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Debate: Does Google Manipulate Organic SERPs to Improve Ad Income?
tedster




msg:3483066
 12:00 am on Oct 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Several members would like to discuss the idea that Google may or may not manipulate their organic search results to increase Adwords income. Here's your chance to air your opinions.

We'll start by splicing in a selection of comments that were taken from other threads.

[edited by: tedster at 1:08 am (utc) on Oct. 21, 2007]

 

nomis5




msg:3483450
 7:56 pm on Oct 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Maybe they do, maybe they don't. But money rules the world so you can be sure they do. So what? If you knew the real answer would it make any difference? Not for me.

Reno




msg:3483500
 10:09 pm on Oct 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

If you knew the real answer would it make any difference? Not for me

I think this is an interesting point. If in fact they are "manipulating" results via their algo (the purposeful inclusion of junk theory), and it is being done eveningly across the boards without any one site taking an unfair hit or gaining an unfair advantage, then maybe it's something people will have to learn to live with, whether they like it or not.

If the unspoken understanding is that AdWords will drive more traffic your way because the organic SERPs will have these nonsense listings mixed in -- thus giving visitors more reason to click a sponsored ad -- then each siteowner will have to decide for themselves whether they want to put money on the table, or take their chances with the free listings.

[edited by: tedster at 3:16 am (utc) on Oct. 22, 2007]

gehrlekrona




msg:3483504
 10:23 pm on Oct 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Interesting thoughts from everybody.
Guess I just have one question.
Does AdWords/AdSense feed the SERP or is it the other way around?

europeforvisitors




msg:3483615
 3:13 am on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

When you watch a sitcom and you don't think some of the jokes are funny, does that mean the network sabotaged the script so you'd go to the bathroom during the show instead of during the commercials?

When you go to a baseball game and your team does badly, does that mean the players are striking out or missing plays so you'll spend less time in your seat and more time at the concession stand?

Where (if anywhere) do the conspiracy theorists draw the line?

gehrlekrona




msg:3483633
 3:36 am on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

I don't know if it's a conspiracy theory or not but Google didn't (doesn't?) make any money from the search itself. The SERP's are just an excuse to make money from scraped(?) content from our web sites. Witout our web sites there would be no Google. It is a simple as that.
So what did they have to do to make money? Ah... let's have people bid on ads so we can pay for developing some free software so we can compete with M$ and it we do it well, we can place some search results in a help files with some ads and make some more money....
Then GOOG came up with the idea that people could place the ads on their web sites and get paid like 1 cent for a click and GOOG makes even more money.
Some MFA sites came up with the smart idea that they could place some images close to the AdSense ads and that made people more aware of the ads and clicked more. That was TOO smart for GOOG and they were pi##ed that they didn't come up with the idea so they banned it. The only reason they banned it was that they wanted to use the same idea themselves and nobody could compete so they came up with the excuse that it generated click fraud.... hell no, it generated revenue for both GOOG and the AdSense publisher.
Guess I am ranting and totally OT....
What I am trying to say is that GOOG is ALL about money and their "thing" is not search anymore, it is generating money from AdSense/AdWords. They are nothing more than big advertising agent using our content to attract advertisers/money. They have NO content to talk about on their site so the King is not content. I'd say they are nothing more than an MFA site, i.e. change content to what pays best.

europeforvisitors




msg:3483636
 3:43 am on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

I don't know if it's a conspiracy theory or not but Google didn't (doesn't?) make any money from the search itself.

They certainly make money from the audience that comes to look at those search results. And they'd make a whole lot less money if that audience got fed up and went somewhere else.

Reno




msg:3483639
 3:46 am on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

What I am trying to say is that GOOG is ALL about money and their "thing" is not search anymore

Anybody who reads my posts knows I'm not a Google defender, but I do think their behavior is easily explainable by 2 words:

Public Corporation

When they went public, they entered a new arena -- now they answer to their stockholders, not to their founders or to the private investors that gave them their start.

When you answer to stockholders, you had better make d@mn sure you maximize your profits, or you'll be looking at the potential of shareholder lawsuits.

