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NY Times on PPC Bidding



12:52 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Full-Text of NY Times article. [nytimes.com]

Bob Tedeschi with a lengthy article about legitmate businesses being "outbid for top search listings by unscrupulous and perhaps fraudulent e-tailers."

From the article:

"Search engines make money off of the bad boys," said Carrie A. Johnson, a retail analyst with Forrester Research, a technology consulting firm. Retailers with more established reputations "get mad at the search engines for letting this go on," Ms. Johnson said, "but frankly, Google and Overture have almost no incentive to do anything about it." Google and Overture are the leading providers of search technology for their own and others' Web sites.

A Google spokesman declined to say whether the company had ever dropped advertisers for bad behavior. Nor would the company disclose details about how it evaluates advertisers. In a statement, the company said it would "diligently enforce" violations of its advertising terms and conditions. Among other things, those terms bar advertisers from engaging in any "illegal or fraudulent business practice under the laws of any state or country where the ad is displayed. Ms. Johnson, of Forrester, remains skeptical. "You can't rely on the search sites to be the watchdogs," she said. "It's like having the robber mind the store. Why would they send up a red flag if the sites they're flagging are paying the most?"


1:15 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Unscrupulous? Who`s unscrupulous?


1:41 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Isn't this gray market the entire foundation on which you buy a printer for $80 and then spend way more on consumables vie OEM?

Pushing the issue of whether they have had complaints or not to one side the paragraph that killed me was :

Several times last week, when users looked for a Sony Handycam DCR-TRV27, Crutchfield ranked second behind Broadway Photo on Google's paid search listings.

No mention of the technique, the CTR, the price prepared to pay. Relevancy is often the deciding factor on Google, by way of CTR. So if Crutchfield can't write ads that do well why should they be #1?

The other bit I shuddered at was the Overture rep. that says advertisers "tattle", making it sound like the sort of thing that goes on in the school playground. It's all about relevancy of the keyword to the site/page in question, it's not about the service after the event. I mean if I ran a sports shop and sold someone a baseball bat and they went out and beat someone over the head with it is that my fault for not asking them what they were going to use it for?

Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.


1:53 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Who cares if Crutchfield ranks second? The article itself says that the stores that sell in the "grey market" are often legal and that they simply don't include warrenties with them. They then go on to slam that company by leveling unproven accusations. I don't like stories that are slanted on the basis of accusation rather than fact.

Besides, if the corner bookshop ranks higher than Barnes and Noble, that's a sign of trickery? That's ridiculous. As was pointed out, with Google especially, the click-thru rate of the ad has a lot to do with its placement on the page. Perhaps that smaller etailer is just working harder to test conversion rates of keywords, ad copy, etc...

I guess basically what it boils down to is that they are asking Google and Overture to be the Better Business Bureau, and that isn't there job. The entire world of commerce, especially online is "buyer beware." If I'm attempting to purchase from an online store that i don't already have a good background on, I check them out with the BBB before I buy. Or I run a search of newsgroups to see if anyone has complained. IT's not Google's job to only provide me listings for companies that have a 100% customer satisfaction rate. It's their job to provide me with options and then for me to decide.


2:41 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

> "It hurts," said Alan Rimm-Kaufman, the vice president for marketing at Crutchfield.

waaahhhh. Sniff, Sniff, boo-hoo.

Its attitudes like this that sink a business.

Mr. Kaufman needs to write better ads and find the balls to bid higher if he wants to be on top.

Learning Curve

3:05 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

My guess is that Crutchfield or BizRate planted that story... er, I mean their media relations people made the author aware of the situation. Kinda sleazy. But all's fair in love and war.


3:15 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator martinibuster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Yup, NYTimes blew it. About 60% of that article is self-serving whining and misinformation. It's lazy reporting.

My guess is that the NYTimes reporter paid $675 for the story by Carrie A. Johnson at Forrester [forrester.com].

NYTimes took Forrester Research's word without checking the facts.

Their misrepresentation of how ADWords works was very sad. Again, they didn't check their facts.


3:28 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Hmmm: couple facts:

- NY Times is a major internet advertiser.
- NY Times is not listed entirely on Googles news engine because NY Times requires login. (a good example of cloaking)
- NY Times runs popups that the Google Toolbar blocks.
- NY Times is seriously "search engine challenged" in that it's se listings are terrible (I'd bet WebmasterWorld does more se referrals a day than the ny times)

Seems like a conflict of interest for the NY Times to be doing a story about two of it's major internet advertising competitors.


