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Extra Cheese…

1 Mar

Note: I wrote this piece way back in 2003, my first foray into UX web blogging, although it wasn’t known as UX back then. Soon after I wrote it, the Pizza Hut website was updated to remove the offending material and I received an angry letter from some corporate lawyer type threatening me with all manner of unspeakable acts. The system works!

Being a part-time corporate watch dog has its perils. Many’s the time I have been pursued and subdued by vicious corporate goons at the behest of faceless, dickless big boys from the big end of town. But I refuse to be silenced: break me, beat me, bite my testicles but nothing will quell my passion for exposing big business sticking it to the little guy. And now, through the medium of trashy, left-wing, self-righteous online self-publishing, I have the means to stick my tongue in the collective ear of the pusillanimous proletariat. Bourgeoisie beware!

Those of you with internet access, take a squizz at the Pizza Hut website (www.pizzahut.com.au). Forget the site itself, it’s the back-end we’re interested in. Click on the ‘View’ menu of your browser and select ‘View Source’ from the list of options. Take a gander at the meta tags at the very top of the text file that opens, in particular the “KEYWORDS” and you will see nestled in amongst the other terms: “dominos, eagle boys, mcdonalds, burger king, kentucky fried chicken, kfc, pizza haven”.

“So what?”, you say, pea-brained moron that you are. Well, keywords are used by search engines to identify a site and match it to search criteria. Pizza Hut are using the brand names of their competitors as keywords in an attempt to have their own site appear in search results for those words. This practice is called “metajacking” and not only is it unethical, but it’s also potentially illegal.

If it can be proved that a site has no legitimate reason for using someone else’s copyrighted word or trademark as a keyword, a court may decide that it is a breach of copyright. Unless the words are also used in the body text of the html page in a legitimate and non-defamatory fashion, the keywords are unlikely to increase your chances of appearing in your competitors’ search results. So Pizza Hut is unlikely to capture any significant traffic from say, McDonald’s, but it may capture the attention of Ronald’s trademark lawyers and it may result in the Pizza Hut site being banned from search engines.

Several noticeable precedents for metajacking have already been set in the US, the largest of which brought a settlement of $3 million dollars. The practice isn’t as common here in Australia, presumably because it isn’t particularly effective as a marketing technique, although a notable exception is that of web design company Spike who a few years ago was called to task for using “Ford”, “Holden” and other car manufacturers’ brand names in the keywords of the site they built for Toyota.

But as if all that wasn’t shocking enough, look more closely and you’ll find certain other keyword peculiarities: “heart ache”, “munchies”, and, most peculiar of all, “too stoned to phone”. What, exactly, do they mean? Do those pin-stripped Pizza Hut pin-heads consider us plebs out here in pizza land to be nothing but a bunch of love-lorn dope fiends? Are we to assume that in the latest round of cost-cutting in the cut-throat world of pizza delivery, Pizza Hut are accommodating those too whacked to use the telephone and are enabling them to order pizza using nothing more than their newly awakened and dope-enhanced telepathic abilities? Holy shit, maybe they’re reading my mind right now!

Oh man, I’m freaking out. I need a kebab…

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