|Consumer watchdog accuses search engines of deception (part 2)|
Continued from part 1: [webmasterworld.com...]
>…the future of the web relies on targeting not spamming…>
I agree and will bite on this one but let’s be careful here with what the ‘normal’ job for SEO in this context. I personally do not guarantee that those visits will convert to a sale. That is not the job of a SEO. Targeted traffic, yes. Conversion to sale, no.
There’s room for more than one search engine and so there’s room for more than one model. I personally believe that more and more specialty engines and directories will begin to form. If you have a widget business you’ll be vying for position in the widget related directories and engines because that’s where folks will be looking for you.
I was amazed to visit New York City, nineteen years ago so it may have changed, we were looking for musical instruments and we found a street where nearly every business sold musical instruments, another street with businesses selling golf equipment and still another with office supplies. I thought that was very smart for a city that busy and difficult to get around in, to group businesses like that. As the internet gets more difficult to navigate it will behoove like-minded businesses to gather in the same space to make it easier for searchers to find them.
What else we come down to is honesty in advertising and that goes for search engines stating right up front whether the listings are paid for or not. From there it’s up to the consumer to decide.
The fact that Se's have to resort to presenting advertising without admitting it goes to underline again that the whole web search services sector on the net is in crisis. The downgrading in quality of mainstream engines shows that the mainstream all-encompassing SE is doomed, maybe apart from one or two. Like paynt I see specialist engines/search services (vortals?) taking over a lot of business of general search engines.
Curious can have his pay per play listings where he doesn't want to (can't?) compete with webmasters from under developed countries so he can keep his car, others can have topic centred Se's, others shopping Se's etc etc. Each specialisation will have their niche all with diff revenue models.
I suspect paynt is right about search engine specialization. Somebody mentioned multi-tier results on an SE, how about this.
1st tier: PPC
2nd tier: All specialized search engines
3rd tier: The Masses
or variations on this.
I agree, I think specialized search (vortals) will be very important and provide an easier way to find information once the general search engines are unable to keep up with the increasing number of web pages to index. Directories should become more valuable as well.
Could I get a deceipt for that :)
I'm late to this discussion, partly because for me the issue is a joke. However, maybe my thoughts are worth posting, so here they are:
|"We are asking the FTC to make sure that no one is tricked by the search engines' descent into commercial deception," Ruskin said. "If they are going to stuff ads into search results, they should be required to say that the ads are ads." |
This assumes that ads are what the listings are, and since Goto (and its imitators) apply human editorial checking to all listings submitted, (and yes, I've had a few refusals), well, then ALL human indexed directories would also have to be considered ads - even the ODP would be a 'Free Ads' service. Think that's gonna happen?
|This concealment may mislead search engine users to believe that search results are based on relevancy alone, not marketing ploys. |
Relevancy like carefully selecting the exact words to match against?
I'm certain that every webmaster here could tell tales of some very odd search queries that have found your pages. Sometimes the search engines take words out of their context to create matches for queries that bear no relation to your content except that the words appear (separately) somewhere on your page.
In other words, the Goto ranking model is actually more relevant in practice for many searches. This can be proven.
A traditional search engine, given a highly optimised page on 'widget manufature' may rank that page highly not only for 'widget manufacture' but also for 'widget' (even though the site has no content on retail sales of widgets, nor famous widget designers or indeed any aspect of widgets except the manufacture) or 'buy widgets' (even though the site does not offer retail at all). That too can be proven time and again and shows Goto to be more relevant in many cases.
|When search engine companies first unveiled their engines, they did not put ads in the search results. Results were displayed based on objective criteria of relevancy tallied by algorithms. |
Objective criteria my ass. It was simple stuff that we as optimisers were paid to place there and we did so. Never once did anyone ask me to discluse whether or not I was paid to submit a URL.
The whole complaint has more holes than a swiss cheese, that any idiot (even me) can easily challenge and refute. Great press stunt of course, and popular with the 'keep the web free' mob, but about as realistic as thinking that the infrastructure and ongoing investment in the web is gonna be done for free.
