Google Finally Blogs about the Google/AOL Deal – Here’s my analysis

By Scott

Google finally blogged about their deal with AOL. My concerns were partially addressed.

My major concerns were that:

1) Google would give AOL preferential treatment in natural search results
2) Google would undermine the auction system that drives the paid advertisements by giving free ads to AOL

Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products & User Experience for Google, tried to address these points.

She said:

Indexing more of AOL’s content. Our goal is to organize all of the world’s information. When we say “all the world’s information,” this includes AOL’s. We’re going to work with the webmasters at AOL — just as we work with webmasters all over the world — to help them understand how the Google crawler works (with regard to robots.txt, how to use redirects, non-html content, etc.) so we don’t inadvertently overlook their content.

My response:

Ok – so it sounds like Google won’t artificially boost AOL’s rankings. That is a good thing. AOL is making a principled argument that AOL has so much content to offer that it is in the best interest of Google users that they index all of it. Further, Google does send engineers out in to the forums (or at the very least, doesn’t stop them from doing so), where they communicate with every day site owners.

They’re saying that AOL is bigger, so they need more help. I can buy that, but this is a very slippery slope. In order to preserve face and avoid scandal, I hope they will communicate the criteria they will use to decide when websites get special assistance to improve their rankings. It makes sense for them to help sites get placement who have a lot of good content to share, but it would be a conflict of interest for them to help sites simply because they are big advertisers, or extremely profitable partners.

Marissa also said this, to which my response is not so favorable:

AOL will receive a credit towards advertising purchased through Google’s ad program. You might wonder if this will affect the ad auction. It won’t. We don’t offer preferential treatment on advertising (in either the auction or the display) to any of our partners.

This I take tremendous exception with. I’ve blogged about this over the past few days, and the bottom line is that the market place for clicks cannot be efficient if some players have a special advantage. If AOL is to be credited for their advertising purchases, they need not worry about placing ads that drive profitable results. Instead, their goal will be to generate as much traffic as possible.

Imagine bidding against AOL for an important keyword. Since they are getting a credit towards advertising purchased through Google, they can bid aggressively, and force you to bid even more to preserve your position. You’re motivated to generate a profitable click, and they are simply motivated to get a click.

Marissa declares that “it won’t?? affect the ad auction. I don’t see how she can be so confidant.

Update (1/9/2006): Google’s blog automatically offers a link back to blogs that link to it. The day after this blog post, we did indeed get a link from Google’s blog, and got a LOT of traffic. Several weeks later, however, and still today – it appears that Google removed our link.

I’m no conspiracy theorist, but I feel like someone over at the Google Blog manually removed my link (otherwise called a trackback). Trackbacks create transparency. Google is daring by allowing trackbacks on their blog because they expose readers to many different points of view… but the fact that they may have selectively censored my blog post concerns me. That’s something an evil company does.

Google has enough points with me that I’m not making a bigger deal of this, but I wanted to go on record in case anyone else has experienced something similar. If so, please contact me.

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