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> Technically, when someone does a Google search for “Williams Sonoma Cast Iron Skillet,” they probably would have clicked on one of the first 10 organic results, EVERY ONE OF WHICH leads to their website. But, y’know what ol’ Billy Ma’s performance marketers couldn’t then do: prove their value to their bosses.

> [picture of that search term and williams sonoma ads with shopping links]

The main problem here is that if Williams Sonoma was not advertising on that search term, Lodge and Food52 etc etc would, and then those companies would be above the Williams Sonoma organic placements.

The spend is necessary in a defensive way because Google creates a bidding war even for the hyper relevant.

edit: I just checked and if you search "williams sonoma skillet", if WS was not paying for [green] then the very first "result" (ad) would be Food52 [red] https://imgur.com/a/9Nnxs6h

I just tried "airbnb paris" and the first result is, somewhat predictably, an ad that is not airbnb. But the second one is also an ad, this time from airbnb. So they clearly didn't keep their spend dialed down to zero, and are aware of the need to advertise on their own keyword.

> The main problem here is that if Williams Sonoma was not advertising on that search term, Lodge and Food52 etc etc would, and then those companies would be above the Williams Sonoma organic placements.

This is what is known as "on brand" Search ads. I like to call these effectively the "Google Tax" because publishers/retailers are forced to pay Google for the traffic they would have already received had the ad not been there.

I've seen way too many companies look at their analytics and say "see we get 20x ROAS on on brand! why would we turn it off?!?". Because silly, people are already going to go to your site without you paying for the traffic. I wouldn't be surprised if 25% of Google's ad search revenues come from this.

It's not a tax, it's a protection racket. You wouldn't like it if someone looking for Williams Sonoma saw results for Sur La Table, would you? Pay up.

Put some money on the altar, who knows what might happen if you don't. The Algorithm is only impartial until it isn't. You surely don't want to go to irrelevancy?

An ad directing shoppers to your competitors who pay them is not a protection racket, no more than a travel agency directing travelers to businesses that they have a relationship with.

It's the entire business model of aggregators and intermediaries and middle men, which compose roughly half the world's working population.

You tell a cab driver to take you to Morton's Meats and instead they take you to Shelly's Steaks (who pays them a kickback each time they do this), and then charge you for that detour to earn their kickback when you demand they take you to Morton's like you asked in the first place.

Is this appropriate behavior by the taxi driver?

Would a regular person consider this deserving of punishment?

Is Google's search results advertising bidding system ethically equivalent to this?

The abuse is worse on the merchant's side, but on the consumers, it's more like getting a cab to go to Morton's Meats, instead they take you to Shelly's Steaks (because they got a kickback), then say they'll take you to Morton's for no extra charge, but tell you how great Shelly's is, and you're already at Shelly's, so is it worth the extra effort?

So they're allowed to waste my time and earn a kickback, as long as they give me a free cab ride from their kickback to where I wanted to go in the first place?

That sounds like it only works if my time that they wasted for selfish gain is valued at $0, which is obviously true as far as they are concerned, but certainly isn't true to me.

I don't defend dark patterns, it obviously is one there, but your time is worth zero when you pay zero. The analogy would be free taxi drivers taking your to their kicking back spots first. If your time is worth X, spend X. It may prove a bit difficult since the paid search engine marketplace isn't thriving. How much would you be willing to pay for a search engine that only displays organic results? There are actually free solutions easy to set up to get that from Google results, but I'm wondering since you mention value of time.

That's a very spot-on question. How much would people pay for advertising-free results? I suspect the answer is disillusioning :(

(Also, I did not intend to imply you were supporting or defending dark patterns — my apologies.)

Eh... that's not a great analogy. The equivalent of your story would be if you clicked a link for Morton's on the Google SERP and it actually redirected you to Shelly's.

What Google is doing is more like taking your destination, then asking "hey, you might like this other steakhouse more, want to give that a try instead?" before driving. Potentially annoying if the answer is always no, but... the answer isn't always no.

I think the analogy is pretty spot on. The whole point is that your query expresses your intent to Google. Assuming their algorithm can figure out what your intent is (it certainly can in this case) then they are intentionally acting counter to your expressed intent.

A point to add though that highlights the issue is that for many many years prior, Google had gotten users used to the ideal that search results were fair and not influenced by payments under the table though. The injustice is turning a free and fair situation into one of deception and payola that will likely get much worse because rising consumer cost is the end result.

Search isn't influenced by payments, ads are. It's not that hard to understand. If the idea of ads offends you that much, the organic results are a couple inches down.

Especially annoying if they ask four or five times, as shown in that cast-iron pans screenshot.

It's a poor analogy. Google isn't taking you to the wrong website, they are showing you the alternatives at the same time as the search result you wanted.

Wait. Is thst true though? I'm a technical person, with a lot of very specific searches. Around 70% of the time, I don't actually get the results that answer what I'm looking for, no matter how many quotation marks I surround my strings and no matter if I use site:x.com, and various other Google hacks I've had to come up with to try and find my relevant results.

The reason this happens is because the Google result shows my words in the excerpt, but when I click in, there's zero percent of the content to be found. That feels like a bait-and-switch akin to the taxi analogy.

My relevant results now either don't exist, or is in an absolute sea of mind-bogglingly bad results that it wears me out such that I would rather have had no results to begin with.

In this sense, I feel like Google is absolutely purposefully showing me results that I didn't want to go to.

It is. If you want a more accurate analogy, it's like getting into a cab and asking to go to Morton's Meats and the cab driver saying "are you sure? I know this really great place called Shelley's Steaks that's better and cheaper! What do you say?" and then you get to make a call as to whether to trust the cab driver (google) has your best interests at heart or not, and whether to go where you originally wanted or to where you were recommended.

This happens in real life all the time. Cab drivers get kick backs from specific places they have relationships with if they deliver people there, so you have to wonder whether they're actually recommending a better place for you or a better place for them, just like you do with Google.

And yes, I've been referred to a place by a cab driver when asking for a recommendation and found it didn't actually serve my needs at all, and in retrospect it was obvious from the conversation I was steered there without care for what I really wanted.

Your analogy is much more transparent about it.

Google is more like the following.

"Hi, I would like to go to Morton's meats"

"Sure, I can take you to Shelly's"

"No, I said Morton's"

"Oh, the steak house downtown. Sure, I can take you to Billy's"

"What? No! Morton, you hear me"

"Ah, yeah, Morton, here you go.... by the way, the other places paid for ads"

Much less transparent, much more obnoxious.

And then Billy's and Shelly's actually make terrible steaks with all kinds of hidden costs and cheap side dishes because they cut corners in order to make up for the loss on their annual advertising spend.... Google helping business... Yeah. :L

"Yep, headed to Moron's Meats, it's really popular...(mumbles) let me know if you really meant to go to Morton's Meats..."

Don't forget the real-time bidding market. If you're wearing an expensive watch, Shelly's will give the driver a 10% bonus, or if you have a nice pocket square, then Morton's will offer you a window table.

> The reason this happens is because the Google result shows my words in the excerpt, but when I click in, there's zero percent of the content to be found.

I’ve seen this too, but I’ve always assumed it has to do with meta tags or something.

