So I just got approved for Google's pay per action advertising account. It was exceptionally easy to sign up, perhaps frighteningly so. Currently there is little risk to using Google cost per action ads, but long-term I think the risk proposition is much uglier than most people appreciate.
Google Controls the Perception of Trusted Advertisers:
I recently did link building for a site where I tried to build links in a stale industry. Many of the people who had top ranked sites did not want to sell links because they were afraid that the links would eventually decay, and they did not want their site to promote garbage.
Many of these same sites published Google AdSense ads in the content area. These ads promoted garbitrage, sleazy offers that bombard you with email spam, generic surveys, off topic crap, etc etc etc. And yet these publishers didn't think anything was wrong with it, either because they were unaware of what they were marketing, or because they were not directly connected to it.
Google Will Find You:
If you want to do anything online you eventually run into Google, or the effects they have on the web.
Google started off with search, which allows them to directly connects with consumers. Their branding, distribution deals, relevancy, and market position have created the fundamental standard of relevancy that all other systems are compared against. It is hard to beat them on relevancy because they have more data than any other company in the world (toolbars, browsing history associated with user accounts, Gmail, AdWords, AdSense, Google analytics, free website optimizer, Google Checkout, cost per action ads, the most popular feed reader, etc etc etc). Even if you did find a way to match Google's relevancy, nobody would notice unless you could match their brand, and overcome the self fulfilling prophecy bias / skew Google's personalization features give searchers.
Spam Will Find You:
Google makes it easy to publish content and monetize even the worst content in the world. By placing their ads on Warez sites and sites they have identified as spam, they pay people to pollute competing search engines. You can't look at a competitive term in Microsoft's search results without tripping over a .blogspot spam page.
Quality is a Relative Term:
Google uses their market position and market knowledge to selectively display the most profitable ads. Consumers are advertised to without the perception of being advertised to. Quality scores support related businesses and trusted allies. Mid-market players make Google's ad relevancy matching engine more relevant. Outlier players do keyword research for trusted businesses until they concede those terms to margin squeeze and quality scores.
Due to the ease of implementation and depth of their advertising base, it is easy for new competitors to become an ally, publishing Google AdSense ads, and thus giving Google their usage data. This distributed ad network keeps Google abreast to market trends, allowing them to duplicate innovation, and buy competitors they can't beat.
We Are Not Flawed:
Google cloaks their own content, then sets up quality guidelines for others to follow, which they themselves do not follow. They outsource their flaws on marketers, and tell marketers to clearly identify paid links, all while teaching publishers to blend AdSense ads in content.
As Google changes their ranking criterias publishers addicted to the traffic source have no choice but to give Google even more control and authority.
Back to the Invisible Hand:
Google currently offers the following for free
- Google Analytics
- cross channel conversion tracking
- A/B split testing and Website Optimizer
- Google Checkout
Their newest ad unit is an unmarked text link ad, which only displays any ad notification AFTER people hover over the link. Publishers who refuse to sell links directly will publish the ads, and if they spread anything like AdSense does, what happens to links to commercial sites? What happens when virtually nobody is willing to link to a commercial site unless it is through Google? What happens when their affiliate payouts are not high enough to solicit a review? And what happens to those businesses when Googlers decide they want that market for themselves, like real estate?
Adam Smith would be proud.
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