Right now, Google shareholders are very happy, and management intends to keep it that way.

............................

tedster




msg:3483650
 4:13 am on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

One thing to note here - Google has not said "no comment" about adjusting the organic results with regards to AdWords. They have clearly said "we don't do that."

europeforvisitors




msg:3483656
 4:22 am on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

When you answer to stockholders, you had better make d@mn sure you maximize your profits, or you'll be looking at the potential of shareholder lawsuits.

That's another "straw man" argument. No one is suggesting that Google isn't trying to maximize its profits. The question posed by this thread is whether Google is trying to maximize its profits through corrupt, deceptive short-term tactics or a sound, intelligent long-term strategy.

Hissingsid




msg:3483727
 8:11 am on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

This is all too important for a for profit company to control with no external checks and balances.

They could do it therefore some organisation outside should make sure they don't or they should have the ability to do it taken from them.

Cheers

Sid

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3483816
 11:16 am on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

When you watch a sitcom and you don't think some of the jokes are funny, does that mean the network sabotaged the script so you'd go to the bathroom during the show instead of during the commercials?

When you go to a baseball game and your team does badly, does that mean the players are striking out or missing plays so you'll spend less time in your seat and more time at the concession stand?

With respect, these are not valid analogies. Bad television and bad baseball chase audiences away. That would not be a good business model for advertisers now would it?

The question posed by this thread is whether Google is trying to maximize its profits through corrupt, deceptive short-term tactics or a sound, intelligent long-term strategy.

The question posed has nothing to do with corruption or deception, read it again. If Google did indeed manipulate the results it could hardly be called corrupt. They provide their results for free so we can take them or leave them. They are entitled to do anything they want with them. They owe us nothing. They also have fairly all encompassing T and C's.

A couple of examples...
In order to use the Services, you must firstly agree to the Terms. You may not use the Services if you do not accept the Terms.

The manner, mode and extent of advertising by Google on the Services are subject to change without specific notice to you.


trinorthlighting




msg:3483839
 12:01 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

This is very interesting and I think there is another more profitable aspect you are all missing here which is Google Check out Stores that accept Google Check Out. We noticed a big jump in rankings after we started accepting Google check out. We feel it was a jump in trust rank that made our search engine rankings go up. We even had a survey question asking us if we noticed and increase in search engine rankings. Although, If Google is processing credit card transactions there should be an increase in trust rank since Google partnered with our site in that aspect.

Yes Google does not charge credit card processing fees yet, but they soon will be and it will be more profitable than AdWords.

Reno




msg:3483905
 1:11 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

The question posed by this thread is whether Google is trying to maximize its profits through corrupt, deceptive short-term tactics or a sound, intelligent long-term strategy

It's all about semantics. I didn't say they were corrupt or deceptive, what I said is as a public corporation, they will do what they need to do (and are required to do), to bring home the most bacon. I'm simply stating it as an obvious fact, not an angry accusation.

For example, let's examine trinorthlighting's interesting observation:

We noticed a big jump in rankings after we started accepting Google check out. We feel it was a jump in trust rank that made our search engine rankings go up.

Is that corrupt or deceptive of Google? Depends on your point of view I guess. However if true, it does "manipulate" the rankings in giving higher position to websites that will pay a percentage to their corporation. It's subtle, but effective. Now extend that over other areas and before you know it, the $$ adds up rather nicely, which keeps the shareholders very happy. They fulfill their legal mandate, siteowners who use their income-generating services get rewarded with a bit of a boost, and the websurfing public at large still gets perfectly adequate SERPs, but is none the wiser as to the reasons for the rankings. Very clever really.

So as I said in a previous post, it may be a policy we'll have to learn to live with (assuming that trinorthlighting's increase was not simply a coincidence).

<Personal note: I do not use Google Check-Out so I can't verify this independently>

.......................

Miamacs




msg:3483913
 1:16 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

Okay.

Gehrlekrona, EFV, Reno, I hope you know you're describing the same elephant.
But you're all missing the point.