No, it's due to illegal SEO practices where they serve Googlebot a plate of GPT3 meets keyword spam, and then serve you a page full of advertising and phishing links.

I've been wondering for a long time what's been going on. This makes a lot of sense!

So if the User Agent is Google, the website produces relevant-sounding content with no JavaScript spam? I never realized GPT-3 could be used for this. The next time I see a bait-and-switch website in my search, I'll try changing my User Agent to Google.

GPT3-alike, not GPT3 specifically. Google’s bot can’t detect when it’s being fed plausible gibberish, or worse, stolen content with random keywords injected. I’m very curious if your Googlebot surfing comes up with any interesting outcomes!

I wonder if Google indexes with browser user agents sometimes: unless the site used source IP tricks, it’d let Google detect this sort of thing.

Supposedly the Chrome safe browsing service crawls the web looking for malware. Since that's focused on finding malware they likely make it look like a normal user in terms of user agent and IP address, so it can probably detect these pages.

I believe the signals from the safe browsing service are used to affect search result ranking, but I have no idea if they look for different content being served to the Google crawler.

Reminds me of the tuk tuk drivers in Thailand who will show you alternative destinations like a tailor who gives them kickbacks before dropping you off at your destination.

Yes, exactly. Is this accepted as normal by locals too, or is it socially proper only with tourists?

You ask the waiter for a Coke, they ask you if you want Pepsi instead (because they get kickbacks to sell Pepsi). Is that appropriate behavior for a restaurant?

How much is Google charging you for your searches? I get them for free. Sure, sometimes it's a pain to scroll down past the ad results when they're not relevant but it only costs me time and attention.

Most restaurants don’t carry both Coke and Pepsi, which in this analogy would be the taxi driver truthfully saying “Morton’s is closed”. That’s a fine time to offer an alternative, but that’s not what’s being discussed here.

Also free doesn’t not mean zero cost. Your time can be used to do other things that may make money.

They tell you they’re going to make a short detour which will hardly inconvenience you or cost you more than a couple of bucks for extra via Shelly’s Steaks en route to Morton’s meats. They neglect to mention that SS is giving them a kickback.

That’s what the ad does. It adds a bit of cognitive load where you have to view and then ignore the non-William Sonoma ad but ultimately, and without much fuss, let’s you go off to WS.

> ethically equivalent

No. Google ads are fine when seen this way. The can driver’s behavior is more egregious if their decision to take a detour isn’t communicated to you AND runs up your fare by enough to materially affect you, whatever that level may be.

Disclosure - I’m actively trying to un-Google my life so definitely not a fanboy.

> You tell a cab driver to take you to Morton's Meats

If the cab ride was free sure, but you are explicitly paying for a cab to take you to your intended route.

HUGE difference.

You pay the taxi to take you to an address. You don't pay anything to google, you decided to use their ad funded "search engine", which they don't charge you anything for, and you complain that you get... Ads?

Down that road lies the argument that Google should be treated like a public utility. If the only mode of transport available were sponsored taxis, then people would be rightly demanding for the ability to pay for a car or use a government run public transit system.

There are other search engines that work just fine.

Do the other search engines work fine because you pay them directly, instead of them being ad-funded? Because that's the argument the GP was using.

Okay, assume the taxi rides are free. The taxi driver is now wasting your time taking you all across town just for a selfish kickback. Meanwhile, you value your time, presumably, so you're getting more and more annoyed as they do this. I don't see how removing the cost of taxi somehow makes this scenario acceptable. What am I missing?

A selfish kickback? Would you drive a taxi for free?

Nobody forced you in that free taxi, you got in on your own. Use another service if you don't like the cost of "free" (ads).

Yes, freedom of choice, et cetera. But what do you think? Is this a defensible, ethical behavior by the taxi driver or not? Is it by Google or not?

There is a reason for the saying: "Cut out the middle man."

All too often the middleman is milking both sides.

Google has value due to the search engine capabilities. But people realising they are being milked changes the value proposition.

I think Google is safe for now, though I don't think that is a good thing.

"All too often the middleman is milking both sides."

By definition a middleman is milking both sides. Were a middleman not there, it would definitionally be better for both parties. The only case where this is not true is the one where the middleman makes no money

No, that assumes perfect market information. Middlemen can provide benefit by allowing people to offload research and reputation tracking to a third party that they trust, allowing them to invest time and effort in that one entity instead of a bunch of smaller ones.

For example, do you buy off Amazon or NewEgg, Best Buy, etc or do you just use Craigslist, Ebay, the local paper, or even the local flea/market swap meet for electronics? You can probably find stuff for half as much or even less at some of those locations, but it might cost you a lot in research time or lost money in the end...

My apologies, my phrase "milking" was meant to imply "overly burdensome resource taking" when compared with their value add. IE cost too much

To rephrase, all too often middlemen are there because of legislative/financial props from government or other incumbent advantages and - as you say - both sides would be better without them.

In this case - as in many middlemen cases - Google provides value - their search services. This "value" is the hook for their place in the transaction.

If Google provided a useless list of random results for every search term then it is obvious they would lose their place.

But where is the crossover point? Where Google doesn't provide enough perceived value compared to their perceived cost such that the market abandons them?

Peoples growing dislike of ads and - from this article - advertisers changing perception of ad value will change the cost vs value equation.

But I still think Google is safe for now.

Hidden kickbacks are a racket though. Google has very deliberately been making their ads less and less distinct from their top search results, in a frog-boiling way.

Remember when they made a point about how they had a blue background and were on the right rail? Then they got moved above the organic results, then the blue changed to yellow, and every PM working on SERPs shrunk the size of "sponsored" and made the yellow a shade lighter for the next 5 years and got a nice bonus for it.

But they call it a search engine. That would be a fairer point if they called it an ad-lookup engine

lol yes, from Firefly: "About fifty percent of the human race is middlemen, and they don't take kindly to being eliminated."

Google is offering a service, namely a way to connect your customers to your website. Arguably, on brand ads are just a way to pay for that service.

They also have a responsibility towards the person searching. I know more than a few people that have been conned into thinking an Ad provider is the official site for a service.

Especially with government websites. Lots of shady companies use ads above the actual search results to drive people to their site. Charge people for a service that is free.

Would you prefer a monopoly where only Williams Sonoma can advertise on WS keywords? I’m sure if you wanted to start a little premium homewares brand you’d feel differently. Bidding on competitor keywords allows small and big brands to compete for the same transactions, and allows brands to introduce alternatives to customers who might only have one giant brand top of mind.

Defensive branded search is generally only a fraction of budget anyway. I don’t find this practice the least bit onerous or extractive from Google — they’re just allowing for competition, as they should.

Funny. In any other industry hijacking a business's name and trademark for payment would be considered facilitating fraud.

But in marketing, it's somehow fair game?

A way to pay for that service, as well as generate an extra $40 billion a year.

Sure, most businesses exist to provide a good or service and get some bit extra beyond their costs. This is known as "profit".

The problem here is it’s not a “bit”, but “a lot”

I don't think Google has a profit rate massively higher than other similar companies (say, Apple or Facebook). It gets a lot of profit because it is large.

