Google: Cash, not Quality, Redefines Top Paid Search Placement

As Google changes its policies so it can dramatically broaden its reach for advertisers, esp. the ones with the deepest marketing pockets, it’s key to understand what it means for the future of democratically distributed content. We believe Google’s recent change to its “top rank” formula for paid search ads is important to note. One day, “quality” can be a parameter is helping define what sites show up first; the next, as it works to generate greater revenues, it’s who can pay the most. Here are key excerpts from a two-part story on ClickZ: [my italics] “The change is to the formula used to calculate whether Google gives the advertiser (and specifically, the ad) top placement. Top slots are defined as the slots above the organic results, as opposed to ads shown down the right rail…What changed is the formula Google uses to decide whether to show your ad in the top portion of the page or leave it in the right rail. To have an ad considered for top placement, you need a minimum Quality Score…Assuming you have a sufficiently high Quality Score, the new formula uses a combination of maximum bid and Quality Score to determine eligibility subject to a new minimum price for top placement set by Google.

This allows Google to decide, on a keyword-by-keyword and SERP-by-SERP basis, how much it wants to earn for the top spots. The minimum bid price for top positions is undisclosed and subject to change.” [blog note: SERP is the search engine results page]

The search function has become an important part of democratic media. Keeping the leading search engine accountable and transparent—let alone ensuring competition and meaningful access for diverse information—is key. All of the major search engines, btw, inc. Yahoo! and MSN, require serious public interest scrutiny.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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