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Is Bing Growth Being Inflated By Shady Sites?

Sites Dupe Users Into Switching to Bing

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Article updated. See below. I have also posted a new piece based on new information that has come to light.

Facebook took in an estimated $1.86 billion in advertising revenue last year, according to eMarketer, and AdvertisingAge says that the top two advertisers were AT&T and Match.com. Google was number five. 

It is the third-largest advertiser on Facebook, however, that has raised a few eyebrows, including those of Google’s Matt Cutts. The advertiser is something called make-my-baby.com – not a well-known brand that you’d expect to see in the top three.

Update:  Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand writes: "An Ad Age article suggests that Make-My-Baby is Facebook’s third largest advertiser, based on a comScore report. But comScore tells me this isn’t so."  That certainly changes things, but it is still unclear where the confusion stems from, and it doesn’t really change what is happening, even if the ads aren’t being shown on as large a scale as initially thought (reports stemming from that AdAge piece have make-my-baby.com, which has now been taken down, buying 1.75 billion ad impressions in the third quarter alone). 

Have you been to any sites lately that urged you to install a browser plug-in changing you default search? Let us know

Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team, said the following in a Google Buzz update early this morning (via Marshall Kirkpatrick, who has an interesting write-up of the situation):

Visiting make-my-baby.com instantly prompts you to install a browser plugin. The "terms and conditions" link takes you to http://mmb.bingstart.com/terms/ which has phrases like "If Chrome ("CR") is installed on your PC we may change the default setting of your home page on CR to Bingstart.com." 

I also noticed this phrase in the Zugo toolbar section: "To uninstall the Toolbar, please visit the Toolbar FAQ ( http://www.zugo.com/toolbar/faq/ )." Sadly, that url is a broken link. It looks like a few people have had trouble uninstalling the Bing/Zugo toolbar, according to pages like http://support.mozilla.com/en-US/questions/746034 or http://mymountain.blogspot.com/2010/03/how-to-remove-bingzugo-toolbar-hijack.html

If make-my-baby.com is Facebook’s 3rd biggest advertiser, I wonder how many people are installing this software without reading the fine print that says "Installing the toolbar includes managing the browser default search settings and setting your homepage to bing.com" ?

The toolbar comes from a company called Zugo (as Cutts mentioned), which is apparently an affiliate company trying to drive traffic to Bing so it can make some money from Microsoft. After some discussion about the find, Cutts also says, "It’s entirely possible, even likely, that FB and MSFT didn’t realize this was going on. I wouldn’t assume they were aware of what was going on."

Cutts did point this out to Bing publicly via Twitter, but there has been no response from Bing thus far (at least publicly). 

@bing was reading http://goo.gl/CQIze and found some interesting stuff: http://goo.gl/1jac9 They bought 1.75M ad impressions on FB in Q3?less than a minute ago via web

At the time of this writing, both Microsoft and Facebook have been silent on the matter (we’ve reached out to both for comment, and will certainly update if we get a response). 

Update: We’ve now received comment from a Microsoft spokesperson, who tells us:

"Distribution deals and affiliate programs are an important part of how all search engines introduce their product to customers. That said, we have been made aware of some practices that are in conflict with Bing's principles and are addressing them directly with this affiliate partner." 

Update 2: We’ve now received an updated comment from a Microsoft spokesperson, which now says:

"Distribution deals and affiliate programs are an important part of how all search engines introduce their product to customers.   That said, we have been made aware of some practices from a specific publisher that are not compliant with the guidelines, best practices and principles put in place by Bing. As a result, the relationship with this publisher will be terminated."

Update 3: We finally received comment from Facebook, and this one definitely changes things. Facebook’s Brandon McCormick tells us, "Not only is make-my-baby.com not one of our largest advertisers, they are not an advertiser at all.  In fact, their practices are against our ad policies and would be rejected as a result.  This is true whether they tried to run ads with us or an affiliate did."

It would appear AdAge got some bad info, that set this whole chain of events into motion. I will be posting another piece on this with more clarification. 

One has to wonder how much of Bing’s growth can be attributed to practices like this. It might not be a substantial amount, but on the other hand…third largest advertiser on Facebook? And this is just one example of a site like this. It didn’t take Cutts long to find several more with a quick search. There’s no telling how many site like this are actually out there. 

