Yahoo said it would acquire an ad network yesterday, in reaction to Google’s plans to expand its own ad network by acquiring DoubleClick. Now in One Giant Leap, the New York Post reports rumors that Microsoft might want to buy ad management company 24/7 Real Media.
What’s wrong with this picture? The same thing wrong with Google’s planned purchase of DoubleClick — that the move also puts a search engine into the search marketing game.
Performics: "Business As Usual," Despite Google’s Planned Purchase covers how Google will need to dispose of the Performics division of DoubleClick if it want to have any credibility as a search engine. You simply cannot — cannot! — have your own in-house division designed to help people rank well on your own search engine. It means the entire third party search marketing industry, which already has some mistrust of search engines, is going to lose whatever faith they have left.
Moreover, it’s going to leave searchers eventually wondering whether you skew things to ensure that your search marketing division is making money for the company. This is especially tricky for Google. Remember back when it went public, Google told the world in its public filing:
We will do our best to provide the most relevant and useful search results possible, independent of financial incentives. Our search results will be objective and we will not accept payment for inclusion or ranking in them.
Google might not take payment for putting paid inclusion in its own results, but if Performics becomes part of Google, then Google will be directly taking payment from others who want paid inclusion in Yahoo.
Further in the same filing, Google said:
Some of our competitors charge web sites for inclusion in their indices or for more frequent updating of pages. Inclusion and frequent updating in our index are open to all sites free of charge. We apply these principles to each of our products and services. We believe it is important for users to have access to the best available information and research, not just the information that someone pays for them to see.
Again, while paid inclusion might not be part of Google, Performics itself will be a Google service. If Performics continues to sell paid inclusion, then Google will no longer being applying one of the longest-held principles that it has had. Perhaps the Google culture officer needs to make sure those involved with acquiring DoubleClick understand this key part of Google’s culture.
As for Microsoft, it dumped paid inclusion back in 2004, making a big deal of the move being good for searchers. 24/7 is a huge player in paid inclusion services. That’s going to put Microsoft back into the space, albeit indirectly, that it once abandoned.
Paid inclusion issues aside, both Google and Microsoft might end up owning search marketing firms. That alone is too much an inherent conflict. Google could have clarified that Performics would be spun off from the very beginning. Instead, we’ll almost certainly see this happen, probably announced as part when the DoubleClick deal eventually goes through. Microsoft, if it really wants 24/7, had better seriously carefully consider the conflicts it will face.
Finally, I’ve got no problem with either Performics or 24/7. Both are companies with great reputations — and both should thrive on their own. They just don’t belong as part of major search engines.
For related discussion, watch Techmeme here.