Google's Paid Inclusion: Smart or Scam?

June 12, 2012

google, advertising, adwords


Is Google’s recent acceptance of paid inclusion a justified example of innovating their business model? Or is the switch hypocritical and demeaning of the company’s original objectives?  Many are concerned that adapting paid inclusion contradicts Google’s notable slogan “Don’t Be Evil.”

So what is paid inclusion and why is it such a big deal? Paid inclusion is a method search engines utilize to sell the results that come up in their searches. It is a midway point between bought ads and organic listings. Paid inclusion raises questions: How “organic” are these results if companies can pay Google to be included? Can they be trusted?  

Danny Sullivan of Marketing Land explains that paid inclusion only guarantees consideration, but not a high ranking. This means that Google’s ranking algorithm still decides how high up a search result appears, which is why it’s different from paid placement.

So what is all the fuss about? Gizmodo explains that all of Google’s competitors use this method, and it was an inevitable decision for the change and growth of Google. One criticism is that it contradicts Google’s original statement in its 2004 Founders Letter  from its IPO. Under the “Don’t Be Evil” section, Google regarded paid inclusion to be a wrongful practice stating:

“Google users trust our systems to help them with important decisions: medical, financial and many others. Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating.”

Google’s Amit Singhal explains that Google changed its policy because because there is a class of queries that couldn’t be answered with just crawled data - Google had to either license data or go out and establish relationships with data providers.  For paid inclusion results, Google labels the search results that have been paid for as “Sponsored” to ensure transparency to its users. 

Google is claiming that paid inclusion will help them aggregate and organize its data, but it is compensated for it. After criticizing competitors’ use of the practice, Google has switched to it, despite being the current search engine leader. (Do they really need this to help?) Only time will tell if paid inclusion increases Google’s efficiency or if it’s purely a revenue builder. 

Sullivan highlights that while Google’s paid inclusion results are disclosed as sponsored in Google search results, there are no disclosures on the vertical search products these results are drawn from (Google Hotel Finder, Flight Search and Advisor).

WebProNews’ Chris Crum ponders:   

“I have to wonder how many of these paid deals Google has, how many include businesses paying Google for listings, and how many include Google paying businesses for data access.”
Paid inclusion comes with many implications but hopefully Google will remain a trustworthy platform for the millions who rely on the search engine for everyday decisions.