IAR Bits and Bytes

Google Takes Shot at Overture, Rivals

Search engine Google, a recent entrant into the syndicated keyword advertising space, is seeking to distance itself from the leader in paid listings, Overture.

Google, in a letter posted on its site this week entitled “Why we sell advertising, not search results,” said it keeps its keyword-related ads separate from its search results as a matter of keeping the results free of what it described as bias.

“It may seem odd for a search engine to speak about the integrity of its results,” the Mountain View, Calif.-based company wrote. “But like a news organization, we believe we have an obligation to present information as objectively as possible. That’s why we don’t bias our search results based on what people are willing to pay.”

Google sells advertising in conjunction with search engine results. For instance, a user searching for “marketing services” would see ads promoting marketing companies along the right-hand side of Google’s results page. (Unpaid search results, which are gathered using a proprietary algorithm, make up the bulk of the page.)

The ads — dubbed AdWords — can be sold on a cost-per-click basis, and advertisers must outbid each other for prime positioning for each keyword.

The catch is that the field of cost-per-click, bid-for-placement search engine ads is dominated by Pasadena-based Overture. Unlike Google, all of Overture’s search engine results are paid.

Early in Overture’s history, the company (known then as GoTo.com) faced criticism that allowing advertisers to provide search terms diluted the usefulness of its listings. That’s become less of a concern in recent years, with companies ranging from Yahoo! , Microsoft’s MSN and AOL Time Warner having signed on as clients to syndicate those paid listings, for a cut of the revenue.

Overture has long maintained that its results are useful for consumers, since it has some measure of editorial control over advertisers’ submissions. The company has said a team of about 80 editors ensures that listings are accurate with regard to the keyword, and have accurate and descriptive copy.

The Google statement comes following its recent move into the business of syndicating ads to some of its search engine partners, in competition with Overture and several other firms, like LookSmart. Last month, Google began delivering paid listings to ISP Earthlink’s landing page, taking over a client previously serviced by Overture.

Additionally, the Google letter also plays into criticism that some paid listings search engines — and the online services that use them — don’t differentiate unpaid search results from ads.

“…while we believe relevant ads can be as useful as actual search results, we don’t want anyone to be confused about which is which,” the company wrote. “Some online services don’t believe the distinction between search results and advertising is all that important. We do.”

In July, Consumer Alert, an advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader, alleged in a complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that several search engines were deceptive of the origins of their search listings.

The complaint did not name Overture — which Consumer Alert said adequately discloses its relationship with advertisers. Instead, it focused on several publishers that are syndicating Overture’s listings, as well as competitor LookSmart.

FTC Plans Crackdown on 9/11 Spam

Spam is one of the Internet’s dirty little secrets, and it’s bad enough when your mom gets targeted with porn stuff and get-rich quick schemes. But the people who prey on the public selling worthless products related to the events of Sept. 11 are among the lowest of the low.

So it’s welcome news that the Federal Trade Commission is planning a crackdown on such spam scammers.

The FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection is getting ready to announce “a law enforcement initiative targeting deceptive spam that appealed to post 9-11 patriotism to sell worthless products.”

Details won’t be fully disclosed until Monday, but the move follows earlier FTC efforts to crack down on deceptive junk e-mail, including a sting operation.

The enforcement action was foreshadowed in February when Howard Beales, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, speaking Thursday during this week’s annual Privacy and Data Security Summit in Washington, D.C., said that the FTC plans to initiate “stepped up” law enforcement against senders of deceptive or misleading offers via e-mail.

The agency said it has been involved in more than 30 spam cases since it began pursuing e-mail-related wrongdoings in 1994. But in October, the FTC’s new chairman, Timothy Muris, said the Commission would make stamping out false e-mail advertising one of its major efforts during 2002.

Honda to Launch Civic Site in Tour Promo

Venice, Calif.-based American Honda Motor Co. plans to debut a Web site and online contest in support of its 2002 new Civic Si.

The automaker, which is sponsoring the a 50-city music tour headlined by rock band Incubus, said its CivicTour.com site, launching Monday, will provide music fans with details about and exclusive content from the tour and the band.

Additionally, the site will offer entries into a sweepstakes to win a 2002 Honda Civic Si that has been custom-designed and autographed by Incubus.

The tour was produced by marketingfactoryinc, while rpinteractive, a division of Rubin Postaer and Associates, handled site design.

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