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Google has adopted an aggressive program of stuffing its search pages with paid listings as the financial quarter draws to a close — a risky strategy as the US Senate holds hearings on its industry dominance.
Google’s search pages are being flooded with paid search listings from its AdWords advertising network in the final weeks of the Q3 financial quarter, possibly to boost revenues to meet, or exceed Wall Street analyst estimates.
Aaron Wall, in a post on the web site SEOBook: “Endless AdWords Profits” notes that a search for “7 for all mankind” shows a massive AdWords box with ten links (his image below).
10 links in a single AdWords ad unit!
Then more ads below it. Then a single organic listing with huge sublinks too. And unless you have a huge monitor at that point you are “below the fold.”
While it is generally against Google’s TOS for advertisers to double dip in AdWords (outside of the official prescribed oversize ad units highlighted above), Google is doing exactly that with their multitude of brands.
Google places a faint background colour to distinguish ads from organic search but on some browsers and computers the background colour is difficult to see, which means searchers can’t tell what is a paid listing and what’s not.
Moves such as these have helped Google greatly increase its revenues this year at the expense of its AdSense advertising network. AdSense revenues are split with other publishers but Google gets to keep 100 percent of its AdWords revenues.
On Wednesday Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, appeared before a Senate committee that’s looking into abuses of its dominant position in internet commerce.
In the run-up to that appearance, the Guardian reported:
[Schmidt] is expected to argue the company offers a level playing field for rival products — and is increasingly facing competition from social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
…The Senate committee will also hear evidence from Google rivals, including Jeremy Stoppelman, chief executive of the reviews site Yelp, and Jeff Katz, chief executive of the price comparison site Nextag.
Larry Page, who returned to the CEO job in April, has managed to greatly boost Google’s revenues this year partly by swamping search results with paid listings from AdWords.
It also made a massive change in its algorithm to shift traffic away from content sites that it doesn’t own. The shift is supposed to reward “quality content” but third-party publishers such as HubPages report that they have done everything they can to fulfill Google’s drive for higher quality content yet the Panda algorithm continues to penalise the site.
Google’s aggressive push for revenues is a risky strategy because of the anti-trust scrutiny in the US and Europe. In addition to the Senate, Google is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission and the European Union.
In the above search example, with only one organic, unpaid link showing “above the fold” amidst a sea of paid Google links, it will be difficult for Google to argue that it is not promoting its own business over that of others.
If members of the Senate committee questioned Mr Schmidt about the rise in Google AdWords links and the correspondingly scarce organic links, pointing to Facebook and Twitter as worthy competitors would not be a good-enough answer.