Search Engines Trashed for Paid Links, Paper Trashed for Bias

The East Bay Business Times published an article named Jeeves, others trashed for sponsored links, about how search engines do not label their ads properly:

Indeed, the quality of search results has steadily increased. That's due to better search technology and to reforms resulting from pressure from the Federal Trade Commission and groups such as Consumer Reports.

Wow, talk about a pat on the back article. Search quality evolved because of these groups? Search evolved because Overture proved it could provide strong revenues and Google proved it could be done cheaply & highly profitably on the back of those evil ads.

The competition for the ad dollars, userbase, and purest data set have been what has driven it from there.

Dan Thies got a plug in the article:

"Speaking as an advertiser, I would prefer that my ad is known as an ad because it is more likely to reach the right audience," said Dan Thies, a search engine advertising consultant. "I wouldn't want my ad snuck in."

I personally like people not thinking of my ad as an ad. There is so much nasty advertising that many people would be turned off if they knew what the ads were.

Our phone number is on the no call list and my roommate gets about 2 or 3 telemarketers a day. They almost always refuse to give there name and want to know who I am, so I curse them out and hang up the phone. My goal is to help give them a bad day, make them want to quit their job or be less productive, and make that marketing channel more expensive for wasting my time.

Paid ads are different than telemarketers though because people are requesting information on the topic. It is the same exact reason that most legitimate SEO services are not nasty. Quality SEO work focuses on being relevant.

Whether people click more ads or more regular results there is approximately the same value in the search market as a whole, and I am willing to pay for the targeted leads that might still be a bit earlier in the sales cycle. Is that somewhat wasteful of me? Yes, but since the medium is so new and the market is inefficiently tracked it is undersold.

A person interested in a topic who does not buy right now may also be a person conducting research and buying later, or they might link to or reference my site in some way.

Even if search engines noted that the ads were ads that still would not stop people from manipulating the regular search results, so I don't really see how it helps them to brightly label many of the ads for what they are and ignore labeling the rest of them. Doing that would make the regular results seem more pure than they are, and if that was the case my bank account would be empty and I would not be typing this particular post right now. You can't take human bias out of search.

The article continues their multi page focused attack on Ask Jeeves:

take the search term "Asian." In past years, such a search would have been guaranteed to result in many adult and pornographic sites. That has been mostly cleaned up by the search engines, though traces still remain: search for "Asian" at Ask Jeeves and the paid listings come up with three dating sites.

Dating ads = porn? What sort of comparison is THAT? Of course they don't tell you that those nasty dating ads on Ask Jeeves come from Google's AdWords program.

Usually search articles good and bad focus on Google. This is about the first industry wide article that I have seen which places much more emphasis on Ask than on Yahoo! and Google. Lets not forget that this article is about wanting engines to label advertisements and it only gave Yahoo! paid inclusion a brief mention. Was this focus on Ask because they are small and easy to attack, or did someone not want to lose an inside contact with Yahoo! or Google?

Published: June 20, 2005 by Aaron Wall in pay per click search engines


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