Compare: https://ycharts.com/companies/GOOG/profit_margin https://ycharts.com/companies/AAPL/profit_margin https://ycharts.com/companies/FB/profit_margin

Of course, manufacturing companies have a lot less: https://ycharts.com/companies/GM/profit_margin

"The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users."

That's not a service, that's a racket... As the previous user described

Sometimes I click on Google ads just because I don't like a brand and feel a little bit of joy knowing I just cost them a dollar.

Way more than a dollar. If you really want to cost a company a pretty penny, click on the ad after searching for an "intent" to do something rather than the exact brand. Some of those Adwords cost many tens of dollars.

I haven't seen anyone mention the fact that a big factor that contributes to how the Google Ads "black box" determines how to rank ads is via an Ad Quality measurement.

Each ad is given a quality score, and since your own website will be guaranteed to be the most authoritative source for a keyword search with your own branded keyword(s) in it, by default the quality of your own ads will be much higher than your competition.

This means in practice that the cost for a brand to be shown first on their own branded keywords is much lower than their average CPC, let alone the cost for their competitors to be there.

The very fact that you have to bid on clicks for your own damn website by paying Google, because Google has prioritized ads to the point of displaying them higher and making them almost indistinguishable from the "organic" search result proves they have intentionally created a tax on the internet.

It will get worse, to the point where to get auto-completed in the omnibox you'll have to pay. TBH I am not even sure if that isn't already the case!

I'd rather ignore some ads which are less intrusive than places like Amazon than pay a subscription fee to use search, gmail and docs which are funded by ads.

There are other options. For example, funding a publicly-owned search engine with $1 billion a year in infrastructure and development costs would be 50x cheaper than what the US spends on foodstamps. It'd be 1/10th the NSF's annual budget.

Not that that's the best option, but we could consider some new ideas.

A publicly owned search engine, that will absolutely not be used for propaganda purposes by, say, the Department of State, or by a megalomaniac elected representative.

Need to build consent for a war with <Country>? Give me access to the search index, and a few weeks, and it'll be done.

Lol if you think that isn't happening right now. Google made a change to its algorithms sometime in the past 5 years to surface "authoritative" sources, meaning sources that toe the state department line. For example, the World Socialist Web Site, which has a consistent anti-war line reported being demoted.

"Google blocked every one of the WSWS’s 45 top search terms" (8/2017)


"Google admits to censoring the World Socialist Web Site" (11/2020)


"In a statement before a Senate hearing on October 28, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, admitted that the dominant online search company has censored the World Socialist Web Site.

At the Senate Commerce Committee hearing, when asked by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah to provide the name of one left-wing “high profile person or entity” that has been censored by Google, Pichai named the WSWS."

"Google refines its search results to curb fake news" (4/2017)


(the comments below this article are funny because it's full of liberal-aligned comments on the disproven Trump-Russia conspiracy theory that is still given life in mainstream outlets)

There may be an air gap between Google and the government, but there's certainly zero air gap between Google and the Democratic Party.

Google is a revolving door. It might be biased dem, but I really doubt they don't try to hire people like former generals or intelligence people.

Sure, but there are no shortage of top level generals and intelligence people that identify with Democrat agenda, now that democrats finally gave up on things like freedom of speech, privacy, individual liberty and such.

I didn't say it was the best option. But wow, you just trust a billion lines of closed source written to satisfy ad optimization criteria with zero transparency? I mean, we can subject things to public oversight.

> But wow, you just trust a billion lines of closed source written to satisfy ad optimization criteria with zero transparency?

I trust that a multi-national serving multiple markets is going to give me less nationally biased information than the government of a superpower (with political ambitions that span the globe.)

It's why I generally don't turn to the Voice of America for news.

> a multi-national serving multiple markets

You think Google search doesn't adjust its search results based on your geography? It absolutely does, and that's just one of hundreds of inputs into its completely inscrutable machine-learning driven tangle of a ranking algorithm. Your trust is very badly misplaced if you think that Google can't be/isn't already corrupted by the corrupt governments it must deal with to do daily business.

Google is pretty big with open sourcing. Open sourcing search would ruin it though. Spammers would game the system.

A government owned search engine is 100% bad idea, it will cost a ton, it will cost more than equivalent business developed one, it will be abused by governments and law enforcement, your traffic will be combined with government data to make a last century dictatorship police state weep for joy be a money maker for people you very much don’t admire

most of all there is no public value for it when the government can legislate operators

>Ad Quality measurement

It's called Quality score (soon to be discontinued) and has 3 components. Only one of which is landing page related. And nothing prevents competitors from building "more relevant" landing pages than the original brand.

Or maybe ads could go back to where they were: on some yellow background and on the side. Not looking like the first search results.

You’re kidding! A single click costs more than a dollar?

Back in the early 00s clicks on Mesothelioma were something like $24 a click because anyone who could spell it probably has it and is looking to sue.

“Mesothelioma Lawyer” was still one of the highest cost clicks when I was working in ad tech about 2 years ago. IIRC the cost was north of $50

As a script kiddie I made a pretty penny keyword stuffing that on my network of ad-infected web proxies.

Before Google banned much of the advertising on the category, some addiction treatment keywords cost north of $300 per click. “Drug rehab Las Vegas” was my favorite, because if they didn’t use a tight keyword match, they would get charged for people trying to find the Rehab pool party.

Yes. As an experiment, I tried running a Google Ads campaign for my https://chezmoi.io open source project bidding on "dotfile manager". Twenty clicks cost me $20. I terminated the experiment quickly.

Google keyword planner tool shows cpc (cost per click) for keywords. For an online gambling keyword it shows me 14.97€ (for one click). There are other industries with cpc's of 80€ and more.

Is it enough just to click on the link?

There surely are browser extensions that click on every link, just to make the companies pay, and make advertisers look even shitter.

No, it's got to be a real person intentionally clicking the link, and very large teams of skilled people work exclusively on figuring out which clicks fall in this category. Cursor movement patterns, delay time, whether the link was actually rendering on the display when it was clicked, IP address, cookies, signed-in identities, previous click patterns, location, all of these things and more factor in. When people talk about Google hoovering up data, it is in large part for this purpose.

Sounds like a good use of AI, if not one of the best! Let’s train an AI using real humans and have it click these links. Run the client in an P2P network so multiple can contribute to this.

If ads are no longer profitable, then this should sink both the online advertising market as well as Google.

Clickfraud has been around forever and teams detecting clickfraud have also been around forever. Automation that impersonates human users is not a new idea.

Yes I’m well aware, yet AI hasn’t existed for as long as clickfraud and we both know at some point a program with enough sophistication will look like a human.

Lemme guess, you’re in ads?

Sometimes. The "intent" scenarios can be pretty valuable.

"I need a lawyer in ___ right now". That lead can be worth a lot.

"Looking to buy a new car today", etc.

That could be the boycott of the 21st century. Don't like how a company is behaving? Get a social media campaign to have people make intentful searched in different search engines, click through, go to a signup form/add stuff to a cart, and then just leave.

If I can do 10 of these, which would take a few minutes, I could cost a company $100. Which means, with the right tools for spoofing my identity, I could cost them $1000 an hour. If I spend a good work day on this, I could probably cost them $10,000.

