Useless Search Results? Thank Advertising

September 17, 2021

We thought this was obvious. The Conversation declares, “Google’s ‘Pay-Per-Click’ Ad Model Makes it Harder to Find What You’re Looking For.” Writers Mohiuddin Ahmed and Paul Haskell-Dowland begin by pointing out “to google” has literally become synonymous with searching online via any online search platform. Indeed, Google has handily dominated the online search business, burying some competitors and leaving the rest in the dust. Not coincidentally, the company also rules the web browser and online advertising markets. As our dear readers know, Google is facing pushback from competition and antitrust regulators in assorted countries. However, this article addresses the impact on search results themselves. The authors report:

“More than 80% of Alphabet’s revenue comes from Google advertising. At the same time, around 85% of the world’s search engine activity goes through Google. Clearly there is significant commercial advantage in selling advertising while at the same time controlling the results of most web searches undertaken around the globe. This can be seen clearly in search results. Studies have shown internet users are less and less prepared to scroll down the page or spend less time on content below the ‘fold’ (the limit of content on your screen). This makes the space at the top of the search results more and more valuable. In the example below, you might have to scroll three screens down before you find actual search results rather than paid promotions. While Google (and indeed many users) might argue that the results are still helpful and save time, it’s clear the design of the page and the prominence given to paid adverts will influence behavior. All of this is reinforced by the use of a pay-per-click advertising model which is founded on enticing users to click on adverts.”

We are reminded Google-owned YouTube is another important source of information for billions of users, and it is perhaps the leading platform for online ads. In fact, these ads now intrude on videos at a truly annoying rate. Unless one pays for a Premium subscription, of course. Ahmed and Haskell-Dowland remind us alternatives to Google Search exist, with the usual emphasis on privacy-centric DuckDuckGo. They conclude by pointing out other influential areas in which Google plays a lead role: AI, healthcare, autonomous vehicles, cloud computing, computing devices, and the Internet of Things. Is Google poised to take over the world? Why not?

Cynthia Murrell, September September 17, 2021, 2021

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