3:40 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jimbeetle is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

And while maybe not in the NY Times (not their target market), many of these business dealing in gray market goods and "under-delivering" do advertise in other area newspapers.

So, what is the publishing industry's responsibility for accepting ads from these companies? Should they use the same "bizrate rule of thumb" that is implied in the Times article and refuse ads if they have been dropped by bizrate?


3:48 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator buckworks is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I have my own opinions about the quality of Bob Tedeschi's reporting on other issues, and this article reinforces them. Suffice it to say that I recommend getting a second opinion on anything he writes.


3:58 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

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FWIW, The New York Times DOES have content in the Google News database. At the moment about 11,000 stories. [news.google.com]

The same is true for the Chicago Tribune [news.google.com], another site requiring registration.


6:51 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

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That is one of the most clueless articles I have read in quite some time.


3:58 pm on Feb 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

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This is some of the most uninformed and openly malicious commentary I've read in this forum -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- in a long time. The point of the article is that here we have retailers behaving badly -- caveat emptor, blah, blah, blah -- but, hey, buying public, the results you get from Google and Overture? Nothing to do with merchant quality. But -- does Google kick AdWords customers off their site for screwing their customers? No? Bad karma like that will have a negative effect on your business. Helping slimebags defaud others will come 'round to haunt you. Attention, Froogle sycophants -- do you really think that a low price in the absence of merchant rating data is worth a damn? What of the camera vendor who won't sell you that "deal" unless you also buy a $200 lens cap? Or the camera that doesn't come with a North American warrantee? Fine-print fraud is still fraud.


4:10 pm on Feb 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator martinibuster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

openly malicious

Definition of malice: Proceeding from hatred or ill will

The above posts do not originate from a point of ill will against the NYTimes or it's reporters. The posts deal with the NYTimes reporter's lack of knowledge of, and misrepresentation of: the facts (whether knowingly or unknowingly is beside the point), and possible conflicts of interest.

Proceeding from hatred or ill will.

does Google kick AdWords customers off their site for screwing their customers?
Bad karma
come 'round to haunt you
Froogle sycophants

[edited by: martinibuster at 4:17 pm (utc) on Feb. 11, 2003]


4:16 pm on Feb 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator buckworks is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Some of what the article said about Overture bidding was flatly inaccurate.

How can we be sure the rest of the article is any better-informed?

Is it malicious to comment on that?


4:52 pm on Feb 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Kill the messenger.
There are unscrupulous operators operating in every media available.

Therefore, according to this ridiculous "article" all media are hereby required to check out all facets of every business they deal with.

The businesses themselves are no longer responsible, the advertising vehicles are.

"Emptors" no longer need to "caveat" (yeah, I know its not a literal translation - so sue me.)

I saw an ad for a plumber in the yellow pages... and he didn't do a good job. So, I guess I must now blame the publisher of the yellow pages because he had a bigger ad and got my business.

Whine, whine, whine.

Secret: Some of the LARGEST ad buyers are the MOST unscrupulous, yet have the best lawyers.


6:26 pm on Feb 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Overture and Google AdWords are just a venue like eBay. They set rules regarding editorial content, but can not held responsible for the business practice of others. That's why services like Epinions, BizRate, and ResellerRatings exist. They let individuals post their experiences with specific businesses.


6:35 pm on Feb 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I bought my latest Digital from Broadway Photo, a dImage 7 (Great camera by the way)..

Broadway Photo had the best price (And I have full manufacturer's warranty included in my original price).

Yeah, they tried to upsell me on a warranty, and gadgets, but that's their job..

Just because Crutchfield won't step up to the plate and outbid Broadway Photo, is what Crutchfield is really whining about. They are using Broadway Photo's pressure tactics in the sales process, to make it look like Broadway is an "underhanded", "thieving" organization. Crutchfield is really saying, Broadway Photo is taking the bid pricing too high for our budget, so our bottom line is drastically reduced if we try and compete... WHINERS!