If I convince 10 people to do this with me for a day, we could cost them $100,000. We might be able to cost them $1M in a week.

> Which means, with the right tools for spoofing my identity, I could cost them $1000 an hour.

Very, very sophisticated systems exist to prevent spoofed identities from counting as ad clicks.

Said systems can probably cope with most of the regular stuff, but what about an army of Twitter followers? Most are going to be signed in, they are going to be spread out geographically, they are going to be real people with real browsers with cookies, etc.

Yes, but those aren’t spoofed identities, they’re actual humans intentionally clicking the link. This is harder for the defender to defend against, but it’s also vastly harder for the attacker to scale. Defenses against this sort of “organic” traffic do exist, because this is something that people committing ad fraud attempt to do using compromised browsers of real people.

Edit: I mostly want to stress that there’s a huge body of (largely proprietary) work on this topic. Thousands of skilled people have been full-time employed for decades thinking about exclusively this topic, on both the offensive and defensive side, in a continuously escalating arms race. Anyone just getting started on this topic has a couple of decades of literature review to catch up on before they should imagine that their proposals are novel. I don’t mean to discourage you if it’s a topic you find interesting, but you should bear in mind that the answer to “But has anyone thought of XYZ?” is “Yes” for basically all values of XYZ. There’s a lot of money at stake if the answer is no.

It sounds like a really fascinating topic! If someone is interested, where he/she would need to start? any papers that review most/all methods that are up to date?

I've done that once in a blue moon, but it doesn't really accomplish anything except transferring that money to Google. Since I used to work for Google, thanks, I guess :-)

Marvelous! I'll do the same. Watch out, Exxon!

I mostly click on ads as chaff (mostly I block them but sometimes unblock them just do do some random clicking in the hope of confounding some profiles being compiled on me)

I used to do that with mesothelioma law firm ads.

> I like to call these effectively the "Google Tax" because publishers/retailers are forced to pay Google for the traffic they would have already received had the ad not been there.

Isn't this just the usual problem with advertising? You have to do it because the other players are doing it. If nobody did it, it would still be the same cake to be shared.

This case is more on the nose, but only because of some fairness assumption that "Williams Sonoma Cast Iron Skillet" _ought_ to be traffic for Williams Sonoma.

> Isn't this just the usual problem with advertising?

Not quite: OP's point is about searches that specifically include your brand name. The "usual problem" with advertising in the zero-sum sense you propose is for eyeballs in general (billboards etc). The google tax here is more invidious, being specifically about searches that include your brand.

I think it's the same problem even if it looks more suspect.

I think the important thing here is that companies don't decide to increase total advertising budget just because of the existence of a new channel. They have a budget of X. They have to decide how to break it up. Google, with brand targeting in search, is making a play for money that would've otherwise gone to Fox or ClearChannel or whoever. The brands redirect some budget to this new channel, as it shows its effectiveness.

Many of them still spend some on traditional channels, to get that first appeal and be the "Williams Sonoma" in "Williams Sonoma Cast Iron Skillet." Many of those people aren't just going to click through to Lodge ads instead. But less than they did when traditional channels were the only game in town.

Same dilemma, though:

If nobody advertised in Google Search or non-Google channels, people would just buy whatever skillets they found in whatever stores they found, or what their friends told them about.

If one brand advertised in offline media, more of those people would buy that brand.

So all brands advertise in offline media. And then it comes down to effectiveness of the campaigns + the same criteria that it would've otherwise - availability/placement, word of mouth, etc.

Then, if only one brand advertised in search targeting other brand names too, more of those people would buy that brand.

So all brands advertise on their brand keywords in search.

But ultimately it's the same game in both places. With the same net, Google just captures some spend that what would've gone to non-Google places previously.

Exactly. Big difference between

"Williams Sonoma Cast Iron Skillet"


"Cast Iron Skillet"

When people search Pepsi Cola they expect to get a link to Pepsi or information about it. They don’t expect to see Coca Cola or RC Cola, etc. now in this case Pepsi makes sure search isn’t polluted by paying Google good money to always be the top results for that term.

Now, if you searched on the generic ‘cola’ or ‘soda pop’ then yes you expect to see those who bid higher to be at the top and at the bottom those who bid nothing unless organically somehow they ended elsewhere.

I guess that's more a customer satisfaction problem for Google, than it is a problem for advertisers.

Advertisers are the customers, or am I missing something? To be fair, I don't consume any adblockable ads or TV ads (maybe once a quarter for TV) so I don't know if people click them, how much does purchasing ads affect the normal search score?

Sorry, I should have written "users".

For staples, maybe. Advertising also gets people to buy things that they would not otherwise buy.

>pay Google for the traffic they would have already received had the ad not been there.

But this line of reasoning begs the question. If this system wasn't in place, then Google search would not exist as it does and the search traffic would not necessarily exist in the same way, no?

> Google search would not exist as it does and the search traffic would not necessarily exist in the same way, no

yes and no. Google search didn't have as intrusive and competitive ads as it did before and the search function was effectively the same. Nowadays, if you search "Williams Sonoma Cast Iron Skillet" you get 5~6 ads and 2-3 scrolls to get to the real organic results. 6~8 years it was like 1 ad and you could see the first result.

At this point I'm actually wondering how much more discussion will be required about "Williams Sonoma Cast Iron Skillet" to get HN among the top search results.

Another reason why ads for "Williams Sonoma Cast Iron Skillet" exist are not just to combat Williams Sonoma competitors but also scummy SEO search engine spam, I mean what if you don't pay to have your stuff in the first results and some hustle comes along that makes fake product review sites off of scraped results and engineers getting their stuff all among the first results, since UX research shows people not finding a relevant hit in the first few results do not go to the next page in results it implies that ads are required to give the correct research for something obvious like this because otherwise you have to take a chance with the present day subpar google results.

I don't see why the search engine would work differently or be any less popular if Google used its algorithms to determine intent (that's Google's whole thing) and then automatically (or via human moderation) prevent companies from showing ads when there is clear intent to find another company's brand. Google would be somewhat less profitable, perhaps, but the search product would still work fine (arguably even better) for the people searching.

I agree with the rant how Google introduced a tax that wouldn't have existed in a world without Google. And, technically speaking, it would have been possible for Google to not charge for that tax (but would you have done that in their shoes? It's not like their market share is suffering).

But if you are implying that brands should not invest in on-brand search campaigns, then this is a really bad advice. It's a known fact that targeting your competitors' branded terms is ROI positive, which definitionally means that the affected brand is unable to capture all the customers who were initially searching for it.

> But if you are implying that brands should not invest in on-brand search campaigns, then this is a really bad advice.

I'll be more explicit - you should test the difference. I usually recommend companies do a blackout month where they turn off all programmatic ads and then do a like-for-like comparison.

To further emphasis my point before, I've seen ad ops agencies say "hey you've got an overall 15x ROAS" and then find out that 80% of their ad spend is on-brand (give them 25x or whatever) and the off-brand (which is 20% of the spend) is giving them 5x. So their ROAS is inappropriately distributed to try to reach an overall ROAS goal.

