October 18, 2012

Google Is Blackmail

The way I see it, Google is a brilliantly executed extortion racket.

The key concept to understand is that Google makes its money through misdirection.

They get nothing for directing you to the most accurate search result. They get paid to artfully direct you away from the most accurate search result.

Natural (free) search takes you to the most likely thing you're searching for, according to their algorithms. Paid search takes you to the person who was willing to pay the most for the term you are searching. It is misdirection.

They are very clever about this. If the misdirection is too obvious or egregious, you'll lose confidence in them and search elsewhere. They walk a fine line, and are careful about just how much misdirection is acceptable.

Of course, they would disagree. They would tell you that natural search is "search" and paid search is "advertising." That may be technically true, but from a consumer's point of view it is essentially a distinction without a difference.

Here's where the blackmail comes in.

Let's say you own a Ford dealership. When someone in your area Googles "Ford" or "Focus" or "F-150" naturally you'd expect your dealership to pop up pretty close to the top in the results.

But it might not. If a Chevy dealer in your neighborhood bid on the term "F-150" and you didn't, his listing would appear in the paid search area of the page on top of yours. His link might misdirect a searcher to an offer on a Silverado. So someone shopping for a Ford truck winds up looking at an ad for a Chevy truck.

What's the consequence of this? You need to protect your turf. So you wind up paying for the term "F-150" that should rightfully be yours.

They get you to pay for what's yours by the implicit threat of selling it to someone else. It's blackmail, and it's brilliant.

Who Loves Ya?
...I know I threatened to pollute today's post with promotion for my books, but I decided to give you a break. You've had a tough enough week without my whining.


Richard Fergie said...

There is a lot more to Google AdWords that just "pay the most and you rank at the top".

If, as in your example, Google allowed irrelevent adverts to regularly top the results then they would be training people to ignore the paid results; not good from Google's point of view.

To get around this problem, they incorporate the relevancy of the advert (measured by click through rate) into their pricing so that a more relevent advert will pay less.

Of course, the Chevy dealer can still pay to be the number one result but this will require them to pay a very high CPC in comparison to any Ford dealers in the auction.

Jim said...

As you are well aware without advertising nothing much ticks. Be it Google, TV (unless you have state TV like the UK), Newspapers, Magazines, Fun Runs, Music Festivals, Olympics and Radio (unless you have state radio like in the UK).

Traditional places to buy space only concern themselves with the highest bidder for space. And it kind of works, accept you do get the Olympic's sponsored by McDonald's and Cadbury's. It's as if money talks and it's not fair.

Phranz said...

Now that's a bummer!
I only recently subscribed to your feed because you approach the whole digital marketing craziness with a rightful criticism. Since I work in digital marketing myself, I am subjected to a lot of b*!%$t being traded on a daily basis. Therefore, I really respected your great and very simple insights.
Now it turns out, however, you only have a very basic understanding of the things you are attacking. Adwords is a little more complicated than what you assumed as the basis of your argument.
But I agree that Google does a lot of stuff to get more ads in front of them.

Tedel said...

I like the way you posted it, Bob. That is so subtly true that no surprise people post "you don't get it".

Kyle Rohde said...

As others have said, Bob, today's perspective from you is a bit off-basis. Google loses credibility and, ultimately, money if they don't deliver good search results so even the paid ads have to be somewhat relevant. What you pay for ads is so much about Quality Score and if you don't have a site that is focused on the keywords you're bidding on, your Quality Score is terrible and your bidding numbers are way high.


Could have sworn I said..."They are very clever about this. If the misdirection is too obvious or egregious, you'll lose confidence in them and search elsewhere. They walk a fine line, and are careful about just how much misdirection is acceptable."

Georgie Casey said...

Try and be a bit more informed before writing posts on stuff you've obviously no real experience of Bob.

I'll get you started:

Paolo said...

I am pretty sure the solution will be the intelligence of the audience (the searchers): it is easy to tell ads from results, so ads can be ignored (or at least scrutinized)

Paul Benjou said...

Bob's commentary focuses attention on what is not so obvious to the general digital pracitioner orsmall business. There is no question that Google's attempt to provide decent paid search results seems to always stack the deck against the little guy (SMB). It's the reason they have difficulty gaining traction with the SMBs.

Geoff said...

This time, Bob, I think you're basically bitchin' about the yellow pages having display ads before you get to the list of plumbers.

Google has ads. They interrupt my search a tiny bit, but I know they're ads. My Dad knows they're ads. Everyone knows they're ads.

And, unlike other media, the ads are frequently related to the topic at hand.

Misdirection would be unclearly sponsored television programs or ambiguous product placement. You know, classic marketing shit.

Chris Seiger said...

Well, I hope you're proud of yourself. One little blog post and the stock plunges $70 a share!

Yeah, I know this post has nothing to do with that drop, but the serendipitous timing was too difficult to pass up.

KeithF said...

This seems relevant: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/9618539/Google-shares-suspended-as-premature-results-stun-Wall-Street.html


John Wulsin said...

I'm not sure how this qualifies as "blackmail"... is it "blackmail" when a McDonald's puts up a billboard near a Wendy's?