J2 Global Communications is a holding company that has online properties specializing in a variety of services. The services include cloud storage, email marketing, and online fax. The company has used unethical SEO practices to promote its services, and Google hasn’t done anything so far to prevent it.
A clever camouflage
If you Google “online fax,” you’ll find that you get multiple results. You’ll see results from domains like efax.com and myfax.com. Depending on variations of that search expression, you might also see other domain names like metrofax.com and smartfax.com.
All of those results might lead you to think that you have a lot of options when it comes to online faxing. However, all of those domain names are owned by the same company. As it turns out, that company is J2 Global Communications.
The road to monopoly
How did J2 come to own so many similar domain names? The company has a two-pronged approach to cornering the market. First, the company engages in a practice known as “patent trolling.”
J2 sues competitors for infringing on its patent for sending faxes by email. Not that this is not to say J2’s competitors are actually infringing on the patent, only that J2 accuses its competitors of infringing on the patent. J2 has enough resources at its disposal to drive competitors out of business with lawsuits of dubious worth.
After Step 1 is completed, Step 2 is simple. J2 acquires the company that it just hamstrung with the patent lawsuit. Along with everything else associated with the company, J2 acquires the domain name. As a result, one company owns several domain names related to online faxing.
Fortunately, there are a few online fax services that have not yet been acquired by J2. These include Nextiva, Fax87, and Ring Central.
What does this have to do with Google and SEO?
As noted previously, if you use Google to search for “online fax,” you’ll get multiple results from domains that are all owned by one company. Since Google is by far the most popular search engine in the world, the vast majority of traffic driven to these sites (again, all owned by J2) comes from Google.
This practice is in clear violation of the Google AdWords “double serving policy.” Simply put, multiple ads from accounts that are owned by a single legal entity (i.e., a corporation or LLC) are prohibited within the result set of specific keyword search. There can be no doubt, based on what you’ll see if you Google “online fax,” that J2 is in violation of this policy.
Since Google prides itself on quality search results, the search engine giant should not allow J2 to get away with gaming the system the way it’s currently doing it. As of this writing, Google is showing its users results that are basically the same service, with subtle price and service variations, under the guise of multiple, competing companies.
It’s easy to think that maybe Google doesn’t have a problem with monopolistic endeavors … perhaps because Google has monopolistic aspirations, as well.
J2’s properties also figure prominently in organic or non-paid search results, as well as the ads. Because J2 owns and operates so many different fax-related websites, the company is able to utilize cross-domain linking. This is considered to be “grey hat SEO” by many people familiar with the practice.
Google has, to its credit, attempted to put a stop to the successful implementation of cross-domain linking. Obviously, a case study of J2 proves that it has not yet been fully successful in that effort.