Yow. Don’t Jump the Shark, Google

From the Times coverage: Google, which prides itself on the purity of its search results, agreed to give favored placement to content from AOL throughout its site, something it has never done before. If this is true, AOL will once again be the ramp over which a major company…

SharkFrom the Times coverage:

Google, which prides itself on the purity of its search results, agreed to give favored placement to content from AOL throughout its site, something it has never done before.

If this is true, AOL will once again be the ramp over which a major company jumps the shark.

Update: Or, is this just a trial balloon?


Update 2 – There’s still time for the deal to fall apart, but it certainly seems set. Saul updates his story here, and even quotes me. From that:

“This is Google’s first test as a chess player in a major corporate battle,” said John Battelle….”They are saying, ‘We will take some of our pawns and block the move to our queen by Microsoft,’ ” he said. “Until now, Google has said, ‘We don’t think about our competitors. We spend all our time building better products for our users.’ “

And more details on how the deal unfolds:

Google has been providing Web search and search ads for AOL since 2002. In the new arrangement, Google will offer promotion to AOL in ways it has never done for another company, two executives close to the negotiations said.

If a user searches on Google for a topic for which AOL has content – like information about Madonna – there will be a special section on the bottom right corner of the search results page with links to AOL.com. Technically, AOL will pay for those links, which will be identified as advertising, but Google will give AOL credits to pay for them as part of the deal. They will also carry AOL’s logo, the first time Google has agreed to place graphic ads on its search result pages.

….Google will also provide technical assistance so AOL can create Web pages that will appear more prominently in the search results list. But this assistance will not change computer formulas that determine the order in which pages are listed in Google’s search results.

Google will also make a special effort to incorporate AOL video programming in its expanding video search section and it will feature links to AOL videos on the video search home page. These links will not be marked as advertising.

An executive involved in the talks said Time Warner asked Microsoft to give AOL similar preferred placement in advertising and in its Web index and that Microsoft refused, calling the request unethical.

Also very very interesting but not that played up:

Under the current arrangement, Google sells all the search ads that appear on AOL’s sites. This year, Google’s revenue from ads on AOL will be roughly $500 million, estimates Jordan Rohan, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets. Of that, Google will pay AOL about $430 million.

Under the new deal, AOL’s sales force will also have the ability to sell search advertising that appears only on AOL’s sites, even though those ads will compete for placement with those sold by Google. AOL’s sales force will also have the right to sell some display advertising that will be placed on the vast network of Web sites for which Google sells ads.

37 thoughts on “Yow. Don’t Jump the Shark, Google”

  1. My guess is that they’ll fill the long-tail with unsold CPC inventory for AOL. They already do this as a sweetener for the larger Google Books publishers.

    As long as they dont mess with the placement of *the* most relevant content and do the whole “preferred content partner” route then most people will accept it.

  2. Oh no – not another incorrect usage of “jump the shark!”

    It’s been a bad, bad week for the phrase.

    I highlights its misuse here.

    In this particular article, no, Google is not “jumping the shark.” Once again, Google is not trying to reclaim its lost fame by performing a ridiculously laughable act. Google is simply expanding its assets. No big deal at all here, just business.


  3. WoW… if true….

    Faiser it’s a TOTALLY correct use of the term. See jumptheshark.com.

    This would definitely be a HUGE shark jump for Google, involving fundamentally changing it’s strongest suit – trusted results and worshipping the separation of organic and ad content. Matt’s gonna have some explaining to do at the next SES if Eric sold his soul to AOL.

    HOWEVER, I’m confident it’s a sloppy misunderstanding by the NYT author and applies only to preferred treatment of ad content.

  4. May I ask how Google could jump the shark using AOL as a ramp when AOL itself has well onto the other side of the shark for a few years now?

  5. If they have truly agreed to help AOL spoof their system (which is just another way of agreeing to preference AOL content, I’d say) I am truly fearful for GOOG.

    This effectively puts a bullet through their brand promise, demonstrates a stunning lack of business maturity and is a major stumble in showing that they are capable of meeting the high bar that they have built for themselves as the self-ordained repository of, um, everything.

    If true, Jumping The Shark doesn’t even come close to what they are doing to themselves here. So much for The Ministry Of Truth.

    – Stuart

  6. Is the treatment Google has offered to AOL results really all that bad? I admit, if Google starts providing AOL links high up on the page mixed in with the rest of a search, that’s a big problem — but it sounds like they’re planning to have them listed separately in a box on the lower right-hand side (below the AdWords ads, I assume), and clearly marked as AOL — is that such a big deal?

  7. OK, this IS very alarming on several counts though I remain skeptical that the reporter got this complex story right.

    He’s suggesting that Google insiders with access to algorithm information will be doing SEO for AOL. This is effectively stacking the Organic results. Nobody who understands SEO can dispute this.

