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Advertising and Mixed Motives (of Search Engines) - Flashback

3:39 am on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Advertising and Mixed Motives
Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users. For example, in our prototype search engine one of the top results for cellular phone is "The Effect of Cellular Phone Use Upon Driver Attention", a study which explains in great detail the distractions and risk associated with conversing on a cell phone while driving. This search result came up first because of its high importance as judged by the PageRank algorithm, an approximation of citation importance on the web [Page, 98].

It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. 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.

Since it is very difficult even for experts to evaluate search engines, search engine bias is particularly insidious. A good example was OpenText, which was reported to be selling companies the right to be listed at the top of the search results for particular queries [Marchiori 97]. This type of bias is much more insidious than advertising, because it is not clear who "deserves" to be there, and who is willing to pay money to be listed. This business model resulted in an uproar, and OpenText has ceased to be a viable search engine. But less blatant bias are likely to be tolerated by the market. For example, a search engine could add a small factor to search results from "friendly" companies, and subtract a factor from results from competitors. This type of bias is very difficult to detect but could still have a significant effect on the market.

Furthermore, advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results.
For example, we noticed a major search engine would not return a large airline's homepage when the airline's name was given as a query. It so happened that the airline had placed an expensive ad, linked to the query that was its name. A better search engine would not have required this ad, and possibly resulted in the loss of the revenue from the airline to the search engine. In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want. This of course erodes the advertising supported business model of the existing search engines.

However, there will always be money from advertisers who want a customer to switch products, or have something that is genuinely new. 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.

So, has Google jumped the shark? On any given query we see 3 ads on top many with images and gadgets to make one click, about 5-10 on the right, Google Youtube crap, Google local search, Google News, Google shopping, hotels, Google Places, Twitter, Google profiles, Google images....and almost all are designed to stop the user from clicking on organic SERPS. Google also offers credit card, mortgage and loan comparison, insurance marketplace (through beatthatquote), hotels and travel will be coming soon, definitions and other questions are scrapped from other sites so no one needs to visit them anymore. And other sites are not only pushed down but many penalized for not being unique enough. Hmmm...
5:22 am on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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That was part of Google's charm in the beginning, it was just a search engine finding the best web sites for you, while portals like Yahoo!, MSN and AOL tried to keep you in at all cost, even if their content was inferior or less relevant.

Maybe we'll see the rise of another pure player that can stay focused and neutral. Or is the temptation to become a huge bloated portal too great for everyone?
6:08 am on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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With the content so far moved down the page ... I wonder if Panda would penalize google?
6:44 am on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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With the content so far moved down the page ... I wonder if Panda would penalize google?

Google does everything opposite to what they advise others.They would say not to stuff your sites with ads but they can do it on SERPS, gmail etc.

They would say not to invite click throughs to ads through dangerous practices but they can make the distinction between ads and organic results almost invisible.

They will ask you to be unique and not to scrape content.But they will have blogger platforms to let others copy you.They will copy Facebook - not just the like button but several other social ideas which they feel, if copied to their search engine, will help them be more social (wild dreams).

The truth is their properties are well protected. They don't live in glass houses and they will continue to preach others whatever they don't do because they want to be the only ones who do what they do not want others to do.
11:27 am on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Google no longer distinguishes between the paid ads above the search results and the organic listings. The "ads" pink background color is so light that I can't tell it from white on my monitor unless I look from the side.

I used to use Google over Yahoo because Google was less ad heavy. Google is now just about as bad as Yahoo ever was.

Bing looks pretty clean today. If I search for "refrigerators" I get a smallish shopping results section and NO ADS. Google is nearly all ads above the fold.

I tried Bing as my default search engine for three months a year and a half ago. It was pretty good then, but I ended up going back to Google. I think it is time to try that experiment again.