Buy Google Traffic: Nah, Paying May Not Work

November 16, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

Tucked into a write up about the less than public trial of the Google was an interesting factoid. The source of the item was “More from the US v Google Trial: Vertical Search, Pre-Installs and the Case of Firefox / Yahoo.” Here’s the snippet:

Expedia execs also testified about the cost of ads and how increases had no impact on search results. On October 19, Expedia’s former chief operating officer, Jeff Hurst, told the court the company’s ad fees increased tenfold from $21 million in 2015 to $290 million in 2019. And yet, Expedia’s traffic from Google did not increase. The implication was that this was due to direct competition from Google itself. Hurst pointed out that Google began sharing its own flight and hotel data in search results in that period, according to the Seattle Times.


“Yes, sir, you can buy a ticket and enjoy a ticket to our entertainment,” says the theater owner. The customer asks, “Is the theater in good repair?” The ticket seller replies, “Of course, you get your money’s worth at our establishment. Next.” Thanks, Microsoft Bing. It took several tries before I gave up.

I am a dinobaby, and I am, by definition, hopelessly out of it. However, I interpret this passage in this way:

  1. Despite protestations about the Google algorithm’s objectivity, Google has knobs and dials it can use to cause the “objective” algorithm to be just a teenie weenie less objective. Is this a surprise? Not to me. Who builds a system without a mechanism for controlling what it does. My favorite example of this steering involves the original search system circa 2000. After Mr. Clinton lost the election, the new administration, a former Halliburton executive wanted a certain Web page result to appear when certain terms were searched. No problemo. Why? Who builds a system one cannot control? Not me. My hunch is that Google may have a similar affection for knobs and dials.
  2. Expedia learned that buying advertising from a competitor (Google) was expensive and then got more expensive. The jump from $21 million to $290 million is modest from the point of view of some technology feudalists. To others the increase is stunning.
  3. Paying more money did not result in an increase in clicks or traffic. Again I was not surprised. What caught my attention is that it has taken decades for others to figure out how the digital highway men came riding like a wolf on the fold. Instead of being bedecked with silver and gold, these actors wore those cheerful kindergarten colors. Oh, those colors are childish but those wearing them carried away the silver and gold it seems.

Net net: Why is this US v Google trial not more public? Why so many documents withheld? Why is redaction the best billing tactic of 2023? So many questions that this dinobaby cannot answer. I want to go for a ride in the Brin-A-Loon too. I am a simple dinobaby.

Stephen E Arnold, November 16, 2023


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