Go back and read my post on the prev. page again.
Okay, then only the last few sentences.

...

Google is using a business model where they don't have to 'manipulate' the results.

Webmasters and SEOs do it for them.
AdSense vs. AdWords.
Affiliates vs Brick and Mortar.
Virtual vs Physical.
ROI vs roi.

SEO is king.

the end.

Patent like definition:

SEO is the key to appear on the SERPs.
If you combine SEO with CONTENT, you can beat SPAM.
You can't beat SPAM with CONTENT.
You can compete with, but not beat SPAM with SEO.

Google can't predict the ratio of sites that use SEO-only vs. SEO with CONTENT.
Google only needs to intervene if SPAM is at untolerable levels for USERS.
When the SEOs who don't use CONTENT are in far greater numbers.

All they need to do is sit back and watch the show...

While we webmasters and their algo/spam team are fighting a battle against the ever cunning opportunists, which we/they can't really win, as long as we/they make an effort, their SERPs will be moderately clean. Their users and shareholders happy. Their SE one step ahead of competition, and one step behind the world's best SEOs.

Just enough people will rank with their legit, relevant, quality sites to make most of the public happy.

With just enough informational sites outnumbering commercial, and just enough trash on the SERPs to make people bid/click on ads.

They are lending us a hand for they know the SEOs who USE CONTENT are a rare kind. GWT is a tool I never would have expected. Also, they kicked out arbitrators from AdWords ( selling virtual ads for sites that sold virtual products that sold... ).

If they tighten a screw to raise the bar for appearing on the SERPs (Trust) the first ones to fall out will be the least quality-linked, least informational or least popular, least academic sites, ie. SPAM, blogs, junk and legit low-profile (commercial) sites.

Their recipe contained ingredient X, the human factor...
...and the market is kinda exploiting their own products for them.

( If they'd be so fond of the situation, ie. thought they were in control and everything's fine, they wouldn't be so desperate to market their other stuff even after years, even though the public seems utterly uninterested )

...

Did they plan this when they thought of Google's PageRank technology?
Did they know this when they first introduced AdWords...?
Or when they opened up AdSense to anyone and everyone...?
I don't think so.

Their business model kinda wrote itself.
We... webmasters, SEOs are doing the balancing of their SERPs along the lines of their reaction to whatever we did last month.

...

It's not Google that pushes junk onto the SERPs.
It's webmasters and SEOs who don't use CONTENT.
Just remember that.

It's not like they don't profit from a still tolerable, yet somewhat high amount of low-quality results.

And it's not like they don't profit from the fact that their link popularity based system will always favor informational, educational, entertainment and whatnot sites that are rarely commercial destinations/advertisements, but are perhaps AdSense vessels. And push the less popular, ie. seldom-linked commercial stuff below the fold.

They didn't do it.
We did it. The users did it.
I don't think they even planned for that.
It wasn't their intention from day one.

It's more likely... that at some point in between launching Google and opening up AdWords they realized parts of it. It was the only way to make money off of Google after all. I don't think they predicted the rest. It's easy to figure it out in retrospect but at that time there were NO such programs available to draw conclusions from.

...

The only manipulation of the SERPs I ever saw from Google was Universal Search which I don't really like and consider aggressive, but not deceptive, as people will KNOW if they don't want to see News / Videos / Books on a certain topic, and will simply not click on these listings. ( The reason we don't like is how it pushes everything below no.6/7 to the second page )

...

But Google doesn't 'shake up' the SERPs so it'd include more trash.

- They don't have to, SEOs do it for the sake of AdSense, affiliate and other such programs
- They must not do so, otherwise the first semi-official insider comment on this would be the end of their public company
- They can't do it because their infrastructure doesn't allow them to do so
- They don't really wanna do it, because it'd hurt those who work at Google. I can relate to that

...

Closing arguments:

The point is white-, gray-, RGB- and CMYK hat SEOs can turn the tables.
Try using an INCLUSIVE not an EXCLUSIVE approach to SEO, meaning linking to, and get linked from relevant competitors.
Revise the semantics of your site.
Correct accessibility problems.
Get more links.
That's how Google works. That's how thin sites and SPAM can be ahead of you.

