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WOW, look at the new * Sponsored Link *
Google Adwords * Sponsored Link *

 2:49 am on May 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

Has anyone noticed the *Sponsored Link* in the Google serps? My serps have moved up today on www2, and also seeing a *Sponsored Link* in the regular serps for all my adwords select URL's... It looks like this:

www.mydomain.com * Sponsored Link *

Is this brand new? Or have I just been missing it. I can be a little slow sometimes.



 10:44 am on May 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

No... the Google algorithm strives to rank on content. It does a very good job.

By its nature it actually forces improvement in quality and content simultaneously. I long ago realised that snappy spammy one page sites got nowhere. Give Google dozens of pages of decent content and you have a chance.

That's good. It's improvement... and it continues to drive forward in this direction. Evolution.

Stick a paid site in the middle of the returns and we are back to a spammy sales sites returned, regardless of the quality, size or content.

Quite apart from that there is principle here. If someone is paying money for placement, it should be open. No search engine should directly or indirectly deceive by not stating this and showing this.

As for SEO, I don't see the problem. With Google so many people know the ground rules it doesn't matter as much these days. Build a top notch extensive site that everyone wants to link to and it will do well in Google. Fact... SEO or no SEO.

Mikkel Svendsen

 10:54 am on May 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

To me there is a big difference between paid listings and SEO.

- With SEO you "only" get a change to rank better and gain more search traffic. We (SEO's) can't guarantee much in terms of results. We will do our best, and some of us only charge for results but still we do not have full control of things. We do not form the SERPS.

- On the other hand, search engines Do have full control (at least with their own engine). Paid placement is basicaly just a targeted text add.

I fully agree that paid placements should be clealy labeled and in my book a light gray text next to the link is not a good enough label :)


 11:00 am on May 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

>Give Google dozens of pages of decent content and you have a chance.<
Why does a quality site need to have dozens of pages to be good?

>Build a top notch extensive site that everyone wants to link to and it will do well in Google.<
Do you think that just sitting by, depending on sites to link to you works? You have to chase for links. People even pay for links.

>If someone is paying money for placement, it should be open. No search engine should directly or indirectly deceive by not stating this and showing this.<
Should that not apply to sites that pay for placement via SEO's? Such a site should identify itself as a paid SEO site?

>I long ago realised that snappy spammy one page sites got nowhere.<
If you ever want to know how to, I'll stickey you. But only if you give me a link.


 11:08 am on May 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

>> Do you think that just sitting by, depending on sites to link to you works? <<

It depends entirely on the site. In some case, most certainly, the answer is yes.

>> Should that not apply to sites that pay for placement via SEO's? <<

You miss the point completely. The point I was making was that the Google algorithm is forcing SEOs to create sites that offer good content.... the ones that anyhow should rank well. If this trend continues that may well be the only rule in the SEO handbook. My experience is that Google is gradually forcing SEO into the realms of normality, where best site wins. Not there yet of course, but that has been the trend.

>> If you ever want to know how to... <<

I came from that model and it is dead.


 11:09 am on May 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebGuerilla said "...There is no financial future in being the site on the web that attracts millions of anti-commercialism users searching for free information..."

Now thats where we disagree, basically diametrically opposed! And your spin seems high coloured with respect.

Google is not an anti-commercialsim site, nor is it based on free information. There is a "financial future" however for sites that provide a high quality product that is unqiue, and has the marketing nouce to know how to make it pay. Its just that some are more forward looking and innovative in revenue models than other, therfore avoiding going the way of the crowd and "established wisdom".

Where is the evidence that Google "...attracts millions of ant(i)-commercialism users searching for free information..."?

The millions of average google users could hardly be labelled as anti-commercialists wanting to free load, except perhaps by people like us who want to get our own spins in a highly used engine! Basically with the number of users google has now they cant all be out of work hippies...

It is a completely wrong perception that google provides uncommercial results. What it does is provides relevant results, and many of these happen to be commercial, though not as many as in other search engines.

My guess is that it attracts millions of intelligent users looking for objective and diverse information which is not buried by commercial spins.

Google users are buyers too, but they smart enough to know the search engine with the most relevant SERPS. Unfortunately paying cash for ranking decreases relevance as it favours those who are actually making a profit out of their site and can afford it. That therefore means usually people selling products. That is NOT why people use the Web and fuelled the mainstram use if it, and when they do there is places like Overture, Ebay, and thousands of shopping portals for them to go to (plus MSN :)) I dont believe we have got to the stage yet where the amount of budget you has determines how relevant your contribution is. But that is how PPC and pay for play works.