  8. Google isn’t jumping the shark. They’re paying $1bn to keep AdCenter from gestalting into a competitive position. It’s a quality move.

    John’s concern about Google’s public image is spot on. Time will tell.

    I’m particularly interested in AOL and Google’s competition to sell ad-space within AOL. The different business models will get to compete with each other, and we will get to find out if humans still have anything to offer in the ad sales business.

    I develop point a little more, as well as why Google and Yahoo are not competitors, in the URL listed with this post.

  9. I agree with most of the comments here…Goog has deciding to breach a bunch of their own policies and will be paying the price for this down the line. There is no going back from a move like this, and we can only hope for the transparency of changes that are about to occur.

  10. “I don’t know how recent this is but AOL results used to be “enhanced” by Google, now they are “powered” by Google.”

    thats a good effect for google and aol too.

  11. There’s no way Google would change their algorithm to improve AOL’s results in ‘natural search’ Promoting them in Adwords or perhaps in Froogle type results is different.

    The article is misleading.

  12. Would it be too cynical to consider that the way the operational technicalities have got into the press before finalising, might be someone flying a kite just to see how much the opposition to such plans gets traction among the mainstream.

    After all, Google didn’t reach it’s peak because the technorati used it (though they had influence), but because it was featured on cbs evening news, the bbc, abc, daily newspapers, et al ad infinitum; its appeal tied to its simplicity to be accessible to those who use it/the web only a few times a day.
    Does anyone think they’re (users) going to go looking for an alternative, or even truely care?

    For the rest of us;
    We are talking about a “trusted”/independent web-gateway, working with a content producer to game its own search systems –EVERY SEO’s wet-dream!

    As for the adwords, (+organic) etc., all consequences of this (possible) agreement will lead to aol sites that obviously have their own advertising; so with say 5x text ads, 2x banner ads per page, repeated/persistant referral by search results and (probably) free Adwords on Google that eventually lead people to register to sites, plus the pre-fixed/branded aol links => How much will this add to the bottom line?

    And in itself, effect the organic results [perpetual loop].

    finally, i think my eyes deceive me, did i imagine Microsoft and having ethics in one sentence!

    kind regards,
    Shakir Razak

  13. There are three words that sum up for me how much effect this is going to have on my web surfing: Bottom right-hand side. When’s the last time you got a page full of google results, scrolled to the bottom and looked on the right-hand side? They could put goatse & I wouldn’t care. <3

  14. Google, which, obviously, owns itself give preferrential treatment to itself in search results.

    No one seems to have any difficulty with that

    It should only follow that by virtue of ownership in AOL that the same preference is given.

    Further, that the results are liley to be place to the right margin, and perhaps lower area of that, shouldn’t be difficult for users of Google search to discern that those results are just that as we’ve all come accustomed to that layout.

    I don’t see the big deal. Or do a bunch of bloggers with nothing to do need something to write make hay with?

  15. Tom you, (and many others it seem) miss the point John and any savvy search marketeers are reeling from: Google told AOL they’d help them rise in the free “organic” search listings. I still think this won’t happen because this act could destroy Google’s reputation in Search overnight. Why?

  16. Google placing AOL content on the search results pages changes nothing as long as the AOL results are clearly identifiable from organic results. Since Google now owns a piece of AOL it is the smart thing for them to do. More traffic to AOL means more revenue for Google. No big deal as long as the integrity of the organic search algorithm remain intact.

  17. No big deal as long as the integrity of the organic search algorithm remain intact

    John I guess the trial balloon is flying quite high. Errol – ads aren’t the problem, it’s the insider SEO help that skews results *even if the algo stays unchanged*. This point seems lost on even many at WebmasterWorld. The algo, naturally, has loopholes (ever notice any spam listings?) . Knowing the loopholes confers extreme advantages.

  18. Joe, I read your linked column and your thinking behind your reasoning as to the risk Google poses to itself by lending technical assistance to AOL and their pages to place better amongst Google search results.

    Again, just as Google does this for itself with its own properties; type “base” or “video” or “blog” into the Google search engine and the top result on the Google Search Results pages are Google properties related to that search term and those properties are certainly not the most popular and relevant as we all know.

    Where’s the outrage?

    Why would anyone expect anything different from a partially-owned Google property?


  19. The entire SEO industry is built on trying to figure out how best to “game” the leading search engines and sell that knowledge to web publishers. If you, as a SEO industry participant are successful at figuring these things out and ergo created the ability to give (higher) organic rankings to search results that otherwise wouldn’t have occured through “natural/organic” use of the engine and clicking though those organic results, then the Google (or Yahoo or MSN) engine is not really all that organic anyway is it?

    Savvy SEO people seem to think it’s “natural” for them to be able to game a search engine like this if they can figure out how to do that. Yet, if Google or a Google-(partially)owned property does this very same thing that the SEO industry attempts to do and does on a daily basis the integrity of the engine is compromised.