A single, random link from a trust-hub to their neighborhood could have turned the tide. Study their link profile. It's the same system. There are always patterns and clues to learn your lesson from.

honestly... many people on WW have shown me their commercial sites of which have pretty much the same link profiles if not worse than any of the SPAM they're trying to battle. Directories, blogs ( not blogspam but blogs ), some sitewide reciprocals from offtopic sites and that's it.

Reno




msg:3483967
 2:32 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

Very well written Miamacs. Two observations...

1. You've given this a great deal of thought and your conclusions make a great deal of sense

2. You are a world class champion typer.

;)

..............................

europeforvisitors




msg:3484037
 3:22 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

it's not like they don't profit from the fact that their link popularity based system will always favor informational, educational, entertainment and whatnot sites that are rarely commercial destinations/advertisements, but are perhaps AdSense vessels. And push the less popular, ie. seldom-linked commercial stuff below the fold.

That really depends on the search. If you search on "digital widget stores" or "digital widget prices" or "buy digital widgets," pretty much all of the top results will be commercial. If you merely search on "digital widget" or "digital widgets," most (though probably not all) of the top results will be manufacturer pages and reviews--which simply means that Google Search is fulfilling its mission, which is about "organizing the world's information and making it universally acceptable," not serving as a shopping directory (though Google does offer Product Search for that market).

Fact is, Google was defaulting to "informational, educational, entertainment and whatnot sites" long before it began carrying advertising. SEOs, online retailers, etc. who complain that Google is somehow cheating by favoring Wikipedia or widgetreviews.com over their retail and affiliate sites need to understand that Google's mission is different from theirs.

As for the suggestion by Miamacs and others that Google somehow benefits from crappy results and the attentions of SEOs, that seems pretty farfetched to me for two reasons:

1) Fighting spam is expensive. Google's job would be far simpler (and its search department would be far smaller) if it could just have a "set and forget" algorithm and let people like Matt Cutts work on new, moneymaking corporate initiatives.

2) In the context of Google Search (which we're discussing here), Google is a media company. Search results are its product, and it attracts and retains users ("eyeballs" in the advertising business) by offering a product--SERPs--that users like. The notion that Google intentionally crapifies 5% or 10% of its top search results to make more AdWords revenues says more about the accusers than it does about Google. Real media companies don't work that way. They define their target audiences, and they try as hard as they can to supply what those target audiences want--whether they're THE NEW YORK TIMES, Fox News, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, or the producers of a sitcom. They may not always succeed, but that's beside the point, and it doesn't mean that Google intentionally allows spam in its search results or that "The Simpsons" intentionally includes a few jokes in every episode that aren't funny.

randle




msg:3484052
 3:37 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

Does Google Manipulate Organic SERPs to Improve Ad Income?

Depends on how you look at it;
Do they manipulate them to make them worse so visitors will be more inclined to click on Adwords? No, they donít; doing that would not make any sense. The quality of the organic serpís is all Google has to attract visitors, who in turn provide a return on the money advertisers spend.

Do they try and manipulate the SERPís to make them better, and cleaner, so more visitors will come and be exposed to their advertiserís ads? Yeah, all the time.

All Google really has to monetize is the quality of their organic results; thatís the cash cow; period. You can take all the other stuff they dabble in and it doesnít matter one bit next to the organic search results they produce. Itís why they make the amount of money they do. They would never purposely degrade that in the hope people would be more inclined to get their information from Adwords; its just not going to work that way cause the people eventually wonít come.

You donít want to be drinking the kool aid Google regularly serves up, (lots of people do, even around here) because theirs plenty to be legitimately skeptical about. But this is one conspiracy theory you can just put to bed.

trinorthlighting




msg:3484065
 3:45 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

I have to agree with Miamacs, IMHO 80% of the web pages on the internet are pure junk, 20% is good and relevant to the subject I search for at any given time.

Many webmasters think that since their pages do not rank well that Google is forcing them to use AdWords. Letís all be a little honest here, I have clicked through to many AdWords ads when I shop and found that sites were not that good.