There is a simple bottom line here - the search engines are using PPC listings and pay-for-inclusion schemes because if they don't then they are gone. See what happened to NBCi, Go, etc for details.
Unless the search engines get revenue, then I tell you now that they will all cease providing any data to searchers for free at all.
We had all this before, where everyone mocked the very idea of Goto at the beginning. Here we are later on and they have proved themselves very well indeed. So well in fact that half of the other engines that mocked them now depend on them to provide cash and still keep search relevance.
Not everyone in the industry is careful to ensure that all their listings are truly relevant to the searcher. This is the real reason that many engines return such irrelevant listings sometimes: a 'bad' SEO professional has deliberately fooled the search engine into ranking the pages highly for those search words.
Hell, they don't pay for the clicks do they, so what do they care. Sure, it messes with your real search, but, heck, maybe one in a thousand of you will be interested in their site instead, they think.
This is the great thing about Goto. The one thing that beats all else. That doesn't happen so much at Goto because there they do have to pay for the clicks. You can be pretty sure that once the companies and webmasters have to pay cash every time someone clicks on their listing that they'll want to be certain that you are really likely to be interested in what they are selling.
In fact, when Goto first announced their model, most of the other search engine companies sneered at them. Now however, the results have proved so successful that the top search engines include the goto data in their own results. This includes search engines such as AltaVista, MSN, Netscape, AOL, iWon, AskJeeves, Excite, and many others too.
If their rivals, experts who most understand about the importance of providing good results in creating customer loyalty, have decided they have faith in Goto, then maybe Goto really did create a unique twist on the way to ensure results of searches are good ones.
You can bet your bottom dollar that if MSN, AOL or Altavista really believed that using Goto data would weaken their product, or their reputation for providing good search, that they would not touch it at all. These are 'experts' in search - companies that provide search professionally. Legally, they will have to be considered as 'expert witnesses'. What do you think their testimony will show?
RE: This is the great thing about Goto. The one thing that beats all else. That doesn't happen so much at Goto because there they do have to pay for the clicks. You can be pretty sure that once the companies and webmasters have to pay cash every time someone clicks on their listing that they'll want to be certain that you are really likely to be interested in what they are selling.
This is a great explanation I think of why GoTo in theory should have good relevance. I agree to some extent, but certainly don't agree with your feeling that it is providing one the "most relevant" SERPS put there in practice. Why not?
1. They only provide links to people who are willing to pay for a listing in anticipation of a commercial return when someone visits their page by selling a product or service or getting a lead. It does not include the millions of sites that provide free objective info, that do NOT sell things on their sites like the great majority of gov sites, edu sites, informational sites, NGO's like the UN, etc, news sites etc.. GoTo provides good relevance if you are looking to buy, but ignores sites that dont sell from their pages.
2. I'm seeing more and more sites that are bidding at the top that certainly are relevant, but very broad,(not specific). Additionally, they seem to be the same advertisers and the same pages is listed among many keywords. More specific pages are being forced down the GoTo SERPS. This is probably a consequence of the 5c minimum kicking in, and many highly specialised, specific sites leaving or reducing their spread of pages indexed.
3. GoTo itself is very good at letting people know their results are paid for. However most partners produce GoTo results without such declaration. That is the concern here. There is little transparency. While their "help" pages outline how their indices are based on relevancy criteria such as keyword positioning, title tags etc, in Av's case at least, they don't say that often the top 3 or more listings are listed for other reasons entirely (result of an "auction").
That said, I agree that SEO can be just another form of "paid" listings. But then again, it is harder and harder to manipulate results by SEO, now that off page critieria is being introduced and more filters for spam and techniques that give a page a placement unrelated to its relevance are increasing. Google is a good example. It's still fairly easy to manipulate Google SERPS but it is getting harder by the day. This will only increase.