My brother also bought a Canon Digital at Broadway photo, without any problems.. So there's two customers that are satisfied! :)


7:17 pm on Feb 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

One has to wonder if the NY Times has such a moral approach to the advertisers in their newspaper? Do they check to see if the customer who takes out a 1 page spread ad is an upstanding company or individual? I know the Washington Post had no such scruples when letting Larry Flynt place a 1 page ad posting a 1 million dollar reward to discredit a high ranking republican. His prerogative, I suppose, but can it be considered worthy of a newspaper ad? I am sure the Post would say that Larry paid the money and what he was doing was not illegal. And they would be right. I am pretty sure that if the Times were offered something similar, for the right price, their view would be similar. How is adwords or overture any different?


11:20 pm on Feb 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Fine-print fraud is still fraud.

Agree that fraud is fraud and nobody here would be condoning this. But to effectively say that Overture, Google et al should be judge and jury with regards to their advertisers offline business practices, just wouldn't carry weight with me.

If the deal is too good to be true, then it probably is.

There are Government bodies set up to deal with traders selling goods not up to standards, if there are complaints about the quality of products then these would be the people to talk to, if it's a sales technique issue, unless it's a regulated industry (like financial services in the UK), then there is little anyone can do, least of all a competitor.


8:54 pm on Feb 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I am surprised by the level of criticism voiced here. The Times article actually referenced Google Sponsored Listings (NOT AdWords). Further, while it may not be the role of any search engine to check or penalize any particular company's practices, there is such a thing as "good name" and "credibility" that the search engines trade on. Also, while it may have gotten some of its facts wrong, it still brought up the issue that in theory, the shopping comparison sites have greater incentive to push sleazy retailers (more so than the search engines).

If Google users complained to Google about misleading ads or really bad experiences, shouldn't there be some fallout?

As for the conflict of interest question, I still consider the NYTimes primarily a physical-copy paper (out there in the world beyond the internet) unless anyone has proof that this article only appeared in the online version (which I doubt). For a large majority of the world that's not connected (and considerably less savvy than this bunch), it's actually news that 1) some of those top listings for search terms are paid and 2) the companies that pay for these listings aren't always the best ones to do business with. No kidding. Perhaps the conflict of interest should have been spelled out more (like CNN's constant reminder that it's owned by AOL-TimeWarner when dealing with reviews, etc. of certain properties).

And while I think it's great that other people here have had positive experiences with Broadway Photo, the following article would make me pause in dealing with them:


I see the NYTimes piece- primarily aimed at educating a non-savvy-internet public. They outnumber the group here by far. So it's of interest to me in terms of challenging us to stay in tune with that potential consumer.

jeremy goodrich

9:01 pm on Feb 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jeremy_goodrich is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Hm, but -> the whole idea that the 'search engine' needs to be culpable or screen 'good business' from 'bad business' is a bit foolish.

Does the Times do that?

Nope. So, why should Google (in many ways, a competitor...) or Overture, for that matter, do something that the Times themselves doesn't do.

It just sounds ( to me ) like a bitter competitor tossing rocks when they can't come up with a more creative strategy to outsmart their enemies. ;)

Of course, everybody is entitled to their opinion...I just find it very suspicious (as others do too) that the NY Times is saying other advertising driven businesses should waste valuable time & resources doing something that they wouldn't themselves take the trouble to do.


9:27 pm on Feb 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Thanks for that clarification (Jeremy)!

I didn't realize the NYTimes was taking the position that the search engines *should* do something about this. Only cautioning people.

My point is simply that what a lot of people take as "basic" here in WebmasterWorld- isn't either known or well-understood by the vast public.

Hence, when CommercialAlert went after search engines for a blending of paid results with search-engine-derived results, I don't think any of the WebmasterWorld crowd was surprised by this news. But the actual news hasn't disseminated all that well into public consciousness.

Similarly, when Danny Sullivan talks about how more scrutiny might be applied to paid listings (particularly the looser standards applied to paid content) in his recent "Ending the Debate on Cloaking" article, this runs along the same lines- except that he expects the FTC to step in. It's all about appearances. Ads in the NYTimes appear to be ads. It's the ads-masquerading-as-editorial-pieces that are more difficult. Just kidding!

It's FAR from an end to PPC. However, for those of you who take ads on your sites, wouldn't it dismay you personally to hear of repeated negative or borderline-fraudulent experiences with your particular client?


6:46 am on Feb 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Here's another article [nytimes.com] by Bob Tedeschi on Blogging. Interesting, huh?


10:44 pm on Feb 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This problem will go away when WAL-MART, AMAZON etc. dominate every SERP and PPC keyword.
Should'nt have to wait to long for that :(

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