I have already argued in detail above why I think SERPS not driven by what people can pay will attract enough eyeballs for Google to make a buck by Adwords, joint ventures, offshoots. I wont go into it again apart from observing that Google is where they are now, as one of the few search engines indeed making a buck, because they themselves realised it, and everybody else went the way you are suggesting WG - (AV-LS etc.), and are now in never never land...

Nell says "...They're 90% commercial and they didn't get placed where they are purely because they were the best sites with the best content..."

Yes I agree, And SEO also helps, expecially in the olden days. And site design and content helps also. I was referring to listings based on paying cash for higher positions irrelvant to their content or value, and worded it carefully to make sure i wasnt misinterpreted. All sites have a reason - commercial or otherwise - be it self-aggrandisment, therapy, selling, vanity, linking with others, advertising etc etc. However Google's algo somehow, with some mistakes along the way, results in a far more useful index for the general and advanced searcher than any other, or at least in the top group. Searchers looking for shopping, or buying, or business, if they were smart, would go to shopping or buying portals or trade directories. Thats what i do...


 12:47 pm on May 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

As a nonprofit site that provides information to researchers and journalists, I'm very nervous about Google's recent direction.

Our information is 95 percent free and available to bots. The other 5 percent is our effort to offer additional content for a modest fee. There's 19 years of work behind our data, and over 90 percent of it is not available elsewhere on earth in digital or searchable form. Even after writing off the 19 years of work with the indexing and programming, our income from the site does not pay for the day-to-day upkeep, indexing, and bandwidth. WebmasterWorld itself is another example of content that isn't motivated by the bottom line return-on-investment.

I don't buy the argument that because most SERPs are full of commercial links, that this also makes it okay for Google to infect those links further with paid listings. And I don't buy the argument that since we're all tweaking our pages for Google's benefit, then Google has the right to manipulate their SERPs.

While I would prefer that there was zero for-profit commercialism on the Web, I realize that it's too late for that. I can't convert my site back to Telnet because I wouldn't get any eyeballs.

Yes, the SERPs returned are frequently infected with widget-sellers, even when the person seeking information isn't in the market for a widget. But all that can be done by now is what Google already tries to do. They try to match the results to the search terms with respect to the "importance" of returned links (PageRank) and, increasingly, the "theme or content value" of the links (relevance). There's nothing else you can possibly do as a search engine.

There once was the possibility of a search engine penalizing dot-com domains and jacking up dot-edus and dot-orgs and dot-govs. But NetSol got greedy and screwed up the domain system (there are adult-only sites that are dot-org now), and there's also the huge problem of non-U.S. (country) domains. So it's too late for that also. You have to analyze the page the way that Google does (although there's room for improvement). I don't see any other way.

Now one or two of you seem to think that Google may as well go ahead and abandon PageRank and content-analysis, and just mix in the paid links with the non-commercial stuff. Well, that's what all the other engines have been doing. Google is the major hold-out.

Why should Google continue to hold out? For one thing, Google's branding depends on it. That's the selfish reason. For another, search engines on the Web are a public resource. It is as important today to promote the non-commercial, information-content aspects of Web searching, as it was for Andrew Carnegie to promote public libraries 100 years ago. Don't ask me why the nonprofit sector hasn't picked up the ball on this -- it's indeed a sad state of affairs. Where's Carnegie when we need him? Why must Bill Gates be so greedy? That's why the BBC's engine is an encouraging development.

The point is that if you don't hold Google's feet to the fire on maintaining a rigid separation between paid and non-paid results, much like a newspaper separates news from op-ed, and labels any advertising that isn't obvious -- then eventually some other engine will come along that does do this. It will be the same old story. Google replaced AltaVista because Google believed in purity. Two years from now, it might be BBC replacing Google because of BBC's purity.


 2:06 pm on May 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

> Two years from now, it might be BBC replacing Google because of BBC's purity.

The BBC's "purity" is heavily backed by Google's editorial results. In turn, those editorial results are largely funded by Google's ad programs, not by the licensing fees that Google receives from the BBC.

The BBC won't say how much it is paying to Google that I've seen, but I'm sure it is a drop in the bucket in comparison to Google's overall ad revenues. It is those ad revenues that are making Google possible, and if they go away, potentially Google could go away.