I can only reiterate that the model of the broad mega search engine has been faltering for years and now is at its last gasp.
I also see people who do know how SERPS are being produced abandoning search Engines that use pay for click listings, (see the sharp decline in use of AV for example, though there are other reasons of course) simply because the SERP's may be relevant, (in a general rather than specific way) but mostly lead to a plea to buy something.
Agree that SE's have to find revenue models, but I see far more potential in subscriptions for specialist SE's and advanced/premium functionality and small pay for review or spider payments, than PPC.
That way the shopping sites can pay big bucks in SE shopping malls like GoTo as they can make money back from clicks, and informational, gov, edu, NGO, personal, and other sites can still get some exposure on the Web for people who DO need non-commercial info in their SERPS, by listing in authoritative expert-managed specialist SE's. These specialist SE's need only to get cridibility and exposure amongst a niche professional audience, rather than the Web as a whole.
Which brings me back to the key nature of the Internet. It's development and nature lends itself well to a niche marketing vehicle, but as a mass-market advertising vehicle it will fail. Mass marketing on the web so far, evidenced by portal mania in the late 90's, only succeeded so far as stupid and greedy people cashed up an untenable proposition. There are other much better avenues for mass marketing (like TV and billboards) for example that are far more cost-efective.
Thanks for the good points Chiyo, but I believe I can counter them all. :) In a court of law I wouldn't even need to completely counter them either, only create a reasonable doubt.
|1. They only provide links to people who are willing to pay for a listing in anticipation of a commercial return when someone visits their page by selling a product or service or getting a lead. It does not include the millions of sites that provide free objective info, that do NOT sell things on their sites like the great majority of gov sites, edu sites, informational sites, NGO's like the UN, etc, news sites etc.. GoTo provides good relevance if you are looking to buy, but ignores sites that dont sell from their pages. |
The system allows for this perfectly by providing a 'backfill', usually from Inktomi. The fewer bidders the sooner the 'ordinary' (not PPC) listings appear. However, I would generally agree that Goto is best when looking for commercial stuff, just as Google is best when looking for popular and established sites, and NorthernLight is best for researchers, etc. Many engines are best suited for a particular type of search and not so good beyond that focus. That's a good thing - we call it 'niche marketing' I believe. :)
|2. I'm seeing more and more sites that are bidding at the top that certainly are relevant, but very broad,(not specific). Additionally, they seem to be the same advertisers and the same pages is listed among many keywords. More specific pages are being forced down the GoTo SERPS. This is probably a consequence of the 5c minimum kicking in, and many highly specialised, specific sites leaving or reducing their spread of pages indexed. |
Looking on almost any search engine I see the ones that use optimisation higher than those that don't as an almost universal rule. On Goto at least they make the criteria for rank very clear allowing everyone to know exactly how to boost their ranking. We SEOs know how to boost ranking on ALL engines, but how many newcomers to ecommerce do?
|3. GoTo itself is very good at letting people know their results are paid for. However most partners produce GoTo results without such declaration. That is the concern here. There is little transparency. While their "help" pages outline how their indices are based on relevancy criteria such as keyword positioning, title tags etc, in Av's case at least, they don't say that often the top 3 or more listings are listed for other reasons entirely (result of an "auction"). |
Much of the reason for this is not to 'hide advertising' (I've already disputed that PPC listings, subject to human editor approval, are fully advertising) but because many end consumers (searchers) do not see the benefits of PPC and are prejudiced against paid listings, full stop.
The SEs therefore are attempting not to discredit the results from user prejudice (unfair prejudice for reasons stated in my prior post) and instead simply provide them with the most relevant results.