A good example, ECommerce sites without return policies or telephone numbers, sites that are hard to navigate, sites that do not display in fire fox correctly, sites that the server is unavailable and to top it off sites that are extremely slow and sites that are not secure.

Beauty is in the eye of beholder which is very true, but webmasters who are not ranking well should ask the ones that are for honest opinions.

Honestly, Google does not need to manipulate sites, like Miamacs stated "webmasters do it for them"

Seo1




msg:3484112
 4:33 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

Anyone who believes Google does not test landing pages, use A / B split testing, measure CTR for their pages, etc then is misguided and still believes Google does no evil.

Why on earth would Google give webmasters optimization advice for Adsense, Adwords, SEO, Ad Serving and not optimize their own website for increased revenues?

We are in the 21st century correct?

Miamacs




msg:3484115
 4:35 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

...typer

*blush* ...Reno... uh... yeah, well... bummer.
As someone who never managed fewer projects than 5 at a time... you tend to pick up this skill. I'm the shame of the family. I can think as I type. but then again I can also type while I'm asleep.

...

...

@ EFV, I'm not sure who you are having this debate with ... *smirk*

Read my posts again, for...

That really depends on the search.

That's what I said.

Generic search provides generic results. Even though some of the user intent by typing in 'whatever DVD' might be clear without adding BUY, it only makes sense to use such a system.

not serving as a shopping directory

That's what I said.

Adding that the first *good* SE that WILL be serving as such, might make a buck or two.

Fact is, Google was defaulting to "informational, educational, entertainment and whatnot sites" long before it began carrying advertising. SEOs, online retailers, etc. who complain that Google is somehow cheating by favoring Wikipedia or widgetreviews.com over their retail and affiliate sites need to understand that Google's mission is different from theirs.

That's what I said.

Adding that Google isn't cheating. That is how the system works.

The notion that Google intentionally crapifies 5% or 10% of its top search results to make more AdWords revenues...

Yes, well that's not what I said.
Actually they have to fight SPAM ( SEO w/o CONTENT ) to keep it under the tolerance level. As soon as the quality of their SERPS starts slipping away, USERS, stockholders and the market might stop liking them, and then they can't sell ads either. While they are profiting from mixed quality SERPs ( as some of the webmasters profit from mixed quality content + AdSense ), it's not something they do deliberately, it's something that HAPPENS to them and their ad programs. And as you keep saying, this isn't in their interest in the long term. It's not them, it's the SEOs who cr@ppify the SERPs. You bet Google doesn't like not being in control so they - and btw WE too - are fighting a losing battle against cr@p.

You know what, read trinorth's post.

Then read my post again as well ...please.
I know ...its long. Sorry.

Want me to type it again? *cough*

[edited by: Miamacs at 4:37 pm (utc) on Oct. 22, 2007]

europeforvisitors




msg:3484138
 4:58 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

Yes, well that's not what I said.

No, but it's what a whole lot of other people have said, and they're the ones who need to be set straight. :-)

loudspeaker




msg:3484145
 5:01 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

EFV wrote:

SIDE NOTE: I get really, really angry when I search for "[destination] travel" in Google Product Search and find maps and guidebooks listed instead of my travel-information site. Google must by manipulating those Product Search results in the hope that information sites will buy more AdWords. :-)

Ignoring sarcasm, I'd like to say that including those in organic results seems indicative of the value Google assigns to web site content.

As I said in another thread, I think they're dreaming of the day when they are allowed to index everything possible (maps, books, your airline reservation records, you name it) and quietly move web site results somewhere way, way down.

[edited by: loudspeaker at 5:38 pm (utc) on Oct. 22, 2007]

Reno




msg:3484174
 5:30 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think they're dreaming of the day when they are allowed to index everything possible...and quietly move web site results somewhere way, way down.

How can having all that information improve their organic results, which according to what randle has written here, is their "cash cow"?

..........................

europeforvisitors




msg:3484228
 6:24 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

How can having all that information improve their organic results, which according to what randle has written here, is their "cash cow"?

