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Google: Conflict of Interest....This Time

Now that the dust has settled on the Google - Doubleclick acquisition, most of the buzz is around the upcoming layoffs. Those aren't surprising in my mind though. Rather the more interesting fallout is Google's decision to sell off the SEO/SEM division of DoubleClick, Performics. For the uninitiated, SEM shops like Performics are companies that manage third parties marketing spend with respect to search engine advertsing/keyword buys. Very often this involves a tangential business of optimizing organic search results as well. Performics did both.

From Google's recent announcement:

It’s clear to us that we do not want to be in the search engine marketing business. Maintaining objectivity in both search and advertising is paramount to Google’s mission and core to the trust we ask from our users. For this reason, we plan to sell the Performics search marketing business to a third party. We believe this will allow us to maintain objectivity and the search marketing business to continue to grow and innovate and serve its customers.

OK, so Google sees a conflict of interest in owning an SEM/ SEO shop. Fair enough. But where's the conflict? With its users? Can't be. When did Google users start caring whether their was objectivity in its advertising business?

People go to Google to find information. For the most part, most of us don't care whether someone paid Google to have their linked clicked or not, as long as we find it. Just like radio listeners never really cared about radio station payola, search engine users don't care about on-line payola like Adwords. Besides Google already has a host of tools available to advertisers to manage their keyword buys, i.e. kinda like what SEM shops do.

Everyone knows that the trust Google has with its users is in the organic results, not the ads. So that must be where the conflict is then, on the SEO side. Google doesn't want to appear non-objective there. OK. Hmmmmm. Wait. Actually that can't be the case either. Google mucks with its organic results all the times.

Take for instance, the various one boxes that appear at the top of reference-like searches, promoting certain data sets to the top of pages. Those aren't organic results - and their presence certainly denies traffic to non-proprietary organic results. That's not compromising SEO? And when Knol results start showing up at the top of Google results? That's not compromising SEO? Oh, wait, that's SEO for Google's stuff, not anyone else's. Right. I see. Users don't care about that I guess.

Bottom line is that the only new conflict of interest created if Google kept Performics is that Google would be openly competing with the cottage industry it created. A cottage industry that is a hugely successful marketing channel for them. That can't happen.

So fine, sell off Performics. But don't tell us the old politician trick and tell me its for the children user. Be honest and say its to keep your channel healthy because in most other places the "no conflict, no interest" seems to apply.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 2, 2008 2:57 PM.

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