discrimination against non-white employees. Read the full complaint here.
HeavyIronJobs.com & Industry Employment
Sandhills found themselves in hot water with NeedWorkToday.com, but other major industry names have branched out into employment products as well. Construction Equipment Guide has launched HeavyIronJobs.com to help industry employers and workers connect. As a former executive recruiter and founder of the industry’s largest niche job board, dieseljobs.com, I know all too well how under-served our industry is in having niche job boards and resources to help industry professionals advance their career. HeavyIronJobs.com joins a short list of other industry job boards that includes ConstructionJobs.com, ConstructionEquipmentJobs.com, and Herk & Associates.
TerraPoint has launched an innovative new online auction platform called TerraVerse that provides buyers and sellers the simultaneous benefits of a traditional English auction format and Dutch auction. Buyers can buy an item above the current bid and end the auction immediately, allowing sellers to sell their equipment faster and allowing buyers to secure equipment at prices below retail.
Sellers are able to not only sell their equipment faster, but realize prices above what they would get at a traditional brick-and-mortar auction. The platform does not charge any buyer premiums and collects a flat fee from sellers for the service.
The Best Dealer Websites
The market for dealer websites has become more crowded with many current marketplace operators launching competitive products. As a search engine operator, I have examined thousands of dealer websites over the past year and it is abundantly clear that all websites are not created equal.
At the top of my “Good List” this year are the My Little Salesman websites. As a search engine operator, I am obsessed with providing the best user experience possible. My Little Salesman websites are beautifully designed and have intuitive search capabilities that help buyers quickly find what they’re looking for. Users can search by keyword, popular searches, specifications, or by “sentence” where the user can tell the website what they’re looking for. The runner up in a close second is Dealer Spike, which creates beautiful responsive websites, but lacks robust search capabilities.
The Worst Dealer Websites
At the top of my “Bad List” are the dealer websites built by Sandhills Publishing. These websites are often branded at the bottom with “Site Hosted By…TruckPaper.com” or similar. These websites take the prize of worst dealer websites due to persistent bugs, generating negative SEO for dealers, and blocking buyers from viewing the site and dealer inventory. The following sections break down each item in non-technical terms.
A persistent bug I have encountered across all Sandhills dealer websites is that any dealer’s inventory can be viewed on any dealer’s website. Consider the following 3 dealers:
- MacAllister Machinery, a Caterpillar dealer in Indiana
- Ag-Pro, an Agricultural equipment dealer in Texas and the Southeast US
- International Used Truck Centers, a national chain of 15 used truck centers
These are three completely different dealers in different segments of the industry, but the listings for Bobcat of Miles City, a Bobcat dealer in Miles City, Montana, has their inventory available on all three sites (and every other Sandhills hosted website I’ve tested). Note that the links associated with the screenshots below will not work once the item is sold/removed (or the issue is fixed).
Negative Dealer SEO
Dealers pay big bucks for a website because they want buyers to find them online. SEO has many components, but the important thing to know is that search engines like unique content and use backlinks, the number of websites linking to a site, to determine a site’s rankings.
I have identified many instances where Sandhills dealer websites are setup incorrectly and generate negative SEO for dealers. An example of this is the A&C Farm Service website(s). There are two domain names hosting the same content: acfarmservice.com and acfarmservice.net. A best practice is to forward the .net to .com, but if the website isn’t redirected, there can still be two completely identical websites without SEO penalties by using what is called a canonical link.
A canonical link tells search engines that the page is duplicate content and identifies the source of the original source of the content, thus preventing Google from penalizing the webpage for duplicate content. For websites that are not responsive and have separate desktop and mobile sites, a canonical link is a must to prevent these penalties.
Backlinks are perhaps the biggest deal in SEO because it tells search engines which websites are the most important (more backlinks = more important). One of the complaints we hear from dealers is that Sandhills’ own branded websites show up in search results before their own website. This hasn’t happened by accident. Every Sandhills-built dealer website contains massive numbers of backlinks to their own branded websites that artificially inflates the number of backlinks to their branded websites. Using ahrefs.com’s backlink checker, the below image shows that Sandhills’ primary truck site, TruckPaper.com, has over 2.3 million backlinks coming from just over 5,000 domains. That is over 450 backlinks per domain! Virtually all of the sites with backlinks are “Site Hosted By TruckPaper.com” and even includes the International Used Trucks site mentioned previously.
In addition to these negative SEO factors, nearly every Sandhills dealer website I have found does not have a robots.txt file and/or publicly available sitemap. The robots.txt file tells search engines what to index and where to locate a sitemap containing the valid links on a website for search engines to properly index webpages. The branded Sandhills websites utilize these best practices, but very few Sandhills dealer websites conform to these internet standards.
- https://machinerytrader.com/robots.txt (sitemap defined)
- http://www.acfarmservice.com/robots.txt (no sitemap defined)
- https://www.internationalusedtrucks.com/robots.txt (robots.txt missing)
Did you know Sandhills blocks buyers from viewing inventory on dealer websites? I discovered that Sandhills has implemented technical measures in 2018 to block users who enter a dealer’s website via a link through UsedEquipmentGuide.com. A user doesn’t actually have to visit the website via UsedEquipmentGuide.com, but only needs to append a Google Analytics source token to the URL claiming they came from the site.
It is unknown how many traffic sources Sandhills is blocking, but the fact this blocking functionality exists likely means there is a long list of traffic sources being blocked without dealers’ knowledge. In Sandhills’ defense, there are bad actors stealing inventory listings from dealer websites and misrepresenting it as their own to scam buyers, but this is clearly not what is happening by proactively blocking users based on Google Analytics source tokens.
hiQ Labs v. LinkedIn
In March 2018, a federal court heard arguments in the hiQ Labs v. LinkedIn case. hiQ is a data analytics provider that was using publicly available data on LinkedIn’s website to provide predictive analytics on employees. LinkedIn has known about hiQ’s activities for years, but when LinkedIn decided to launch a competing product they put technical barriers in place to block hiQ’s crawlers from accessing publicly available LinkedIn profiles. hiQ won a preliminary injunction as LinkedIn’s interpretation of the law would subject internet users accessing a publicly available webpage to criminal, as well as civil, liability.
Judge Chen noted that “The potential for such exercise of power over access to publicly viewable information by a private entity weaponized by the potential of criminal sanctions is deeply concerning.” The court’s ruling is expected in 2019 and will be a watershed case that will have deep implications for every internet user. Read more about it here.
Used Equipment Guide & Venture Capital
Used Equipment Guide, the largest search engine for heavy trucks and equipment, closed a multi-million dollar seed round led by Holt Ventures, the venture capital arm of HOLT CAT, the largest Caterpillar dealer in the United States. The company indexes over 2 million items for sale from over 3,000 marketplace, auction, and dealer websites. The company generates revenue through branding opportunities available throughout the website. In December, the company launched the Active Buyer Database which allows sellers to contact pre-qualified buyers. The company also released the Used Equipment Guide App, which is available on the App Store and on Google Play.
This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, investors, committee or other group or individual.