Facebook Ads Reach Over 500 million people

"It’s pretty remarkable that even at the top of this giant success story of Facebook advertising, and perhaps near the top of the story of Bing’s steady rise as a search engine, is a Web 1.0-style pulling the wool over the eyes of gullible internet users," says Kirkpatrick. 

Bing’s share of the search market rose from 11.8% to 12.0% from November to December, according to comScore numbers released last week

It’s worth noting, as mentioned by a commenter in the Buzz conversation, that Cutts broke this story using Google Buzz, which goes to show – it doesn’t matter if the site is called Twitter, Quora, or Google Buzz – if there is interesting content there, it’s got to have some value.

Webspam in a growing problem. Watch our exclusive interview with Blekko CEO Rich Skrenta, who talks about the trend. 

Update: Sullivan was sent a copy of the comScore report by AdAge. Apparently the confusion stemmed from make-my-baby.com being listed as the third largest adertiser in social networking, based on comScore’s information – a category, which was comprised of Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites). So while the site may not have been a big advertiser on Facebook, it would appear that it was still a big social media advertiser – and still a problem. 

SEE NEW PIECE ON TOPIC WITH UPDATED INFO.

Do you think sites like make-my-baby.com have contributed to Bing’s growth? Share your thoughts. 

Is Bing Growth Being Inflated By Shady Sites?
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  • http://www.autoreverseweb.com souleye

    facebook… anyone said ‘birds of a feather’. it’s a fact that zuckerberg doesn’t like google – or I’m assuming. let’s wait and see how it unfolds but those two companies, I wouldn’t put anything beyond them. maybe someone should ask the ftc to initiate an investigation.

  • http://referencemoi.ca/ Referencemoi.ca

    I am a fan of the underdog – although I am not sure Microsoft and Facebook could really be classified as underdogs. I think, current followers in search would better describe them. These tactics don’t surprise me either when you consider Facebook and Bing Instant Personalization and other privacy issues. Check out http://www.referencemoi.ca/blog/2011/01/07/ for more details on that. Nonetheless, Bing and Facebook search, in my opinion are far inferior to Google. Despite all the recenet hype, Google remains number 1 for me because of relevancy, plain and simple.

  • Patricia Hawke

    1. I use AVG’s Internet security that has Bing on the home page I use. I’ve resisted using it for about a year now. Because of my business, I search the Internet quite a lot. A few months ago, after being exasperated on not finding what I was looking for on the net, I finally used Bing. Funny, but what I wanted came up immediately – a bit shocking. I continued using it more often, and now use it all the time. Perhaps some other people have had the same experience, contributing to some of Bing’s growth.

    2. I’m not saying that I like the tactics you described in your article (good, by the way), but I’ve seen this strategy used by the free toolbars since their inception. Why is it all of a sudden a bad thing? Is it because of Google losing business? I love Google and lots of things they offer; but like Microsoft, they want to corner the entire market. Besides, if people install software on their computers without reading everything and knowing what it is in this day and age of technology, I cannot feel very sorry for them. They are lucky they only had their preferred search engine changed.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

    • Chris Crum

      I’m certainly not saying all of Bing’s growth has come from sites participating in such practices. I have no doubt that plenty of people just prefer it as a search engine. I can’t say such practices would be a good thing no matter what search engine might benefit.

  • http://str82u.co Str82u

    Obviously this was a successful, working model, at least until Matt called them out. Was this campaign done outside of Facebook? I’d expect that even if it were approved initially, something like this would have been caught by AdWords and dissapproved (given a “perfect world” scenerio).

    Has anyone noticed that make-my-baby.com is now offline? So are several other sites on the same server by the same owner. Wonder what caused that, eh? Some of the other 40+ domains (I’m not listing the dot coms) on that server include “areyouugly”, “makeold” and several using “quizyou” as part of the domain name. It looks like they were raking people over the coals for cell phone charges, as Matt mentioned on Buzz, one of the many “quizme” domains has the unsuscribe information.

    What really pisses me off are installers that try to sneak toolbar installations in and some that still install the toolbar after unchecking the box to refuse it.

    • Chris Crum

      In one of several updates the article above, I’ve referenced that the site is now offline, but thank you.

  • Guest

    Google is jealous of Bings success plain and simple.

    When the owner of Webmaster World comes out in a post and says he has been using Bing for 2 years and will continue to do so becaue it provides a better experience, it makes Google look pretty bad.

