AdWords Leak Raises Ranking Questions
A French blog presented a glimpse of Google’s search rankings hitherto unseen by anybody outside the AdWords sales department. The big discovery: dollar amounts ascribed organic rankings, among other bits of information.
Zorgloob.com posted a screenshot acquired from an AdWords salesperson (whose job is likely on the line should Google discover the trail back) showing various dollar amounts posted beneath each organic result for "parachutisme" (parachuting), labeled "GG Score," the exact meaning of which is unknown.
The rest of the line tells whether the site owner is advertising, what "vertical" category they’re in, and (most likely) how many pageviews they get.
Don’t analyze the order too much. A post by the person who made the watermarked screenshot over at Google Blogoscoped reveals that the information lines have been rearranged to protect the privacy of the websites involved. It also makes it look doctored while making it difficult to assess what the dollar amounts actually mean.
Concerns that the image was faked are put out of mind, however, by Matt Cutts, who confirmed it in a number of places as how the AdWords sales team sees the search results. He also (tried) to put to bed fears that the dollar amounts had anything to do with the organic rankings:
Our organic search results have always been completely independent from our paid advertisements. We consider the objectivity of our search results to be paramount to our success and would never compromise that in any way.
The screenshot shows a tool that is not used by the search quality team in any way. It is a tool used by members of our AdWords sales team to help prioritize new customer acquisition. We are strongly committed to maintaining the integrity of our organic search results.
The winning assumption then, is that the dollar amounts represent how much an advertiser would have spend for AdWords positioning, but it still relatively unclear. Valleywag posed a more sinister theory:
Small website owners have long groused that their Google rankings seem to change arbitrarily, and that buying AdWords seems to be the only way to get back in Google’s good graces. Until now, it’s been easy to dismiss their complaints as mere whining. But if Google is actively tracking the revenue potential of websites that appear in its search results, who’s to say it can’t quietly tweak those results to help its salespeople meet their quotas?
An interesting question, indeed. If you’re a small website owner reading this and you feel that you have to buy some AdWords to get ahead in the SERPs, let us know about that in the comments section, and/or contact me directly at jmiller at webpronews.com.
It also raises the question of what exactly "PV" means and what the AdWords sales department uses it for. It stands to reason it might represent the number of pageviews a site gets. If so, how is Google getting that type of information? Are they getting it through Google Analytics? Does that perhaps raise some privacy issues?