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Google Pontiac? Or Ask dot com it?


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May 15, 2006

Google Pontiac? Or Ask dot com it?

Stephen Baker

Are ads, sponsored links and search engine optimization screwing up search results? I just did a little test, and my conclusion is Yes. From now on, I'm going to start using Ask.com and other less popular sites, because I think they're less polluted by all of the above.

This investigation started after Jeff Jarvis noted that Pontiac urged viewers in an ad simply to "Google Pontiac," instead of typing the URL. So I Googled Pontiac. And I tried the same thing with three other search engines. All services pointed to Pontiac's official site. But for a comprehensive Pontiac search, I found Ask.Com provided the richest options. There were clear choices to narrow or expand the search, and a link to a Web site that compares Pontiac prices with other lines.

Yahoo also pointed to a price-comparison site. But the results are dominated by sponsored search results at the top and ads to the right. The result is that only about 25% of the first page view, the lower left quadrant, shows the search results. Google's results are similarly cluttered with ads. And the third result is from a Pontiac dealer in Philadelphia, which is of limited interest to most readers. The site was probably engineered to rise in Google. MSN looks much like Google, but with fewer ads.

If millions of Websurfers join me in the migration toward Ask and other also-rans, advertisers and optimizers will follow. Today's pristine results will grow cluttered and rigged. Execs at wannabe search kings, of course, are longing for the day. I'm not.

10:45 AM

advertising, search

Well, following your advice, here's what I did. I need a cable for my Kodak Z760 camera (you know, the USB cable that connects the camera to a computer). So, I went to Ask.com and here's my search string: "kodak z760 usb cable u8". U-8 is the Kodak part number.

Of course, in the blue box at the top are the sponsored links. What? Sponsored links. Isn't this what you were complaining about Google? At least Google will shove their paid-for, sponsored links off to the right, where you don't even have to look at them. Ask.com cleverly uses light shading and fonts to tip you off that like every other search page, they're on the take.

Next, check out the first non-sponsored link brought back by Ask.com. Note that when you hover of the hyperlink, it presents a URL completely different from the URL to which the link directs you. And, note that the URL to which you are directed upon click knows nothing of the Kodak cable I'm looking for. The URL to which Ask.com directs you blatantly directs to the home page of some commercial electronics vendor.

In other words, in this case, the Ask.com results are worse than worthless.

I'm not a pro-Google bigot. Personally, I believe that they are the antithesis of their corporate motto. But dude ... this Ask.com is way, way worse than Google.

Any review of Ask.com ought to indicate this. Here's hoping some of this blather helps in some way.

Posted by: paul a'barge at May 16, 2006 10:33 AM

Great post. I don't think the major engines are doing this intentionally. They just have a short term incentive to make their paid links more relevant than so called organic results. (if interested, you can read my argument at http://www.jellyfish.com/blog/2006/05/04/how-google-profits-from-irrelevance/)

Moving to an alternative engine is one way to vote for a better system, but I think we need a better way to connect buyers and sellers online. Online advertising needs to catch up to the possibilities of today's technology.

Posted by: Mark McGuire at May 16, 2006 10:45 AM

Paul,

Just for kicks, I Googled your search string, and the 2nd non-sponsered link was from Kodak's online purchasing website.

The 3rd link was this page.

Google is still looking pretty good from where I'm sitting...

Posted by: JP at May 24, 2006 03:28 PM


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