Bryan Essay

Taylor Bryan
10/13/09
Issues in Public and Professional Discourse
Clicks for Cash: How Sponsored Search Advertisements Manage Knowledge on Google

The Internet has fundamentally changed the ways in which people attain knowledge and information particularly through the incredible capabilities of online search engines such as the largest, Google. While Google provides users with a platform through which to access more information than ever possible in human history within seconds, one must question the practices, motivations, and for profit mentality of search engines such as Google and the ways in which Google’s aims directly affect the knowledge its users access. Google’s use of Sponsored Search Advertising through its program Adwords, one of the largest in the business, directly manages the knowledge of Google users by both literally funding the search engines’ massive infrastructure, making its use possible, and controlling where users are guided within a given search.

Sponsored Search Advertising, also known as Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, is a form of marketing in which companies pay search engines, such as Google, every time a legitimate user clicks on an advertisement the company placed. In order to receive traffic for commercial purposes through Google, advertisers bid on keywords with the highest bidder receiving the first slot for a given keyword in Google’s Sponsored Search section, found immediately to the right and often above the standard, non-commercial search results. For example, a company selling in home bottled water can bid on the keyword “water.” While Google provides no guarantee that the company will sell their product, each and every time a user searches for “water,” the company with the highest bid appears first, offering the greatest chance that users will click on their advertisement as users are more likely to click the first results they receive. Under this system in the past, those willing to pay the most could go as far as purchasing the name of competitor’s products as keywords, such as Honda bidding on the word “Toyota,” in order to corner the market and assure successful advertising. While Google came under fire for such practices, the trend is still legal so long as trademark infringement doesn’t take place. In addition to purchasing the rights to certain keywords, in many venues companies can bid for keyword generators to trigger their advertisement. Under this system, Google presents users with suggestions relating to a given search that are automatically designed to bring the user to an advertisement, often leading completely uninterested users to click on a site through manipulating the users’ actual search.

According to Juan Feng in his article “Implementing Sponsored Search in Web Search Engines: Computational Evaluation of Alternative Mechanisms,” in a given day, “hundreds of thousands of advertisers compete for positions alongside several million search queries” (Feng, 139). With over 250 million Google searches a day in 2007, according to Feng, thirteen percent of traffic to sites with commercial interests came directly through search engines, a number that has only risen over the past two years. Whether users realize the means by which Google uses their searches to profit, nearly every word one can type into its search bar will trigger an advertisement and present Google with an opportunity to profit. While this digital form of advertising is relatively new, research, according to Bernard J. Jansen in his article “The Components and Impact of Sponsored Search,” demonstrates that Internet marketing in this form will increase 15-20 percent through the year 2011, increasingly affecting the ways in which people attain knowledge through the internet.

Google’s Sponsored Search Advertising branch Adwords, founded in 2000, currently holds a place as one of the three largest PPC advertisers in the world. With Adwords, companies can place short, one or two line advertisements that surface in a search for a given keyword the company has bid on. While the fact that Google makes its revenue through advertisements remains abundantly clear, PPC advertisements literally pay Google’s expenses, allowing the company to support its massive infrastructure and continue to provide easy access to information. Google’s primary form of revenue, Adwords generated the company some 21 billion dollars in 2008, according to a validated Wikipedia page. Because Google relies on PPC advertisements to maintain the company and turn a profit, Google possesses significant self interest to guide its users to advertisements placed by commercial interests. Google only receives payment if users click on these advertisements and visit marketers websites, motivating the company to do all in its power to encourage users to view these advertisements. Without Adwords and PPC advertising, Google and search engines like it simply could not afford to continue operating, and the easy access to knowledge internet users enjoy through search engines would disappear. The revenue generated by Adwords directly manages the knowledge of Google users by simply maintaining the site’s existence and allowing users to search.

In contrast to standard advertising in venues such as periodicals, television, and radio, companies who place PPC advertisements can directly track the effectiveness of their marketing campaign. By determining the number of clicks an advertisement receives and the number of purchases consumers make, companies who place PPC’s can adjust their advertisements constantly in order to gain the most exposure. Such flexibility, made possible through technology like Adwords, allows companies to reach a larger target audience, catering their advertisements to appeal to the largest number of people. With Google’s motivation to profit through advertisements that receive the most clicks, companies with proper resources can literally adjust their campaigns to stay at the top of the market and constantly manage the knowledge of internet users by bringing potential customers to their advertisements. The level of control advertisers possess through PPC advertisements has never existed before, enabling companies to literally influence broader groups of internet users and directly manage their knowledge on certain products and services.

Google’s motivation to guide users to advertisements placed by the highest bidder leads the company to constantly shift who receives the first slot in its Sponsored Searches. If a company fails to receive as many clicks as a lower tier bidder, Google immediately changes the order to maximize its profit. Such manipulation of its search results directly affects the knowledge users attain in a given search. Because Google presents the advertisements that are likely to generate the most income for the search engine first, the information one receives from a search is not necessarily the most relevant. According to Jansen, “Market-research firm TNS reports than an estimated 81 percent of internet users worldwide and 89 percent of internet users in the US rely on search engines to locate websites,” (Jansen, 98). The fact that such a large number of users rely on search engines to find websites coupled with the existence of PPC advertising suggests that search engines such as Google play an enormous role in managing the knowledge internet users attain. Focusing on profiting from PPC advertisements, Google guides its users to websites operated by the highest bidder for given keywords regardless if the information presented is the most relevant.

Google’s use of PPC advertisements directly manages the knowledge of its users by supporting the infrastructure that allows users to search such a wide range of subjects instantly and by guiding users’ searches to advertisements that will benefit the company through profit. Because companies bid on the keywords that will lead to their advertisements, the information Google presents results directly from the company’s desire to make money. With previously unseen flexibility in advertisements and quantitative methods to judge their effectiveness, companies are able to target internet users through perpetual but altered campaigns that ensure that a greater number of potential customers visit their websites. Although PPC advertising is a fundamental economic support system for Google and other search engines, the knowledge one receives when searching, particularly for goods and services, stems directly from Google’s self interest. As hundreds of millions of internet users search Google on a daily basis, their knowledge is directly managed by PPC advertisements.

Works Cited
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