The trend for most companies seeking search is not to pay search providers for results but instead to get a share of ad revenues. Very few companies are looking to spend on search -- they want to earn on it.

The BBC is a unique situation in that the taxpayers are covering the bill -- and I'm one of those taxpayers. I pay a mandatory $165 per year for the right to have a television in my home in the UK. That money goes to the BBC, and some of it is now in turn going from the BBC to pay Google for the new BBC search engine.

Now let's say everyone loves that the BBC has an ad free service and heads over there. Google, commercial search engines that use Google and even those partnered with Google competitors lose traffic. They lose ad revenue. How do they then fund expensive crawls and storage retrieval?

Perhaps they raise licensing fees. OK, the BBC might decide to keep paying -- but then again, maybe not, especially in that they'd have to pay a lot more, since Google would now be much more dependent on licensing fees. At a higher price, the British public (or the Beeb's management) might decide it doesn't want to fund a search engine, especially one being made available to non-taxpayers outside the US.

Maybe the US government decides it, too, needs to fund a "non-profit" search engine. I wouldn't expect that to happen, but stranger things....

In conclusion, the future of "pure" ad-free search engines is ironically to me largely tied to the ad-based search engines being successful and building trust. But absolutely, they need to do a much better job of helping people understand what's paid, what's not. Google's been very good about this, but the industry as a whole has created confusion, something which the BBC's playing up big time to convince people to use its search engine.

By the way, my wife who is British loves that the BBC has its own search engine, thinks it's a great idea, since new people want something they trust -- and the BBC speaks loudly when it comes to trust. Of course, when I asked her if she'd used it, she said no -- she uses Google :)


 2:18 pm on May 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

I like too like the BBC engine. I think it is an amazing idea a good use for the website. Why not, as a government service, make everything available on the website? Cool work Beeb!

On a side point, Channel 4 is using Espotting...


 5:55 pm on May 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

I agree that ad-free search needs an ad based revenue stream, and I'm pretty confident that Google wouldn't try to sneak ads into BBC's search.

I think that Google will benefit considerably from their subtle relationship with the BBC, as those three letters still carry significant cachet in many parts of the world.

If I was trying to get some ISP or media group to adopt Google search and AdWords then I'd love to be able to drop "as used by the BBC" into the conversation.


 3:09 am on May 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

And to Google it seems they have begun to use Opentext's form of advertising "It is not clear who deserves to be there, but who is willing to pay money to be listed." Example a search engine could add a small factor for "friendly companies" and subtract a factor from competitors. This type of bias is very difficult to detect, furthermore providing a poor quality search result for some companies would evoke them to become advertisers to pay for expenses.

Opentext was a search engine ahead of its time! Too bad it went out of business years ago from lack of funds. Google is said to have based ideas from Opentext's business model which now seem more prevelant with this news.


 3:32 am on May 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

I dont think we should jump to conclusions apart from some titillating assumptions about what exactly WAS the No8 experiment/bug!

Google is very clear from GoogleGuy and (I'm pretty sure) on its site that Ads and Pure Listings are completely separate. In fact they would lose their main credibility by creating any relationshop between them.

The main google database is their product/service. Adwords and add ons like answers and services like search technology are the way they make money from the service/product. If the value of their product/service is compromised or decreases, so does the value of Adwords, as less people would visit, and therefore see Adwords..

However the way Google's results are delivered to partners like Yahoo, AOL and Earthlink and BBC would i guess be dependent on the separate agreements. Inktomi reults are different from deliver to deliverer, depending on the way they want to use their results I guess.


 4:11 am on May 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm with you chiyo. Different results for different engines but keep itself clean - that would be perfectly respectable for Google IMO. Most of you know yourselves (ye learned ones) that if you want paid results clearly seperate from paid results you go to Google. And you also know that if you go to the likes of OverTure, Yahoo, AltaVista etc that you're going to come across paid placement/sponsored listings in the SERP's.

I don't see that this bug and the likely outcome of it is going to be that disturbing.


 4:59 am on May 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

Sorry to thow cold water on the flame again, tofu, but here goes.

>>Google it seems they have begun to use Opentext's form of advertising "It is not clear who deserves to be there, but who is willing to pay money to be listed."

I'm sorry, but that is a completely unsubstantiated, inane and irrelevant observation to have injected into a thread discussing Google, the most highly esteemed and popular search engine ever to hit the internet, and the most relevant SERPS to boot. They are a phenomenon in their own right.

