View Full Version : Ethical Problems with Google's Adwords...

12-22-2004, 12:39 PM
There is an ethical problem I have with Google's adwords or adsense or whatever they call it.

Having worked and experienced how they do things, I already have problems with them - like, for example, 1 company can corner the top spots in their PPC if they spread the bidding to other affiliates. But if you have several sites with similar services - satellite sites - they'll kick you off and only give you one spot. Very hypocritical.

But that, at least, is fixable.

What isn't fixable, in my mind, is Google allowing for the bidding of something like "conflict diamonds". When you do a search for "conflict diamonds", you are not looking to buy anything. You are looking for research on a terrible humanitarian problem.

But the first page of results on Google shows ads on the side like this:

Conflict Diamonds
Take $250 for Conflict Diamonds
& more, completely free. Aff.

- if I'm searching for information on conflict diamonds, I doubt I'll be interested in taking "$250 for Conflict Diamonds".

There are others:

Free Conflict Diamonds
Get $500 for Conflict Diamonds
absolutely free. Aff.

Diamond Jewelry
Top Quality. Huge Discounts.
Best Price Guarantee. Buy Now!

Conflict Diamonds
Get $500 for Conflict Diamonds
absolutely free. Aff.

Conflict Diamonds
Free Conflict Diamonds
w/ $300 shopping spree. Aff.

This to me shows incredible bad taste - for Google and for companies actually bidding on this. Of course, I might be wrong. Maybe companies aren't bidding on this, and the fault lies with Google just serving the ads. But then again, among organic search results, there were companies with pages saying they reject and do not sell conflict diamonds. This is a good statement to make, but it's bad to show up in a search for "conflict diamonds" - especially when lots of other pages says De Beers monopolizes the diamond industry and that no one can guarantee the authenticity of diamonds.

To me, this is an ethical problem and evidence of the problem with search engines. As far as I can tell, there is no reason to ever search for "conflict diamonds" unless you are trying to learn more about them. This would be a purely informational search and the last thing on my mind would be to buy a diamond. This is a case where ANY commercial diamond listing would be inappropriate. Yet they show up.

I'm sure this isnt the only instance when a search term that is informational - or clearly informational - is mixed with commercial results both organic and paid.

I dont blame Google because I understand this kind of QC is pretty hard to automate, and Yahoo and MSN also suffer the same problem. But I think if somehow this kind of problem can be fixed - then a lot of the issues with search can solved.

I think a greater separation of information vs. commercial search - faciliating a searcher's buy cycle - would be good for both the searcher and vendor. If SEs can learn better to separate commercial searches vs information searches, they can push searchers to sales-oriented sites/landing pages, and information searchers to information sites/landing pages.

This seperation would allow a company to set up info/content-rich pages for searchers in research-phase - pure information only. A separate landing/page for more sales-oriented language would be built and optimized for KW and to drive to a sale. Having this kind of separation could really help a company accurately evaluate online marketing efficacy.

Companies may be able to do something like this now. Analyze search terms that are used by your market for information research. Build specialized content landing pages, and leave it as a free info resource. Build specialized sales-oriented pages for other KW that are known to produce sales. The separation of the two may be able to help leverage a lot more for your site in the long run.

The above is, of course, my opinion. But as a searcher, it turns me off to see commercial listings for something as serious as conflict diamonds. In my idealistic mind, there has to be a better way.

12-22-2004, 02:15 PM
I think you make an excellent point. It's an embarrassment to both the advertiser and Google. But let's look at the situation more closely.

What is of course happening is likely someone is getting messed up by the keyword replace feature. This is just one example of how a feature that is touted as a magic bullet may have clear drawbacks. It will take awhile before all diamond-related advertisers will learn to put "-conflict" in their accounts, unfortunately, which would take care of the problem and not display the ad.

This is not so dissimilar to what happens when contextual ads appear next to catastrophic events. Goog. and Ov. take pains to prevent this, but when these things slip through they must take steps to actively correct the problem, which they do.

These companies are as concerned about the problem as you are. There are always going to be examples of such glitches when you are as committed to automation as Google (and many of their advertisers) are.

Incidentally, a forum member asked me if it's wise to allow your post to mention specific websites in connection with this problem. Since you removed the active links, unless other moderators disagree, I think it's best to leave your examples in because companies like Overstock.com and Google need to understand the types of problems that can crop up. Unfortunately not many of the affiliates who advertise on every keyword in the dictionary and who make rampant use of keyword replace are going to be embarrassed by the problem, since they typically operate under a cloak of anonymity. Google is going to have to rethink how it deals with affiliates who are advertising in this manner.

12-22-2004, 03:48 PM
Thank you for pointing out the leaving of the site names. I was not purposely trying to be malicious to those companies.

Like I said, I dont blame Google or Overture or any of the other search engines. But I think it's very important for these issues to be discussed as much as how to get higher rankings, how to increasing linking, or how to increase site conversion. This is our industry. Even the wild wild west was won and tamed from it's earlier pioneer days.

Our industry is awesome - but there are QC problems to be fixed. If we can help MSN Beta improve its searches, then we should also be able to shape the search industry. While search engines work on their algos, we also have responsibility to represent taste - as in the case with the ads in "conflict diamonds".