When Censorship Hurts Businesses' SEO; The Curious Blocking of Ferrari in China

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Censorship has been a topic that has received a great deal of attention in the technology and internet sector simply because there are markets that do experience a great deal of censorship. My article on Friday, for example, discussed the Pakistani filtering request and potential implications that it would have on future censorship in that country. China, however, receives the most attention for the censorship that is experienced in the country with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others all being blocked. Now, with a fresh censoring episode in China of the term Ferrari, new issues are raised regarding how censoring can negatively impact a specific company and its business.

On Sunday, a Ferrari 458 carrying two women and an unidentified third crashed in the Haidian district of Beijing. The two women sustained potentially serious injuries while the unidentified driver was killed. According to various international sources, reports of the crash in China as well as the term Ferrari have been deleted from websites in the country to apparently reduce the information available regarding the crash. Further, online searches of the term Ferrari have been blocked. This activity has brought forth media speculation of the driver's identity and the potential for it to be someone of particular importance. Regardless of the reason for the censorship in the form of deletions and blockings, there are potentially harmful effects to Ferrari in that market. The harm is specifically in relation to a restriction of their online presence and their resulting diminished search engine optimization.

Lessons for Internet MarketersFerrari, the company, did not do anything controversial or put out any message related to restricted or sensitive topics in the Chinese market (which largely characterizes the reason for others being censored). Instead, the company was unfortunately brought into this situation by the circumstances of the crash. Thus, this case illustrates the volatile nature of conducting business and having an online presence in a market that experiences internet censorship; at any time, your online presence can be restricted or simply eliminated for any length of time.

Ferrari could experience this disruption to their online presence for a number of weeks, months, or potentially longer. In dealing with censorship, it is hard to predict the length of such disruptions. Thus, companies operating in markets that experience censorship should not rely solely on their internet presence for their business, this makes ecommerce sites especially vulnerable.

Further, Ferrari could not have predicted such an event and subsequent blocking of their name from internet searches. However, there are measures that they can take now to recover (and can be taken by other companies to minimize harm if experiencing a similar situation). This measure is that of diversifying the internet marketing that your company engages in and implementing a coordinated effort containing search engine optimization, paid search, and social media, among others. This way, if one aspect of your strategy cannot function (like a social platform gets banned or your organic search is blocked like Ferrari) then you can fall back on the other facets of your overall strategy. In the end, it is case specific as different companies use their online presence for different purposes. For example, it is likely Ferrari does not try to drive conversions online as that is not the way they make sales, however, their online presence is valuable and they use it to engage with their wider audience.

Contact me directly at rbuddenhagen@webimax.com if you have any questions regarding how your business can navigate such a scenario or how your company can develop a proactive strategy if operating in markets where such disruptions are possible. 

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