Need I remind you that Google's foundation is based upon Page Rank, developed by Larry Page, and that their search is based on patented technology? They also have a think tank of over 50 PHDs and astute corporate minds formulating policy, I really don't think they'd need to emulate a fallen business model.

>>Example a search engine could add a small factor for "friendly companies" and subtract a factor from competitors.<<

There has never, ever been even so much as a clue, hint or intimation of such a a thing. Google has grown because of the integrity of it's SERPs and the integrity of its practices, as evidenced by the overwhelming response of the public not only in a coveted award being voted on right now, but also evidenced by the overwhelming popularity of Google with the public, not to mention the giant stride AOL has taken in choosing Google for their search.

Yes, a search engine most certainly could, but guaranteed, they would quickly lose credibility with the public, and you can be assured that it would be exposed by any of the astute commentators on today's search engine scene.

>>This type of bias is very difficult to detect, furthermore providing a poor quality search result for some companies would evoke them to become advertisers to pay for expenses.

That is a very strange strange train of thought to intersperse here, I'm afraid you'd have a hard time finger-pointing with any search engine that openly sells advertising, which they all do. To accuse them of deliberately trying to devise poor quality search results is to accuse them of deliberately trying to manipulate their way into disfavor with the public.

>>Opentext was a search engine ahead of its time! Too bad it went out of business years ago from lack of funds. Google is said to have based ideas from Opentext's business model which now seem more prevelant with this news.

Well, obviously Opentext failed and Google most certainly has not and will not! Google is also ahead of their time, and the public has responded overwhelmingly. And they evidently also have a far better business model, and are quite capable of raising venture capital at will. That is the acid test of excellence in the final analysis, is it not? Is it not the public that decides? And the venture capitalists who place their confidence with their wallets?

I think we need to stay with realistic points of analysis and keep away from injecting irrelevant FUD.


 2:03 pm on May 10, 2002 (gmt 0)


Visit Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page at Stanford written in 1998 by the creators of Google, "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine". Those ideas are based of off Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page.

Read for yourself the section intitled "8 Appendix A: Advertising and Mixed Motives". It's also a great read to understand more about Google from the minds of Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page.


 12:12 am on May 11, 2002 (gmt 0)

> Read for yourself the section intitled "8 Appendix A: Advertising and Mixed Motives". It's also a great read to understand more about Google from the minds of Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page.

Yes, if you read it, it is pretty clear they are explaining all the various ways search engines could be tricky to underscore the point that they think that needs to be avoided, to be successful, as they conclude:

"But we believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm."

Years later, they've held to that transparency. That's how this whole thread got started, people concerned that they were going to abandon it.

If you really want to be paranoid, that section has this much better quote:

"For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers."

Uh oh, Google's an advertising funded search engine. So there you are, the founders condemning themselves years before they made it as a success. However, I think you'd probably find that when they said "advertising," the were considering the banner-ad funded search engines at the time.

Open Text's paid listings had just happened not too long before the paper, and the web audience was not prepared for it. Today, the idea of textually ads is commonplace and readily accepted, I would say, as long as they are not the sole results one receives and they are clearly delineated.

By the way, dismissing Open Text as a a result of its paid listings experiment is a bit unfair. For one thing, those paid listings were actually apparently pretty well marked -- but the climate of a non-commercial web just made the concept at all unworkable.

More importantly, Open Text's biggest problem was that it was a search company that didn't know which way to go: enterprise search or web search? It opted for enterprise search and the last figures I saw gave it a good, healthy chunk of that market. That's not a failure at all.


 3:03 am on May 11, 2002 (gmt 0)

>Maybe the US government decides it, too, >needs to fund a "non-profit" search engine. >I wouldn't expect that to happen, but >stranger things....

Danny Sullivan, meet Gary Mosher. Gary Mosher, try to say hello politely to Danny Sullivan.

Good point on Open Text, Danny. An early mover in the search engine space worthy of respect for their high quality search emanating from the computer scientists at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. And a remarkably successful transition to an enterprise intranet platform, long before "everyone was doing it."

Just wondering about this Google "bug"... no one seems to have mentioned (based on the screen shot I saw) that the search results displayed in the screen shot, other than the sponsored one of course, are totally different from the search results you get if you type the same query in yourself?

So isn't it plausible to suggest that this page came from a long-outdated part of the database? I vaguely recall that Google experimented with this way of displaying sponsored results *pre-AdWords* ... but didn't wind up implementing it that way because of negative feedback. Or am I imagining things?


I personally don't believe that Google is actually piloting anything fishy here.

