The Ease with Which Search Marketing Experts Manipulate Relevance and the Clueless

July 8, 2019

The New York Times (paywall, gentle reader, take heed) ran an opinion editorial “real news” item called “I Used Google Ads for Social Engineering.” You can locate the write up on page A 23 of the July 8, 2019, dead tree edition in the version of the paper that is distributed in rural Kentucky. By the way, good luck with that.

The write up contains some interesting factoids; for example:

  1. “Three out of four smart phone owners turn to Google first to address their immediate needs.” (Immediate needs? Remind me where I put the dog’s shock collar? No. Help me insert a video snip in my weekly DarkCyber video? No. Explain why my Android phone no longer allows me to hear voicemail? No. And I could go on but three fourths of my immediate needs require my attention be directed at Google? Really?)
  2. A person has 150 micromoments a day. (No, I don’t know what a micromoment is, and I hope I don’t learn either.)
  3. Redirection is a method which diverts my attention from what I wanted to what Google wanted me to want. (Yeah, that sounds just wonderful.)

The point of the write up is:

Google left behind a blueprint. The blueprint shows, step by step, how you can create your own redirect ads to sway any belief of opinion – held by any Google user, anywhere in the world – of your choice.

Really?

Just a question: “Why hasn’t an entity used the technique to deal with the border crisis or Iranian leaders’ desire to generate explosive material if Google Ads are so darned effective?”

The write up admits there are some weaknesses in Google’s approach.

No kidding? How about making Google the focus of what search engine optimization experts actually do: Distort relevance so poor, little Google doesn’t know what’s what about a particular topic?

The write up identifies one measure of success:

Nine days after my campaign began [to prevent suicide], the ads were accepted by Google. My ad was the first result across the United States when someone Google with suicidal intent. I showed unique ads to suicidal people who were physically located around the Golden Gate Bridge. Nearly one in three searches who clicked my ad dialed the hotline – a conversion rate of 28 percent. The average Google Ads conversion rate is 4 percent. The campaign’s 28 percent conversion rate was met in the first week.

Who can dispute the value of Redirect, Google Ads, and clicks?

Not me.

The write up points out:

Click data can be used for harm by a redirector whit bad intentions. If redirectors can groom ISIS sympathizers, they can also use it to groom school shooters. A redirector using a call forwarding service can link up with like minded terrorist by having clickers’ calls directed to their phones.

There you go. The how to manipulate method. Pederasts, are you paying attention? Credit card scammers, pay attention? Contraband vendors, you need Google Ads, right now.

The write up continues:

Using Google’s ISIS campaign blueprint, anyone can access the platform’s precise targeting tools and redirect ads to help further his or her own agenda. For instance, swaying peoples’ political beliefs during an election.

Why does this method work like a champ?

More than 50 percent of people still can’t differentiate between an ad )redirect or not) and an organic result on Google.

The person writing the article was at the time of the writing a Google certified partner and the founder of an outfit called Berlin SEM. I think SEM means “search engine marketing.”

Let’s step back and look at a handful of questions:

  1. Is this “news” or is it a marketing play designed to make the phone ring and the email flow to Berlin SEM?
  2. Are there mechanisms in place at Google or elsewhere to prevent this type of exploitation, what some call a “dark method”?
  3. Are the data presented in the write up or available from other sources able to tie an action to a Google ad budget; that is, “How much does it cost (money and time) to skew an election, cause me to buy an shirt, or perform some other action I did not want to perform?

DarkCyber is one the fence about [a] the benefit of presenting information about behavior manipulation via ads and  [b] the inappropriateness of presenting a partial description of what an effective distortion campaign requires.

But an opinion editorial is not designed to be data heavy, thorough, and comprehensive. In fact, the write up is another example of trying to criticize Google and making the Google method into a service some advertisers will want to use now and more often.

The message strikes DarkCyber as, “That Google advertising is just what I need to make sales.”

Good job. Boost that usage of Google because micromoments are just an opportunity to distort. Don’t forget the tweets, the Facebook posts, the traditional news release, and for fee content placement.

Combo propaganda campaigns are more effective and warrant more comprehensive explanation, analysis, and discussion, not advertorials.

Stephen E Arnold, July 8, 2019

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