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TurboTax: Using Search Optimization for Evil

It wasn’t until we started discussing how search engines rank webpages that I started considering how much effort companies must exert to try to beat the system—to optimize their rank in the search engine.  At first, I only considered it from the usual goal—trying to put their site first in the search engine results.  Before, I had faintly heard of websites repeating key words or planting hyperlinks solely for the purpose of playing to the search engines, so I never imagined that companies would try the reverse: to hide their website.

It sounds odd, a company trying to hide from Google would only diminish their views and sales, so why would anyone not want to be on the first page of a Google search?  It doesn’t make sense until you look at the case of TurboTax—the “free” tax preparation website whose entire business model relies on misleading millions of Americans.  TurboTax is legally obligated by the IRS to provide a service that Americans can use to prepare their taxes with the agreement that the IRS will never do what most other developed countries do: establish a government-run service.  While TuroboTax does provide this service, it’s well hidden behind a network of other products all designed to mislead Americans into needlessly paying for a service they have a right to get done free.

With this in mind, it becomes obvious why TurboTax not only optimizes search engines to show its commercial product—the purposely confusingly named “TurboTax Free” edition—while hiding the legally obligated and actually free “TurboTax Free File” edition from Google.  However, as we’re currently discussing search engine parameters, it is interesting to see how the two strategies are different.  While being on the front page of Google is a herculean task and requires precise optimization methods, being hidden from Google requires only a few lines of text telling Google to not index the web site.



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October 2019