There are bad actors in every field. I would just be careful in using such anecdotes to distract from the overall message, which as you spelled it out in detail seems sound (with perhaps just a note that a 5X ROAS is not bad for most unbranded campaigns, but I get your point).

It’s less the Google tax than the “advertising is now efficient” tax.

Any other medium would theoretically have the same problem: if Ovaltine doesn’t sponsor kids’ radio shows in the 1950s and someone thinks they can deploy capital to grow a competitor, that someone will buy that slot. People couldn’t do this because there were human processes and relationships slowing this marketplace down. The thing that Google did was make it possible to test this at small scale.

They weren't bidding on keywords, though, just airtime.

That's an entirely different advertising model and market.

I purposely click the non-ad link when searching in Google (because I'm too lazy to type the full url). Does that help at all, i.e., prevents unnecessary ad spend from bidding?

I do the same, but 99% of people do not, so it's really a drop in the bucket.

I do wish there were some regulation such that if a user is searching for a trademarked or copyrighted term, that the best organic search result for that term should be required to show up first. I'm fine with showing competitor ads, but I don't think they should be able to show up above the trademark owner's ads.

It feels like it is close (but not really) to a trademark violation. If I search for "A" and get a screen full of results for "B", if I need to scroll to even see mentions of "A", then that feels like it is really close to "passing off". I could see an argument for saying that this "passing off" causes customer confusion that requires trademark enforcement.

I realise that would probably be an impossible argument to win under current law (IANAL), but it _feels_ so very close.

US case law is extremely clear that bidding on and running ads on trademarked keywords is not a trademark violation, so long as you aren't misrepresenting that the replacement is the trademarked thing; see e.g. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/bus....

And would be trivial for google, with all their content id tech

Why not go a step further and configure your browser so that the ad links are not shown at all? Only takes a couple of clicks.



Is the premise here I search for “ford electric car” get 3 ad for other makers, and ford in the top 1-2 search results

So I click on the Toyota ad cause it’s on top, and buy a Toyota? Which is taking business from Ford ?

What is the answer, no ads hmm that’s not happening on a free search engine.

Mark the ad as an ad hmm done

Don’t show other results for any brand related keyword search, when all keywords are blocked probably nothing left to show

What should the ideal free search engine show when I search for “intel vs AMD”, should intel complain the first result is for a tech site.

I do genuinely wonder if the conclusion that the brand company lost money is valid, I do wonder if those searches are like ppl putting cnn in a search bar or generic searches

imagine you are driving to a specific restaurant see a billboard ad for another restaurant so change directions and go there, would you dislike the bus/building with the sign

This sucks for me as a consumer too.

I want a WS skillet, and the first X results are for lodge... I don't need a lodge, I don't want a lodge, i want a WS, and google is not showing me what I want.

This is a problem on app stores too.

If I search for my bank's app, the top results on Apple's app store are apps for competing banks, which are pretty explicitly not what I want.

Defensive spending to protect otherwise organic traffic could also be called extortion.

Forget about the corporate POV for a second, as a user, if I'm searching for X, I probably want X in my results, no?

It's the fundamental contradiction in Google's search ads model. If Google delivers users the thing they want, ads by definition have to be things users don't want.

>>> If Google delivers users the thing they want, ads by definition have to be things users don't want.

Ben Evans has a tweet something like "half of facebook devs are working out how to code the algorithm to serve you just what you want to see, the other half are working out how to get the algorithm to serve you what advertisers want you to see. "

We are doing something wrong

Natural outcome of all internet advertising based models imho.

By any definition, a podcast is part of "internet advertising" but there's less conflict there. Sure, I want to hear the hosts and not the ads, but if the ad is relevant, I don't mind the interruption, and hey sometimes it's an interesting product for me. There's a tension between the content and the ads, but not a fundamental contradiction.

No, this is the outcome of all interest targeting based models. You're interested in X, and they either don't show you X (to get X to pay) or they show you Y (which you aren't interested in) because Y paid.

Whereas with demographic targeting, hey I'm in demographic X and wasn't looking for a Y now, but sure, I'll remember it for when I'm in the market for one later.

This is the fundamental issue with all advertising-based models. Eventually, they all run into the problem of having to continue to grow. The only way to continue to grow is to display more ads, thus compromising the user experience, which starts the downfall. AOL was a great example of this. Google seems to be heading this way.

Google's original values were the ability to provide better search (common answer) and be fast (less common answer) - both of which were a complete contrast to the Alta Vista and other search engines. I could easily see Google facing disruption from a new player - but I don't think it will be another search engine. Probably a paradigm/systemic shift.

Advertisements are fundamentally not what search service users want regardless of searching for a specific brand or not. (Its what advertisers want others to want)

If I’m searching for “Williams Sonoma 12 inch skillet”, advertisements for places selling it are a pretty large subset of what I want.

Sure, but what about an ad from a competitor for a similar pan at a lower cost? Isn't that what advertising is all about?

Yes, i was thinking similarly. The GP wants links, not ads (specifically), but if the trustworthy domains are saying this particular skillet is low quality then you want that first, rather than an ad.

If a search engine encounters the query "Williams Sonoma 12 inch skillet", retail outlets selling it should organically appear in results without the need for ads.

If it’s $39.99 on W-S.com, I definitely want to see the place that’s willing to sell the same pan for $34.99, the EBay listing for $32.50, and the one selling a competing similar one for $29.99 even if those sites don’t have the organic search SEO juice to land in the top 10.

As a Google search user, why wouldn’t I value these? If Google doesn’t serve them and another search engine does, I’d be inclined to switch to the other one.

> If it’s $39.99 on W-S.com, I definitely want to see the place that’s willing to sell the same pan for $34.99, the EBay listing for $32.50, and the one selling a competing similar one for $29.99 even if those sites don’t have the organic search SEO juice to land in the top 10.

But why would those sites not have the "organic search SEO juice"? If those sites are actually good places to buy that kind of thing, a good search engine should direct a user searching for that thing there.

I think it's fairly clear that Amazon and Ebay would show up as the top organic results.

What wouldn't show up is lmm-cookware.com, launched early October 2021, who is trying to establish themselves as a new destination for cooking enthusiasts. That domain is new, the business is new, no Google reviews, but they've got the pan in stock, are willing to sell it for $30 shipped, and have an advertising budget to reach customers.

As a consumer, I want to be able to learn about that offer, make my own decision where to buy the pan, and I'm happy to use a search engine who will show me that offer. lmm-cookware, I, and the search engine all win from this outcome. I don't care whether lmm-cookware has been a good place to buy pans such as these for the last 180 days; I care whether they're a good place to buy it right now.

> I think it's fairly clear that Amazon and Ebay would show up as the top organic results.

Why? How websites are ranked "organically" is somethine that is up to the search engine. A user-focused search engine would have no problem including factors like price (for shopping sites) that the user cares about. An even better one might provide the user with options to refine the ranking criteria for each search.

Meanwhile you keep assuming that somehow the site willing to give you the best deal will also be the one winning the advertising bid. That makes no sense as they are also the site spending the most on advertisement which they have to recoup somehow.

> As a consumer, I want to be able to learn about that offer, make my own decision where to buy the pan.