If there were not so many who think all PPC is 'bad' and totally commercial (failing to understand that PPC is the only ranking method that does make the sites financially responsible for any misrepresentation) then I don't think any SE would fail to make a big point of it. However, I fully agree that the SEs should educate the foolish rather than try to hide the facts from bigotry.
|I also see people who do know how SERPS are being produced abandoning search Engines that use pay for click listings, (see the sharp decline in use of AV for example, though there are other reasons of course) simply because the SERP's may be relevant, (in a general rather than specific way) but mostly lead to a plea to buy something. |
Well, personally I see Yahoo losing ground to MSN and AOL ... :)
Thanks for the interesting points, perhaps my own counter-points will show the other side to some of them.
I agree that we are moving toward a niche market SE's. No general SE can index the entire Web.
But the problem of generating revenues is the same for the vertical SE's/Directories as it is for the general SE's.
And I don't see a lot of support, encouragement for either smaller WWW SE's or niche SE's.
I would also, respectfully, suggest to you that between PPC results and SEO all the major engines are rendering about the same top 50 results for the hottest keywords. From a surfers point of view that's boring. Worse, if the results are pretty much the same on Excite and AltaVista -- do we really need both?
IMHO that's part of the problem we are getting into. The SE's need to render relevent, up-to-date AND unique results.
Thanks Black Knight.. enjoyed the discussion..
Brad, I see vortals being able to charge subscriptions, memberships whatever by:
Combining web resources with other off-line benefits of a membership..
"Members" would get advanced benefits on the Web that visitors do not. The vortals would be run by "experts" (as much as i hate the term) and people would be willing to learn from them in a specific highly targeted areas.
So you can see my unvalidated prediction (hope!) is that people are willing to pay for highly targeted and expert information, (which is what the web is good at) while they were not so keen to pay for "generalist services".
Off topic and despite all of the above, but i think we are heading to the stage where a google (which now has almost a monopoly on relevant results_ for instance can charge a moderate annual fee for people to gain access to special advanced search, and other goodies, and also for limited ads and no PPC results. Certainly I would consider that. Still ive talked about that in another thread so wont go on and on...
Now if Mr Google wants to chat to me about some great ideas for rolling out the "package" my email is in my profile!
wow... great thread... vintage WebmasterWorld
PPC Listings - in theory, PCC should be perfect for commercial searches, but the reality might take 5-10 years to fully materialize. The flaw? Too few advertisers. Take the Yellow Pages of any large city... pick it up... feel it's weight... scan the # of listings per page... the number of advertisers in a typical YP is comparable to the _worldwide_ base of PPC advertisers, and the mix is far more diverse. It will take many years before PPCSE's fully satisfy anything but the high-level, "virtual" searches.
Free Listing - if my nightly "Google Profitability Dance" works, then we will have nothing to worry about. I worry, however, that the search engines have spoiled us the last couple of years, using VC money to build resources that are both spectacular and unsustainable. IMHO, there will always be free spidering engines, but to be financially feasible they might need to scale back operations. This could simply mean abondoning the bells & whistles, but it could also come at the expense of the speed, size, and relevancy we have come to expect.
This could open the door for specialty destinations (search engines, directories, guides, etc.), but they still need to be found, too. Joe Public (and his lovely wife, Jane Public) have been conditioned to think in terms of one engine / one box, so it might take a high-level engine to deliver visitors to the specialty destinations. Who knows... maybe the future will be very Teoma-ish. Or a renaissance of linking. Or a new way of finding sites. Or all of the above. It all depends on which revenue models prove to be popular and sustainable.
It is interesting that this thread is kinda running anti or pro PPC and the various merits of PPC versus conventional (unprofitable) engines.
The thing that looks obvious to me is that the PPCs will be the engines that have the legitimate funding to run non-commercial type engines. Until now the theory has been "let's get the eyeballs, and the traffic and then figure out how to make money"... a totally backwards business principle. The PPCs are in a position to say "we are making money, how do we enhance our services and get more eyeballs"...a totally sound business principle. For a GoTo to ignore the non-commercial type serps would be a poor decision.
I am glad to see that the internet industry is putting on the "collective thinking cap" and heading towards a profit model.