Just because Google may be able to help you keep track of your airline reservations or where you left your mobile phone won't mean that information is going to be presented in the organic search results by default. Some of it could be if, for example, Google let you check a "Show in search results" box on its "Track Lost Items with RFID and GPS" page. Of course, if that happened, somebody here would start a thread on how Google is trying to put lost-and-found departments out of business with Universal Search. :-)

powerstar




msg:3484389
 9:15 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

Google's stated corporate mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible."

Only Google can come up with this corporate mission and the rest of us left with "try to make money"

I don't know about manipulating the results but i definitely seeing more and more AdSense on most of the sites in the results. So click on the Adwords or click on the sites in the results with AdSense

europeforvisitors, i am assuming you are running an info site with AdSense on it so you are not an Adwords advertiser. Just for us to understand your point of view.

europeforvisitors




msg:3484402
 9:40 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

Only Google can come up with this corporate mission and the rest of us left with "try to make money"

I don't think you understand the purpose of a mission statement. By definition, any business will try to make money. It does that by fulfilling a certain mission.

For example:

- A single-route airline that offers "all business class" service between JFK and London's Stansted Airport obviously wants to make money, but its mission might be "to provide cost-effective, comfortable air service to corporate customers whose employees travel frequently between New York and London."

- A Web travel-planning site for visitors to Elbonia might have a mission of "providing travel advice and links to related resources for independent travelers to Elbonia," which is a lot different from a generic statement like "to make money from the Web."

- A search engine whose mission statement is "to organize the world's information and make it universally acceptable" has made its purpose fairly clear; it obviously wants to make money, but it does that by acting as a conduit between information sources and seekers. In the context of this thread, the question is whether Google can make more money by fulfilling its mission or by subverting that mission. You're welcome to believe whatever you wish; I'm inclined to believe that tainting one's own product in the hope of making more money by driving away end users would be self-defeating, shortsighted, and stupid.

powerstar




msg:3484461
 10:54 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm inclined to believe that tainting one's own product in the hope of making more money by driving away end users would be self-defeating, shortsighted, and stupid.

I agree but still giving sites with AdSense a favorable position in the results could make big difference in Google's bottom line.

I for one an Adword advertiser that does not run Adsense with pretty miserable SERP. I have a pretty big line of credit (3 times of what I spend) with Google and they offer to increase it if need be. Why should my site be found in the free results?

europeforvisitors




msg:3484468
 11:05 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

I agree but still giving sites with AdSense a favorable position in the results could make big difference in Google's bottom line.

That must be why Wikipedia ranks so well. :-)

loudspeaker




msg:3484490
 11:43 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

That must be why Wikipedia ranks so well. :-)

EFV - you probably know that Wikipedia is a special case - if you don't, just go search for YouTube videos showing Sergey giving presentation on the topic of Wikipedia. They *clearly* get a special treatment from Google. Have you ever seen Sergey talking about YOUR site?

The question is whether or not there's an algorithmic preference given to AdSense-loaded pages, not whether we can point out one or two examples of non-AdSense sites ranking well. That doesn't prove the absence of a bias.

powerstar




msg:3484502
 11:59 pm on Oct 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

The question is whether or not there's an algorithmic preference given to AdSense-loaded pages

EFV and Google will say no... i will say probably

europeforvisitors




msg:3484540
 1:06 am on Oct 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

EFV and Google will say no... i will say probably

I could point you to any number of searches (including searches on "commercial" topics) where the top results, including results featuring megasites that carry advertising, are for pages that don't carry AdSense ads.

But even if most of the top search results were for pages that carried AdSense ads, what would that demonstrate? It would merely show that information pages (the types of pages most likely to carry AdSense ads) tend to do better in Google search results than, say, e-commerce or thin affiliate pages (which are less likely to carry AdSense ads).

Google may well profit from the higher rankings of information pages in its search results, but that doesn't mean the rankings are being manipulated for monetary reasons; it simply means that, like any well-run media company, Google profits by supplying what its audience wants.

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