You seem to be under the impression that you would be missing out on an offer without ads. But if you only look at a finite set of links you are always missing some offers - ads only change which offers you see. And they do that not based on any judgment of wheter it would be a good offer for you but only by how much those sites paid.

In such a world, I’m assuming their listings would be near the top as lots of people click on Amazon’s and EBay’s organic results (due to the wide selection on their marketplaces and generally very competitive pricing and good delivery track record). What people click on seems a good proxy for a search engine of “what are people looking for? (also phrased as “what will bring people back to my search engine next time?”)

In terms of winning the SERP paid ad bid, I don’t care if the search engine shows me the ad that’s best for them, because that will still give the newer business the chance to win the bid. If they choose not to, well, in that case I don’t see their ad. If the search engine doesn’t have ads, then in all cases I don’t see their ad.

If they go completely insanely rogue (like showing me a paid mesothelioma ad regardless of my search term), they either lose my future search traffic (“foosearch never has what I’m looking for”) or they lose the advertiser (“mesothelioma ads convert well for us on barsearch but not on foosearch; I need to lower or pull my bids on foosearch”)

> I think it's fairly clear that Amazon and Ebay would show up as the top organic results.

> What wouldn't show up is lmm-cookware.com, launched early October 2021, who is trying to establish themselves as a new destination for cooking enthusiasts.

If a new site is what users are probably looking for, then it should be top of the organic results. Google and other search engines already use signals like when the site was updated, whether it has a social media "buzz", or what price it's selling something at. It's highly unlikely that spending advertising money is a good signal; yes, promising new companies do spend advertising money, but so do established companies and out-and-out scammers.

Helping the user discover new sites is maybe part of what a search engine should be doing. But mixing ads into the search results is too intrusive and anti-user a way to achieve that (if it even does). Maybe there's a time and a place for advertising, but it should be clearly separated from organic results; Google used to be good at that (indeed they were famous for having advertising that was less intrusive than their competitors), but they've been getting steadily worse.

I don't think it is that clear, actually. If I sell a car that is as good as the Ford one you searched for, but 80% of the cost, wouldn't you want that ad to appear when you searched for ford?

If the discount car is relevant, then I want the search engine to show it to me whether or not you happened to pay them for an ad. And vice versa if it's not relevant. As a user, I don't care who is getting paid by whom; I care about seeing relevant content.

Respectfully, I’d want the car you mention included if I search for “full size sedan” or “alternatives to ford”, and not to appear if I search for “ford”. This is a pipe dream of course with the way AdWords works, but that is what I prefer :)

If you search for Hello Fresh, you'll get a Hello Fresh ad offering 14 free meals. If you search for Blue Apron, you'll get a Hello Fresh ad for 16 free meals. Firms are willing to spend more to win incremental business from a competitor, and consumers benefit.

Now you could argue that the search engine should show organic results to help the consumer get the best deal, and I would agree with you.

Right, but you may also be interested in an ad from a competitor for a similar product, especially if they were differentiated by price, no?

My "by definition" detector has fired. It says: that's not true by definition. Ads could instead also be things that users want.

I do actually think you have a good point.

I like this pedanticism, but I still think you can even argue the "by definition" piece of it. I suppose it ends up being somewhat tautological in the end.

If you really like Skillet X, and I ask you which skillet I should buy, and you tell me, "Skillet X," then it is not an ad.

If you really like Skillet X, then somebody gives you $5 to recommend it if anybody asks you what skillet to buy, and then when I ask, you tell me, "Skillet X...I mean you should know that somebody gave me $5 to say that to you but honestly I was going to say that anyway" then is it an ad?

It kinda intuitively feels to me like if it doesn't alter the result, it's not an ad, it's just somebody taking advantage of another person's willingness to hand them money and doing nothing in return.

The unstated implicit assumption in the question being asked in both situations is this: you’re being asked for your unbiased opinion. All ads are inherently biased, but by not disclosing your compensation, you’re not answering the question as asked. This bias, even if disclosed, renders your recommendation, and our hypothetical innocent recommendation, suspect.

Yes, it's by definition because the definition is tendentious.

The definition: "If Google [meaning Google's organic results] delivers users the thing they want"

The consequence: "ads have to be things users don't want" because advertisers whose product is wanted will be included whether they pay or not.

Now, you could widen it to say, look Google is still delivering the thing users want, they just sometimes do it by organic results and sometimes do it by ads, but that's a very convoluted reading of the definition, which clearly is using Google as a stand in for "Google's organic results".

The problem with my argument isn't that it failed to be a tautology. It's that the definition is questionable, and that's the profitable angle of attack: "users don't know what they want" "there can be multiple equally good options" etc. But saying it's not by definition is just silly. The definition is the whole thing up for debate!

I guess the argument is that if google could make the perfect search result, ad spending would, by definition either be exploitative of the advertiser by providing no change, or providing value by changing the results from perfection.

In reality, Google is not perfect and you can argue that ads do provide value by promoting relevant content, even if its gameable by our capitalist system.

Worst part is that the competitor has nothing to lose, so they basically will spend the whole margin of a sale on the ad. Which means that the original company has to do the same.

Where I worked before, Google could get $4 for ever $1 we made. And we actually delivered the service, and people googled our name. Pretty crazy...

Exactly. And it's bad for customers too. My mum (70) just fell for it, and she's pretty clued about computers and technology. She searched for a flight with Ryanair, so entered Ryanair on Google. First result was some scummy reseller, which sold her the same ticket for a higher price with some "extras".

Bidding on a competitor's brand name keyword should be banned. But Google can't resist double-dipping.

I mean.. RTFM? Look at the address bar? The branding of the site? Pay attention and be careful? This stuff only works on 70 year olds. It stands to reason it won't be viable in a few decades.

This should be allowed, because this means smaller competitors have a shot at the customer base of a more established competitor. If we ban it, it's just shoring up established players.

+1 this has happened to me before and I've ended up buying from a competitor before. We should promote competition.

Freakonomics had an episode with an economist that worked with Ebay on ad buys. This sort of "buy ads on your own keywords" was shown to have zero impact on sales to the point that they cut completely stopped advertising when the search included "ebay".

This will work for someone like eBay (people searching eBay want eBay) but for other "brand-name" terms it may NOT work - people searching for Travelocity or whoever is the hotness there may be perfectly happy with the first "similar enough" link.

There's no way to know until they do an A/B test like eBay did I guess. EBay was certain that they needed to do the on brand ads before this economist showed up too.

Even the eBay test can be misleading - if everyone sees competitor B anytime they search for eBay, eventually they are going to give it a try.

This is untrue. A small proportion, but most people searching for something specific what that something that is specific.

If I search for a Dell computer, no way will I buy Apple.

Likewise if I use Bing to search for Chrome, no way will I download edge except for user error.

It's when the phrase is at or near generalization that it comes into play - someone searching for Kleenex likely doesn't care what tissue they find, and many people who Google Google would be happy to click Bing if it popped up first.

"Dominos" might be one where people wouldn't mind ordering from Pizza Hut as they're using it as a generic term for pizza.

I'm quite certain brand confusion is entirely the result of a poor advertising system that allows it.

They talked about this on the 2 hour long podcast. It was actually pretty funny too, I'd recommend it.