    Google fanboys are the only ones who love Google these days.

    • http://reliable-seoservices.com/ Reliable

      I don’t think that Google will be jealous to Bing. It is just pointed the unethical practice by few companies and that is good.

  • http://icreateofx.com vybixa

    There is always something fishy, call it a bad after-taste, when a senior exec of any company highlights / points out “supposed” bad practices of a competitor. In this case, clearly the finger does not point to Microsoft, but it actually does, if you can catch my drift.

    Bing’s growth can be attributed to its tie up with Yahoo and its provision of search on Facebook as opposed to the “obiter dicta” expoused by this article. It would not surprise me if Bing registered double digit usage growth in 2011, just based on my personal experience searching on both Bing and Google. You get more focussed and relevant results on Bing than on google for the same search terms, and this is bound to catch the attention of users over time. With the exposure to FB and the other strategies that Bing (may) have, though Matt Cutts’ work will not be cut out, I wish he would concentrate on his google and let the others be.

  • http://2gainsalesmatters.com MKWeb

    I think the current trend in webspam and phishing is just a result of the browsers, AV products and email clients getting ‘smarter’ at figuring out just what is ‘real’ and what is fake. There are still some issues with valid redirects getting flagged and lately it seems the IM arena is coming out with more ‘products’ that teeter between the gray and black hat areas of responsible marketing. But it all comes down to three basic ideals.
    Integrity, Honesty and Building Relationships with Clients

  • AT

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/MAKE-MY-BABY/126435604035101#!/search.php?q=make%20my%20baby&init=spell&tas=0.6099342315725713

    doing this will show the ad for make-my-baby under the bing results, look at bottom
    snapshot here http://twitpic.com/3r8tkv

    • Chris Crum

      I see a Bing result for the site, but not an ad. Am I missing something?

  • Guest

    I’ve found that most most webmasters who complain about bing results are those who neglected Bing and their websites are no where to be found.

    Google results are trash, plain and simple.

    The days of the clean Google interface are over and they are the new evil empire who are much worse than Microsoft ever was because Google actually believes they know better than you and that they are the Internet.

    Google is going to die a slow death.

    Matt Cutts is nothing but a clown figure head that fanboys just fall all over themselves when he speaks.

  • Guest

    It’s interesting that Cutts pointed out this problem, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that Facebook would be involved. It’s no secret that Zuckerberg is worse than the robber barons of old, first he hacked Harvard’s network to access student records, then stole Facebook from his friends. Surely other unethical and possibly illegal news about that company will come to light. Google should permanently BAN Facebook from its SERPS ( they did it with BMW), as that would deal a terrific -and possibly insurmountable- blow to his revenue stream. As for Bing, if this is how they plan to get their share of search business, it bodes ill for web users. I really do hope that Google bans Facebook for webspam practices.

  • http://www.simple-elegant-websites.com Oiseaux

    When you run make-my-baby.com through ranking check with keywords such as baby websites, new babies, it shows n/a results for google, yahoo,msn
    When you click on make-my-baby.com lonks on the article you arrive at predictyourbaby.com.
    I tend to agree with “facebook should be de-indexed”. Whenever, privacy, scam, sharp practice on the web is mentioned, zuckerberger’s name is usually first on the list.

  • BMD

    Your kidding right? Is this worth talking about?
    This has been going on for years, I can’t the times some software wanted to install some crummy toolbar and yes, change the default search engine.
    And yes, sometimes change it to”Google”, say it isn’t so…..

  • Guest

    i dont understand why people talk of this as something new.. i have came across numerous similar toolbars with google search as deafult.. so..why google is making noise??

  • Guest

    i dont understand why people talk of this as something new.. i have came across numerous similar toolbars with google search as deafult.. so..why google is making noise??

  • http://pursueahealthybody.blogspot.com/ hendry

    thanks for the informations. very help me,

  • http://www.google.com Guest

    I have a new mortgage company which I logged onto on Sunday night to pay my monthly mortgage. When I attempted to log out, I had been redirected to a log in page that pointed at Bing as my new default homepage. Needless to say, I declined. The site I was bounced from is: www.MortgageQuestions.com It is a 3rd party`1 mortgage remittance site.

  • http://habbobroadcast.com/forums/member.php?u=7499 Pamella Huberty

    Way over my head on this. oh well ill have to stare at the net all day now.

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