I think the Nader bunch should be looking at the real issue here; namely Microsoft "smart tags". Smart tags could "enhance" the search results to an even greater degree with absolutely no disclosure to the surfer.
Looks like Jupiter is pumping up the benefits of paid placement.
Search Engines Shift Taking Ad Money for Placement [news.excite.com]
Why am i even looking at this, i am sweating my nuts of in Spain on Holiday - it must be addictive !
The internet, determined by return results of the search engines - is and will constantly evolve, like man has. Though i agree that ppc, listings, and any other deception of relevancy is bad news.
It is relevancy that will win the day. The internet is for the user, not the SE's or the SEO's, its all about the user getting what he/she wants. We've all seen the demise of SE's, for breaking this rule.
However with relevency, spam has to go as well, ghost, doorway pages and other little tricks, as a website should be manipulated with its content being the most relevant, not tricks to fool the search engines.
Its a game to me which i like playing, but i don't feel justified in criticising the SE's for decieving the searcher, if i am deceiving the SE's, as i am as guilty as them.
Drawing back on SEO strategies, their should be a conscensus of quality and not decieving quantity, then i beleive there are real grounds in which, to insult, abuse and enlighten the user of these gross deceptions by SE's, hopefully with them coming clean (definetly).
If the Internet is going to remain a free market, then search engines must be able to decide what links they want to put on their web site, under what order, and under whatever conditions they want. And if we don't like what they are doing (which I don't,) then we should all actively support others. They aren't "engines," they are web sites. You really want laws passed about this? Can you imagine passing laws telling you what links you will put on your site, in what order, and under what terms? Everyone is looking at search engines as if there is a place called "Internet Control Central," and there you have the greedy engines laughing at us peasants. You know as well as I, they started out as webmasters that took a risk. Look at Google just a couple of years ago. What were they, a few college kids that everyone laughed at when they launched their project? 99% of them failed, and many that succeeded are failing. By limiting their freedom, we will not get more engines, we'll get less. The ones today will close shop, and the new ones will suffer the same fate. It will all go to one company that controls all of them. What we have now isn't a monopoly. It's not even close. It's like saying that record companies have the monopoly on music.
>They aren't "engines," they are web sites. You really want laws passed about this? Can you imagine passing laws telling you what links you will put on your site, in what order, and under what terms?
No, not exactly. The laws were passed to prevent deceptive advertising, well before anyone ever heard of a search engine (I assume primarily directed towards mass media of the time). If the SEs tripped into this, they did so by ignoring well-known common business practices, i.e. disclosure, at their own peril. It wasn't like it was a great unknown, it was even mentioned here at WmW over a year ago.
Welcome to WebmasterWorld webb_masterson
Why did it take you a year to post?
Could there be others "out there" like you?
[wonders out loud]
Good Shout Mike,
Nowhere4, i do see your point, but the idea of a monopoly, due to bodies regulating deceptive practises, seems like a clever play on words, rather than an informed argument. The scope of this thread is DECEPTION, no-one as far as i can tell, is claiming that SE's should not make money - he he (maybe i missed that one).
It's disclosure of where a site is listed and whether it was financially determined then they should allow all to see that particular site, may not be the most relevant as the owners, PAID for the placement, rather than the content and quality of sites being principle to the return results.
>may not be the most relevant as the owners, PAID for the placement, rather than the content and quality of sites being principle to the return results.
Getting back to my original thought, a highly skilled and hopefully highly paid SEO is paid to achieve these rankings -ergo, also paid placement - the only difference is that the payment is NOT made to the SE, but to the SEO.
The content and quality issue, which is of course highly subjective, is based entirely on the expectation of the end user, regardless of the determination of the algorithm.
Example: Two users type in "fruit basket". User one wants to make one, user two wants to know where to have one shipped to a sick friend. Site ranking at number one sells and ships fruit baskets.
To user one, this is totally irrelevant or 0% relevant, commercial "spam". To user number two, the site is 100% relevant - whether paid for via PPC, SEO, or any other unnamed process.