    It’s OK for the SEO industry to do this, but not for the engine owner, and they all do it and no ne seems to mind because of the obvious relationship of the result and engine. Just as it is obvious that the highlighted results at the top of the SRP’s are known to be paid listings.

    Much ado about nothin’


  20. Tom – your points are well taken but I think even Google will challenge the NYT assertion about organic listing help because this goes to the integrity of the results.

    You are suggesting the free listings are already compromised by Google with respect to Google’s own pages but (maybe naively) I believe they are not (a search for “search engine” supports this). I believe that Google has been faithful to the original notions of Brin and Page discussed in ….

    John’s excellent book “The Search”, which is STILL AVAILABLE for your last minute Christmas Shopping!

    There, I’ve compromised my own post with commercialism. My god what is the world coming to?

  21. Well, no, I’m suggesting the free listings are already compromised by virtue of the engine owner placing their content listing at or near the top of a SRP. Further, they are just as compromised by the SEO industry and those savvy experts tricking simpletons like me into clicking on those “optimized” rankings.

    I’m trying to get the point across that users of these leading Search Engines see these types of results as well as the paid listings (top and side) and know they are just that and are easily able to distinguish those from the free listings – optimize-enhanced or not.

    Prominent placement and assistance doesn’t necessarily mean Google is going to compromise the organic/free listings.

    Even with Google’s insider assistance this is no assurance that the AOL content will remain at the top of the SRP results. If backlinks and citings do not accrue to the particular site it will fall in SRP ranking. The only way then to achieve prominence is by special placement which Google has, to date, always made obvious to the user.

    It’s really a wait and see thing.


  22. Tom, I agree – “Natural Search” is already becoming less and less natural by the day. I recently have frequently been pondering what this will mean for the current search incumbents and potential disruptors.

  23. no one but a handful of geeks cares about things like organicity or purity or goodness or whatever. (heck, mo went up 4 points the other day because they get away with murder and its fine fine fine on wall street.)

    revenue growth and momentum is what matters and not a thing else.

    got it?

    google has been fooling the nerds for years already with their “we are the good guys” v the evil empire propoganda.

    goog will go to bed with content rich aol because it benefits their business in a myriad of ways and they need to in order to feed the growth jones.

    seriously, got it?

    time for you guys to find someone else to mistanly idealize.

    straight no chaser…

  24. oh and one other thing.

    why all the talk about google?

    is this biased framing?

    are you all so obsessed because this is what all the kids are raving about?

    because money has recently been made there?

    take a better sniff.

    open your nostrils wider!

    the real story here is the runt. leave your past based misconceptions at the door and think about it…

    aol the big winner here…

  25. Tom, I agree – “Natural Search” is already becoming less and less natural

    ? At conferences search engineers from all the majors suggest the opposite – they see the battleground for search as who can provide the best totally unbiased organic results. Look how fast Google, which remains the best at that, took market share from the others. Would insider algo optimization help to special clients compromise this? Of course it would, but if nobody cares then maybe they can do it and not even jump the shark.

    Tom – I think you give SEO companies too much credit – the problems are more from floods of garbage sites than clever optimizers who have figured out the algorithm. Matt Cutts at Google points out that good SEO is mostly common sense. My point is subtle but significant here – since the algorithm is *very imperfect*, insider help matters a lot.

  26. Among the technofetishists that populate this blog and that follow google coverage, this is certainly a nerver wracking announcement. Keep in mind though that we (as a techno-demographics) are a small group relative the millions of more “average” users that leave their IE start page unchanged, buy boxed PC’s at Circuit City, etc. AOL has been establishing brand equity in this demographic for decades. A deal with AOL provides a means for google to pad its own content, and extend its reach to non-core demographics (beyond serving basic search results for AOL).

    Good for Google!

  27. In response to Tom’s many posts above:

    Tom, I hear what you are saying, and I sorta agree with you. I started noticing the same thing a few years ago. Here is one of my previous comments on the matter.

  28. The interesting NEW story here and at other blogs is the large number of well-informed folks think Google is already cooking the results to favor certain pages over others for money reasons.

    I’d guess the (non-search engineer) negotiator team did agree to give special insider help to AOL and will soon retract that provision or face the wrath of Mssrs. Brin and Page.

  29. Update on Google SEO for AOL: Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch reported earlier in the year that Google offers “technical help” for larger advertisers, though Google claims it does NOT involve insider information – only clarification of points that can be found by anybody online or at conference workshops. Also that the help does not involve search engineer. Danny suggests, correctly in my view, that they and other search engines should offer some form of support for pay that is available to all parties rather than continue down the mysterious/slippery slope of helping some under some circumstances but not advertising this publicly.

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