Friday, May 21, 2004

Contextual Relevance Loses Appeal When Context is a Sham

Everyone seems to be picking on Google these days. A couple of weeks ago, an article in the Times of India reported how some people are benefiting by paying people to click on ads just to drive up the cost of the ad campaign (see my earlier blog on this article). As I pointed out in the blog entry, Web publishers who participate in the Google ad network (that is, they allow Google AdSense ads to appear on their Websites) have an incentive to encourage visitors to click on the ads, since they get paid whenever a visitor clicks on an ad. Well, now the Wall Street Journal reports [sub. req] instances of clever Web site developers who research the highest-value terms and then create Websites that contain text that will attract related AdSense ads. It could be argued that these Websites serve as effective intermediaries that help send traffic to the advertiser's site by improving upon the advertiser's organic search engine optimization and keyword/phrase selections. However, it is clear that the main objective is to exploit the high-tech/low-touch nature of Google's AdSense ad placement. Google's ad network has approximately 200,000 advertisers and many thousands of participating Web sites. Certain controls can be used to detect fraud and unusual activity. But, the program is designed to match huge numbers of advertisers with equally huge numbers of Websites that range across every imaginable topic--for a relatively low cost. Precision, human review of the appropriateness of the ad, and special requests for placement aren't part of the package, unless you're in the elite class of top tier national advertisers or a Website that receives over 20 million pageviews per month. For that class of customer, Google provides "customization services". For the rest of us, we'll just have to decide if the lack of control over what ads appear on our sites is worth the potential ad revenue. If not, there are other online ad networks that provide more control over key elements of an ad campaign and include a personal touch. But, the trade-off is the cost. Fortunately, there are options for advertisers and publishers, and it is safe to predict that more options will emerge in the still nascent online advertising industry before a consolidation phase sets in.
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