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Saturday, September 13, 2008

On the Sourcetool Imbroglio

The New York Times' Joe Nocera reviews a legal case emanating from a site, SourceTool, that felt hard done by Google's Quality Score algorithm.

Sourcetool's owner suspects that Google simply doesn't like the site because it is "another search engine," or because it competes with Business.com, a Google partner.

I doubt this is it.

Anyone with experience in the game can sense what Sourcetool is, and that sense would be augmented or confirmed by a peek at the mix of destination URL's within the AdWords account, no doubt: it's pretty much straight click arbitrage.

Recall that straight click arbitrage is a business model that is all but banned by Google.

It does bring up another point. I just completed a fairly extensive discussion of this here in Winning Results With Google AdWords (2nd ed.), but that won't hit the shelves for a little while, so the capsule summary is this. Yes, there are muddy middle grounds, since many businesses are making a living off arbitrage in one form or another and you can't shut everyone's ads off! And there are cases of mistaken identity in the thin-slicing that an algorithm does to attempt to catch bad guys.

But here, Google isn't just stereotyping or rushing to judgment. Google knows who the person is, knows what the site does, understands the strategy fully, and has consciously decided to ban him from advertising, at least at regular prices. That's not an algorithm talking. It's Google's policy. And antitrust law or not, I believe this is their right.

In short, Sourcetool is in good company -- or in Google's eyes, bad company. It isn't being harassed because it's a "search engine," it's being harassed because it's a scraper-cum-arbitrage site. It contains little or no unique content, and the means of creating a high volume of pages is automated. Google does not feel that these are valuable kinds of sites, and that's been confirmed right out of Eric Schmidt's mouth, to large gatherings of journalists, since 2005 at least.

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