Newspapers must sell ads to survive. Obviously, a good readership number increases their chances to secure advertisers.
Likewise, to pay for bandwidth and hopefully make a profit, online publishers either require readers to pay for access or rely on advertising. The number of “hits” or site visits is the “readership number” businesses evaluate when deciding to advertise on a web site. Sites with high traffic offer advertisers a larger pool of potential hits on their own web pages where they can, in turn, sell goods or services.
Using technology to link article content with advertisers is a very effective means of pushing readers and no one does that better that Google. Read an article on fishing and up pops a Google generated ad for a wholesaler of lures, fishing poles and hip-boots. Same is true of an article about the great outdoors, which might lead to Google generated ads for everything from Time Shares to spelunker hats. Google seems to have mastered the selection logic which plays into ad placement. After all, Google’s huge success has been putting advertisers and publishers together.
But something I noticed recently gave me pause. As I’m reading an online news article discussing wind energy I noticed Google generated advertising blocks promoting the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). This bothered me a bit because I know that the AWEA is industrial wind’s multi-million dollar lobbying group. Folks who happen to oppose industrial wind, of which I am admittedly one, have to do so on their own nickle and you’ll not likely see an ad campaign representing that side of the argument.
What bothered me, that might not have before, is the fact that Google has just entered the wind business in a fairly large way – nearly $40 million! So now, at least to me, Google’s placement of “click-able” ads promoting the wind industry in such close proximity to “news” stories about wind issues is a problem.
In “pre-Google wind” days, I understood the game. The Google folks hoped the reader would click on the AWEA ad because that’s how Google earns revenue. The AWEA would be tickled pink to see readers sent to their site via the Google ad where their pages will either reinforce a wind positive article, or counter one which speaks negatively about the wind industry, because that’s how the AWEA can influence folks to give the wind energy a positive nod. Perfect then, now … not so much!
My problem now is that Google has become part of the wind industry which the AWEA promotes. I’m not off on a “single-bullet” conspiracy, however one would hope that, as Google enters this business in a significant way, they don’t put themselves in a position to be accused of undue influence of their client’s (the Newspapers) readers.
Admittedly, Google does place a tiny “Ads by Google” notation on the ad they place on the Newspaper’s web site. A reader with a keen eye might actually pick up on the note and conclude that the Newspaper didn’t solicit the ad or even place it, It’s probably in the site owner’s interest to not appear to have made the connection. After all, a similar practice occurring in a hard copy paper might prove problematic for the Newspaper. But, in reality, it wouldn’t surprise me if most readers didn’t notice that Google actually placed the ad. In some ways, it might be beneficial to the AWEA if folks came away from the experience thinking the Newspaper saw fit to place the ad with the article.
Oh, well! I imagine many will see this as “much ado about nothing!” They might be right. But take a look at a few screen caps from recent local articles. I wouldn’t be shocked to find that the folks who took the time to read the article might also be curious enough to click on the link demanding that the readers “TELL THE SENATE TO ACT NOW ON AMERICA’S ENERGY FUTURE.”
After all, like the Google ad says, you simply need to “CLICK HERE.” And how easy is that?
h/t to Frank O’Hara for the Cumberland Times-News article.