Goodbye Google - You're Being Evil

You know, I used to like Google.

by Osman Parvez

GoogleThe first time I heard of Google was 1998 and I was in grad school working on a class project. My partner on the project, David Officer (a Canadian with a sharp sense of humor) asked me if I had tried Google yet.

"Tried... what?" I asked

"Google, it's a wicked new way to search. Much better than Yahoo or Webcrawler."

So I tried it. And David was right, very right.

Since then, Google has been a regular part of my computer use. And as services have been added, I've enthusiastically tried them out. I love Google Desktop, Google Maps, Blogger, Gmail, and Picasa. I'm a little less enthusiastic about Google Spreadsheets, Froogle, Google Finance, and Google Calendar but I'm still a heavy Google user.

So, it was an easy decision to give Google Adsense a try when we launched and this blog. Afterall, Google "Boulder, CO" and you'll get 64 million results. Having a good web site alone wasn't going to drive traffic to our business.

Google's AdWords solution offered promise.

So I went to AdWords, set up a little budget, created a few ads, and let her loose on my credit card. Sure enough, we started to get more clicks. Although the price per click to be on the top line started ratching up (now $1.70 or so) at least it looked like I was getting real traffic. But now, several months after we launched the ad campaign and hundreds of clicks later (according to Google), I've noticed something odd.

First the conversion rate is horrible. With every hundred site visitors we might get one promising lead. Even more importantly, the hundreds of clicks Google said I was getting weren't showing up in the stats package on my site (AWStats). According to that statistical analysis, only a trickle of hits were coming from Google Ads.

So, am I the victim of click fraud? Why was Google claiming all these hits when I wasn't seeing them on my end. And with only a handful of actual leads coming from Google Ads, was it even worth it?

So the other day, I paused my ad campaign and sent Google a message asking to explain the discrepancy. The next day I got a form email back explaining in very vague terms how Google works hard to verify the validity of all clicks. And that the discrepancy I was seeing was probably just my website failing to register the traffic.

Let's see. Google sells clicks and Google decides which clicks are valid or not. Meanwhile Google won't show you how many valid or invalid clicks you've received. Since Google benefits massively from fraudulent clicks, what's the incentive to self police? Hmm...

Today I got a survey in my email asking about the quality of Google's response. You can probably guess how I responded. In any case, my Google AdWords account will remain paused until I can be sure that these clicks aren't fraudulent. At this point, there's nothing reassuring me other than Google's vague and completely disconnected form response.

Google, your slogan is "Don't be Evil." What happened to you?

Image: Google

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  1. Hi there. We chatted a few weeks ago on your little gadget. Awesome comments regarding Google. It's a shame they have grown so quickly and just gotten way out of control. I use their search engine, picassa, and blogger, but I have to say I do have a real problem with they way they seem to be running their company. Their "don't be evil" model has really gone through the floor, if you ask me. It is my hope that there will soon be better companies to deal with.

  2. Hi Caroline,
    Thanks for commenting.

    I don't begrudge Google's ability to monetize advertising. What they've created is absolutely brilliant. The problem is that they're both counting the hits AND charging you for them. In such a situation, what is the incentive to improve systems or transparency?

    Obviously, I like many of Google's services. Even this blog is hosted with Google. But the fact is that when it comes to counting hits, I just don't trust Google anymore. Since cancelling (pausing, really) my adwords, I've seen no difference in my hit rate. Why AWStats is unable to read google traffic is beyond me and the explainations Google provided in their form email were unsatisfactory.

    If the traffic was legit, I would have expected some impact to my business and at $1.70 per click, I can't justify the expense of not knowing the traffic is real.

  3. Here's a followup article on Google Adsense. Worth looking at.

  4. Just to clarify, you had posted a followup article regarding Google AdSense - a much different animal from the AdWords program you were referring to in your article. Just didn't want anybody getting confused.

    On another note, AdWords can be a very effective tool depending on your ad, keywords and your max CPC that you have entered. I'd love to stop by sometime and look at your values for these - my guess is that they could probably be tweaked in order to maximize conversion rates. Have you tried running multiple campaigns with multiple different keyword groups? By sorting these out instead of grouping everything together, you can optimize each item individually.

    You do have a point though - a lot of people put A LOT of confidence in a company that refuses to provide detailed explanations for the way they operate with ad content. It would be extremely easy for Google to be less than honest with their software. But let's face it, why be fradulent when you have an estimated $9M in revenues for 2006?


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