Meta Tag Misdirection
Restaurant takeout ordering platform, GrubHub publishes restaurant profile webpages with search engine optimized URLs containing relevant keywords for existing restaurant locations not in business with the platform. The URL often contains the restaurant’s name, street address, and city, increasing the link’s relevance in local organic search results.
In many instances the profiles’ meta descriptions contain deceptive, but search-relevant text, also increasing the likelihood for each profile to rank higher in unpaid Internet search results.
“Order delivery online from [Restaurant Name] in [City] instantly! View [Restaurant Name]‘s [Month] [Year] deals, coupons & menus. Order delivery online right now or by phone from…”
-Dynamic meta description used by GrubHub (emphasis added)
The intent is clear: trick customers into believing they can order delivery online from the restaurant in the search result via GrubHub.
Page 1 Organic Search Result Examples
Google desktop search on 1/28/16 (canal club delivery)
Google desktop search on 1/28/16 (seed venice delivery)
Bait and Switch
A customer searching online for food delivery from a specific restaurant in a specific location (e.g. canal club venice delivery) is presented a search result with an explicit offer of instant gratification:
“Order delivery online from Canal Club in Venice instantly!”
Mere seconds later after clicking the search result link the customer learns the instant gratification offered is not actually available from Canal Club.Might this offer and withdrawal of instant gratification create a negative association in the customer’s mind towards Canal Club? If so, what will the present and future cost to Canal Club’s business be from this negative association?
Now You SEE It, Now You DON’T
Although the misleading restaurant profiles are made available for indexing by web search engines, the pages are hidden from customers’ view on GrubHub’s internal site search. The result can cause turbidity in local unpaid Internet search results on Google, Yahoo! and Bing for restaurants not in business with GrubHub.
Misleading restaurant profile for Canal Club on GrubHub
These profiles contain deceptive statements:
“This restaurant does not appear to be taking online orders at this time.”
“Looks like this restaurant is closed.”
“Unfortunately does not accept online orders. But rejoice! There are many great places that might deliver to you.”
GrubHub’s misleading profile for Canal Club in Venice, CA incorrectly lists the restaurant’s hours as 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. But a glance on Canal Club’s homepage states it is open daily 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. and the restaurant’s Facebook page indicates it offers delivery. Does GrubHub have a financial responsibility to Canal Club for customers who rely upon this false information and then make a purchase from a competitor on GrubHub’s platform?
I’m not an attorney, but I would argue GrubHub’s SEO practices are unethical. If you are a restaurant owner curious whether GrubHub has published a misleading profile online for your establishment, here is how you can search to find out. Enter the following into Google, Bing, or Yahoo:
site:https://www.grubhub.com/restaurant/ restaurant-name-seperated-by-dashessite:https://www.grubhub.com/restaurant/ canal-club