So, if the site is paid placment, the SE is guilty, whereas if the site is manipulated into position by SEO, the SE is innocent - and unpaid.(Avoiding the good guy/bad guy issue entirely)
Perhaps each SE needs to run a disclaimer that all results may or may not be paid advertisements - paid to them <the SE> or to the SEO.
bigjohnt: Your logic is impeccable, apparent, and obvious to those schooled in free market economics.
>>Example: Two users type in "fruit basket". User one wants to make one, user two wants to know where to have one shipped to a sick friend. Site ranking at number one sells and ships fruit baskets.
To user one, this is totally irrelevant or 0% relevant, commercial "spam". To user number two, the site is 100% relevant - whether paid for via PPC, SEO, or any other unnamed process.
Wouldn't a smart internet user type in a term like:
"make fruit basket" or similar? if they wanted to just make one not buy one?
And for the one that wanted to buy one wouldn't they type in "Fruit Basket New York" or where they were sending to?
After a short while on the net most people figure out the best way hunt relevant results, be it in a directory or pay per click engine.
Lookle, ...my example was just that. An example - a simplified illustration of a concept. I would hope that yes, experienced users, through an iterative process, would know how to refine their searches.
My point was to illustrate the ignorance of the Nader/Ruskin camp regarding search results,fairness, and relevance based on PPC vs. SEO, vs. chaos.
Following Mssrs. Nader and Ruskin line of <cough>reasoning</cough> SEO *and* PPC should be illegal, as they are somehow "deceptive" and SE algorithms know best, and are somehow impartial - editorial if you will. <chuckle>Heck, everyone knows editorial means balanced an fair, right? </chuckle>
Umm...not to rain on anyone's parade, but I think some people might be overstating their cases.
"What we are seeing is what amounts to a monopoly of 6. They can do basically anything they want now. They maintain the monopoly by discouraging competition."
Running a search engine is not the lucrative business some of you seem to think it is. The point you are missing is that most SE companies are either losing money or barely profitable. With existing business models, and internet consumer expectations (such as getting everything for free) it's irrational to expect even 6 major SE's to survive for much longer.
Running a SE takes a lot of people, a lot of development, and a LOT of hardware. Companies exist to make money, and when no one wants to pay anywhere along the line, there is a problem.
So lighten up or pay up, because you can't have your cake and eat it too.
Sorry, just my two cents....
It seems that SE's are starting to take notice........
AOL now has this disclaimer before paid listings
|Sponsored Links: |
* Provided by a third party and not endorsed by AOL.
Meanwhile, complaints have just been filed with the FTC because MS Passport is tied into XP.
|The new filing (PDF) amends the groups' July complaint (PDF) to the FTC, in which they said that Passport's proliferation in Windows XP would allow the company to "profile" consumers online. |
In the new filing, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Junkbusters and other privacy groups say that after tinkering with the system and reading a lot of press reports about XP, they found more objectionable things.
MS Passport: Straight to the FTC [wired.com]
I don't know if anyone is following this post anymore, but I wanted to share a thought.
This Commercial Alert group is concerned about GoTo and its partners from the consumer perspective. As an advertiser, I am concerned about GoTo and the PPC/Bid for Placement combination. If you have a very specific (niche) market with keywords like the ones below:
"searchengine optimization" ($4.31)
"online casino" ($5.10)
"data recovery" ($7.75)
"projector rental" ($15.61)
(I thought about calling and telling the people in the first place position that I won't click their link for $10.)
the 'bidding wars' get simply out of hand. And with the addition of all the partners to the GoTo network, it becomes even more important to have a presence in one of the top three spots.
Bids are going to get higher for everyone, and the pervasiveness of GoTo is going to force all of us to pay-to-play.
I personally don't think that consumers care about paid listings as long as they are relevant. However, if I were trying to find unbiased research and I used GoTo... I might get a little tired of getting a sales pitch... but it's just like spam, I wouldn't click it.