Cutts: Google Thinks of Ads as a Type of Search

    October 6, 2005

Matt Cutts of Google posted: By the way, there’s another quote from me in that Red Herring story…

“If you view ads as a necessary evil, it will color the experience.” What I was trying to say is that Google doesn’t view ads as a necessary evil to make money. We view showing ads as another type of search-one in which relevancy is just as important as web search. To me, ads shouldn’t be this unwanted thing you have to show on the side of your site; for many searches, the ads can be just as helpful as organic search results, and we should always try to make ads a useful service to our users, not just a “necessary evil.”

Link: More details on Web 2.0 story

Interesting. It’s been obvious for a long time that ads are just another type of search in Google’s mind, and perhaps more so lately. Rarely has anyone gone on record wording it quite like this, though.

I’ve been beating this drum for some time, challenging those random Adbusters and critics of the hidden persuaders I meet from time to time on street corners. The numbers — user behavior — tell us that many people consistently see the ads to be relevant to their search. Not always, but sometimes.

I’d elaborate a bit more (see elsewhere, in the Winning Results book) that the fact that Google didn’t merely roll over and serve the wishes of advertisers waving fistfuls of cash was actually — whether accidentally or not — the reason they ended up making so much cash from the very advertisers they took a “tough stance” with as far as relevancy is concerned.

Cutts’ statement is at once commonplace yet startling. Commonplace, because Google has built some kind of relevancy criteria (particularly clickthrough rates) into its ad program since version 2 of it was launched three-and-a-half years ago. But startling to advertisers grappling with the new ad ranking formula, because they are after all paying to show up in the ad space, and their positioning is increasingly determined by relevancy factors they don’t understand or even know about. (Yes, of course the advertiser’s bid does influence the position, but sometimes it takes an awful lot of money to show an ad that Google’s system has deemed irrelevant to the user’s query.)

Consider this, dear reader: maybe Google does offer “paid inclusion” after all. It’s called AdWords.

Your participation in the auction, even with fistfuls of cash, is in and of itself no guarantee of any particular ad position.

As on the organic side, Mr. Cutts’ little asides about ads seem to be worth their weight in gold to any site owner who cares to listen closely.

Andrew Goodman is Principal of Page Zero Media, a marketing consultancy which focuses on maximizing clients’ paid search marketing campaigns.

In 1999 Andrew co-founded, an acclaimed “guide to portals” which foresaw the rise of trends such as paid search and semantic analysis.