A/B for E/Bay. Hmm.

eBay is a strong brand where people searching for eBay are going to click on eBay, almost no matter what. For other less recognizable brands or crowded categories, this is often not the case.

Branded search terms are almost always less incremental than non-branded (ie: "lodge logic" vs. "cast iron skillet"), but the actual incrementality of the terms is something every advertiser should be testing continuously.

Yes, when you're doing general brand terms that's true, but when you have a specific product in mind that's no longer the case.

I just searched for "ebay" on google and the top result is an ad for ebay.com?

As an end-user, the results are insane.

Opening google in incognito mode:

If I search for "Toyota RAV4", the first (ad) result is "Hyundai Tuscon". If I search for "AWS Cert", my first (ad) result is "Microsoft Learn". Et cetera et cetera :|

What? That's not the case for me in incognito.

There is absolutely nothing independently governing and monitoring whether performance is correct on ads. It's all done in private, and you're forced to compete against SEO and many other things to succeed on a daily and even minute-to-minute basis.

This is the real price of a constant threat to Net Neutrality, and allowing one monopolistic company to dominate mobile devices, web browsers, search results, and the largest video service on the entire Internet.

Their plan to corner and manipulate what everyone's freedom of choice and to secure their funnel of permanent revenue is considered cute to investors, but no one realizes how bad this will get in 5 more years.

Of course the numbers are fudged when you consider how they've turned analytics on their once very useful platform into a confusing mess, and when they announced that they were going to retire the system after it has killed off competition, because they can simply gather any analytical report they want privately from their web browser.

Public front-end statics are no longer trust worthy because they can be manipulated to drive platform revenue and engagement. The best and most accurate stats are provided only internally, to executive leadership that owns platforms.

Because we now use them for email, video views, browsing, phones, etc, they have key insight that can even be used for corporate espionage, your ideas can literally be beaten to market because your virtual assistant caught you mentioning keywords then reported you applying for your patent and corporate loan.

Most people have no idea about how bad this all can get. We'll find out soon enough though.

When ad revenue drops on platforms, the platforms simply reduce organic visibility which drives the need for regular ad spending for companies in order to remain visible on social platforms... AirBNB is riding a wave of prior popularity and name recognition, I guarantee they will go back to a certain point of obscurity at some point because they reduced their ad spend, and then be forced to promote heavily as they did once before.

It's all creates a new cycle of financial deception and manipulation on platforms. For very profitable companies, advertising is usually manageable, but for startups, for small business, and for independent creators, this practice is devastating financially, and fruitless on top of the financial loss of paying for promotion. These platforms also made promises to woo users based on free organic growth, which somehow conveniently disappeared due to covert and convenient EULA updates over time.

So in a way, big advertisers that are leaders in their markets would be favorable to adblockers, because they free them of the need to do defensive advertising.

One could argue that no advertising is hard for the challengers, but in today's situation they are outspent anyway, so what do they have to lose?

The conclusion is that both incumbents and challengers would be better off in a world where no advertising exists.

Yeah, it's mostly a prisoner's dilemma where if someone spends on ads then their competitors also have to spend. The only one really profiting in the end are the ad companies.

> The main problem here is that if Williams Sonoma was not advertising on that search term, Lodge and Food52 etc etc would, and then those companies would be above the Williams Sonoma organic placements.

When you put it that way this sounds like racketeering.

If you take as a foundational assumption that the brand name in the search string means the traffic is in some sense owned by the brand, then you're absolutely right. It's essentially racketeering. Certainly brands often view traffic that way.

Personally I resist the idea that a brand owns my attention because I used a keyword, but that's one of my many personal quirks.

It's a little dicer in the cases where we can pretty much infer that they're trying to get to a specific thing and would have happily used a direct URL to the page if they had the wherewithal to do so. In this case the ad placement is basically a brand trying to hijack my attention while I'm in the process of seeking a thing out.

I struggle to think of a meat world analogy. It would be something like if I dialed my girlfriend up on the phone and, instead of routing me straight to her, I had to navigate through a switchboard asking me "How about talking to these sexy singles in your area instead?" And in order to prevent this, my girlfriend would then have to pay the company to route my call straight to her.

Of course this isn't a perfect metaphor because there's a lot of different ways people use a search bar, especially now that search bars are merged into URL bars. But that sort of gets at what it is about this that feels sleazy.

I think it's an excellent metaphor!

I think it also exposes the core problem. The metaphor rests on knowing intent with certainty. It's perhaps possible that certain clarity and pretty much inferring might not always be the same, especially with how search and URL bars have merged.

But I understand completely. If you genuinely feel like you know that person's intent with certainty, someone else having a crack at their attention along the way feels like a violation of your relationship.

Personally I resist the idea that a brand owns my attention because I used a keyword

What kind of keyword are you referring to here? Because brands do own certain keywords, they're called trademarks. If you don't want a brand to feel entitled to your attention, don't include registered trademarks in your search query.

(Yes, I know, trademarks are limited to a specific market segment. Doesn't invalidate the basic premise of searching on trademarks though).

Similar principle applies to

- review sites like Yelp (interestingly one of Google's loudest antitrust critics)

- domain names (arguably the entire ICANN generic top level domains sell-off)^1; US trademark grantees who fail to take action against confusingly similar domain names risk losing trademark protection

1. The gTLD application alone as $185,000 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gtld)

In the case of Google and Yelp, the tech company can manipulate the alleged "algorithm" (read: no humans involve so you cant sue us, haha) behind the scenes and determine the "visibility" of the ad/review.

Ads are the perfect "business model" for tech companies because there is so little scrutiny of the ad services delivered. It is like philanthropy. When we make a donation, we generally do not track what happens to the money afterwards. We get a warm fuzzy feeling from making the donation as it is "doing the right thing". Then we leave the recipient to do as they please. How many companies buy ads on Google because they feel it is "the right thing to do". How many feel their donation was unwarranted after the ads fail to produce results.

Defensive ad purchases, defensive domain name registrations and even defensive gTLD purchases are one side of the coin. Another is the "winner take all" line-of-thinking (80/20, network effects, etc.) that tech companies worship that they in turn project onto customers. Competing for visibility on a fully searchable web of enormous capacity presupposes (artifically) that visible space is scarce. Ad auctions for the purpose of placing an ad on page one of hundreds of thousands of pages of results. The truth is that many people used to read newspapers from beginning to end. The whole paper, not just page one.

In a physical newspaper, there are ads on many pages. Often there are in fact no ads on page one. How many Google customers are encouraged to purchase ads that will appear on SERP #2 (do they even have ads on SERP #2). Imagine if newspapers tried to create a bidding war for page one of the physical newspaper. With the online versions, it seems that is exactly what happens. Do not blame the newspapers, do not blame Williams-Sonoma, blame the "tech" companies. This only reflects the pathetic "tech" company psychology, not the thinking of the businesses who give them money for online ad services.

Wouldn't that be solvable if it was forbidden to place ads using as search terms the tradename of another company?

our brand name "Paymo" is considered by google a synonym for things like project management. we get competitors that are advertising broadly on our brand name... it's truly mind blowing.