But on the other hand it is entirely possible that AOL may want them to do it. In fact, when you think about why Overture might have been dropped by AOL, a part of it might have been Overture's lack of ownership of an actual search engine. Since Google runs both a real search engine and a PPC ad program, it's really the best choice for AOL should they wish to fold some AdWords into the regular results. You know and I know the majority of AOL users won't question it, and won't squawk, even if the paid results are not well delineated. The whole portal is riddled with AOL cross-promotions & advertising in general, anyway.

Make no mistake about how many advertisers would be quietly salivating about being folded into search results on AOL. This type of thing is going on in at least one major place - a new way of displaying results at a fairly major search destination that no longer tells you which ones are paid, and which aren't.

At the very least, this might cut down on competitor click fraud!

But the more this trend continues, the harder discerning searchers will have to look to find serious, non-advertising-laced, search tools. The obvious solution is to have fee-based access to no-advertising versions of the search engines.


 4:10 pm on May 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

I have a hunch that The "adwords bug" may be a test pilot, as many have suggested in this thread. I think we will see it again on one of the syndicated sites or possibly BBC. Also, it's possible that Google will add it to some new partner site. Or, possibly it was a BUG. Who knows. It will be fun to see. One of Google's pages that I read a while back came to mind:


"Add Google WebSearch™ and Sponsored Links to your site and you add a powerful set of tools for increasing your traffic and your revenue"

"Join a growing list of distinguished Google Sponsored Link partners"


 5:27 pm on May 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

Sanity check:

If you were one of Google's Premium Sponsorship customers, would you prefer to have your ad displayed in position two on the page, or in position eight?

You do the math... ;)


 5:38 pm on May 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

>position two on the page, or in position eight?

How about the implications in the case of Yahoo having an exclusive with Overture for sponsored listings, though. This would be one way of getting around that - maybe, maybe not. I'm just looking at the timing of the contract renewal next month and the timing of the appearance of this "bug." Food for thought, but it does make for interesting math.


 9:17 pm on May 12, 2002 (gmt 0)


There are some that might be attempting to keep their searches more pure. Maybe they think people (especially us) won't cry too much if the results are further down the page. Then again, who is to say that it won't also include some higher up positions as suggested earlier in this post ( #4, #8, #12 or something). Or, maybe nothing at all will come of this. But, it's fun to speculate.


 10:16 pm on May 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

People trust Google's actual search results. I bet position 8 gets clicked on more frequently than the position 2 sponsored match in Google's results.

The idea that this was a mistake is certainly believable. They mistakenly let the cat out of the bag.

The idea that this was a bug is ridiculous. It is a program, not a bug. Complex results like we saw don't just randomly happen by accident. They have to be programmed.

The fact that they put the sponsored match at #8 should tell you that the #8 position is clicked on slightly more frequently than the #2 sponsored results. They had to have chosen the #8 position in order to gain more revenue. It's just basic business.

brotherhood of LAN

 10:31 pm on May 12, 2002 (gmt 0)


regardless of where the sponsored links "would" be and their potential, I think google will also be taking into account that their reputation is based on the fact their results are relevant and clean. If the sponsored links were to simply be placed 1,2,3....the some people on smaller monitors would actually have to scroll down to get relevant results!!

im sure google will be taking that sort of perspective when they make these bold decisions, because if they forget their roots, they can forget their SE popularity! :)


 12:07 am on May 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think they're going to go this route sooner or later. It explains why they're cleaning up their Adword text -- no exclamation points, no inappropriate caps, no stupid words like "click" allowed, according to what I've been reading.

Adword text that looks like someone tried to write an ad would stand out too glaringly in the main serps.

Also, consider what an advantage Google would be in if they can feed their ads into the SERPs stream. That way they can seamlessly offer their feed to other front ends that want to include their own ads in side boxes. Google's contract would most likely prevent them from tampering with the SERP stream ads. Google can also can feed it to wireless or mobile devices with with tiny screens. They can sell position ($$$ for 8, $$ for 16, etc.)

When you think of it, everything becomes a whole lot easier from the developmental point of view at Google.

Eventually, just shrink the size of the gray *Sponsored link* tag. The smaller it gets, the more clicks and the more you can charge. Very easy to do, and very easy to adjust to the climate with Ralph Nader and such. When Ralph comes a-knocking, just change the *Sponsored link* tag to bright red, and Ralph goes away. After he goes away, start shrinking it a bit. Then change it back to gray.

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