I always skip the ad links and click the organic one, even if it's for the correct company/product. Because when I click on the ad link 9/10 is some weird ad funnel page radther than the actual product page I wanted to go to.

> Lodge and Food52 etc etc would

And wouldn't any users who end up buying a Lodge pan have been legitimately converted by effective lodge advertising? I don't think anyone who's only interested in Williams Sonoma will just go ahead and buy a Lodge pan. Unless you're suggesting that simply because the user entered "Williams Sonoma" in the search bar that page somehow "belongs" to them, which seems a bit absurd.

> if Williams Sonoma was not advertising on that search term, Lodge and Food52 etc etc would

If I as a customer am using such specific search terms, then I would assume that my intention is to find and possibly buy this specific product. The results of other brands might be annoying, but why should I click on them? The relevant results are still displayed on the first page.

For example if the customer was previously not familiar with Williams Sonoma but had seen an ad in the paper or on TV or on the subway etc, that caused them to search for Williams Sonoma cast iron skillet.

And beside that a lot of people routinely misclick or click on ads not understanding that they are ads even when they are marked as such.

> a lot of people routinely misclick

So much this on phones. I think I missclicked adds like 10 times in a year, before realizing there where adblockers on Firefox mobile. Zero legitimate clicks. Never happens me on desktop, unless there is a screen jump scam.

So the theory is that if I search for "Williams Sonoma cast iron skillet", but misclick on some competitor, I'm buying that instead? I don't know, I don't usually assume the rest of humanity to be a lot dumber than me.

People don’t need to be dumb to do that. Being inexperienced with computers or confused about computers is enough to cause people to do a lot of things like that. There are a lot of people out there who are inexperienced with or confused by computers.

But my main point was that the brand may not be all that important in the first place even though it was included as part of the search term. The person making the search could’ve seen an ad and been intrigued by the product, but upon landing on a competitor site they may choose to buy a similar product from them instead.

If you are deeply into the kind of thing you are buying, you will make a lot of research to find the best one. But there are a lot of things we buy that we don’t care as deeply about, and where we may choose the first one that fits the bill sufficiently well.

> landing on a competitor site they may choose to buy a similar product from them instead.

Doesn't that just make for effective advertising? I'm failing to see the harm here.

The competing ads will often say something like "Introducing [Product Y] which costs 25% less and is 10% less smellier than [Product X you searched for]"

If you've never heard of Product Y, you might be intrigued and click. Maybe you want something less smelly!

Ultimately I think it decreases google's value as a search engine (to the user searching) by a very small amount, but nets them a high immediate return. I bet it's hard to quantify the net effect over time, and it would be a really hard sell internally to not allow it.

I've noticed the quality of google search decrease drastically over the last 15+ years or so. I don't think that's directly tied to ad buys though.

Depends on the brand, right? If I search for Klenex or Bandaid, or Advil, I might be fine with the cheaper generic.

I have searched for "Digikey something" and wound up with clicking on a "Mouser ad".

At this point, Google's first page is so bad that I can almost build an anti search engine. Search for a term, and then exclude all the sites on the first page from ever showing up permanently ever again.

runnaroo showed things could be done better. The problem is that doing better doesn't seem to convert to profit.

Your logic about the ads is sound, but your experience as a customer does not mean all customers exhibit this behavior. The best course of action is to test this conclusion which can be reliably done with a Google Ads Experiment.

Now, that is what I call organic advertisement.

I think there is an under-appreciated average search engine user in the comment:

People will typically write their intent on the search engine even when they could simply directly to the website.

Case in point: The top 10 bing searches are for websites, including FB, Google, Youtube [1]. This traffic is highly competitive and should (as in all competitive markets) be bid among competitors.


The address bar is the search bar. My wife never types "facebook.com". She types "facebook", gets the google search page, and then clicks on facebook from there. It pisses me off that if I start typing facebook, Chrome doesn't autocomplete to facebook.com. In contrast, if I'm in Safari, and type "n" I get "news.ycombinator.com" autocompleted.

It must be a setting?

Small business people in my area of UK have always done this, type in the box in the middle (usually Google, occasionally Bing or some other service). But my pretty tech-literate kids do it too, even when I show them how they 'should' do it and that is faster, and they don't need the extra click to get where they're going ... mad!

On Chrome on Win10 as I use at work though, typing in the address bar, with my settings, I get auto-fill of addresses (the history search is noticeably missing vs Firefox) including the option to use 'tab to search' on a domain.

It's not about the customer, it's about the fact that the merchants have to pay the Google tax in order to play.

> if Williams Sonoma was not advertising on that search term, Lodge and Food52 etc etc would, and then those companies would be above the Williams Sonoma organic placements

And if they were not above organically they would simply buy the advertising space that William Sonoma purchased. It's one of the slimiest things Google does - allows competitors to purchase advertising space on a query specifically crafted to find a particular source. It's nothing more than a shakedown.


Why is that a shakedown? Shouldn't competitors be able to advertise their products? Any users who are actually looking for Williams Sonoma will find it. Any who are open to having their minds changed, or are interested in competing products, will be interested in competitors ads.

should your competitors be able to buy 100% of the screen space on mobile with images where your organic result has none? 50% sure maybe but literally google doesn't even put the organic results above the fold on mobile. Often on google on mobile the organic results are 2 screens down.

Branded keywords are not always allowed, and restrictions on those ads are pretty strict.

Yeah, I think the only on-brand search ads that should be allowed are ones for totally unrelated products OR those ads are placed below what on-brand search results would provide. Google has no incentive to fix this though because it's an extra tax they charge the entire online advertising space (+ all the other search providers do it). Carefully crafted legislation could put an end to this tax.

> Yeah, I think the only on-brand search ads that should be allowed are ones for totally unrelated products...

The problem is that this is subjective and would need to be automated somehow. I think Google's original sin here is making the ads look so much like organic search results. Someone placing an ad against a competitors brand name would not be a huge issue if organic results were still front and centre like in the "good old days" of early 2000s Google.

This is actually trivially automatable. First of all, brand keywords are something Google supports explicitly for this kind of targetting so they know from that direction.

More generally though, if you paid for an advertisement and the natural search result has you first anyway, then you should not be charged for any clicks to this advertisement.

> and would need to be automated somehow

Or Google, one of the wealthiest companies on the face of the planet, could hire some staff to handle this.

Well, on a good search engine, IMO, you'd have a predicted store based on the manufacturer (eg their preferred seller) then perhaps a list of top 10 competitors and something like "most recorded purchases after this search are from seller X" with "the most popular similar store is seller Y".

Of course Google wouldn't give that data out as then many companies wouldn't need to advertise at all to get top billing.

That's secondary & the reason Google doesn't have this is likely because the sellers don't want to provide this. E.g. Amazon doesn't want potential customers being easily redirected to Walmart purchases. One of the many reasons Froogle died.

The simple solution is that your paid advertisements are free if it gets clicked when you're the top result anyway. That way it doesn't cost the brand any money to bid on advertisements for their own brand.

> The main problem here is that if Williams Sonoma was not advertising on that search term, Lodge and Food52 etc etc would, and then those companies would be above the Williams Sonoma organic placements.

Except they won't click those competitor links, because they are already specifically looking for Williams Sonoma

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