Google offloads Performics division

Publicis Groupe plans to give its new ad technology platform a boost by acquiring Performics from Google.

Publicis Groupe plans to strengthen its new VivaKi Nerve Center ad technology platform by purchasing Google's Performics search marketing division, the companies announced Wednesday.

In June, Publicis announced that it was building VivaKi to simplify how companies purchase Web and mobile ads and that backing the project were Internet giants Google, Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Google had indicated in April its intention to divest itself of Performics, a part of DoubleClick, which Google acquired in March for US$3.1 billion.

VivaKi's goal is to provide a single point of contact for advertisers to access publishers, ad networks and ad exchanges, according to Publicis.

Publicis, based in Paris, expects the Performics acquisition deal to close this quarter. Performics is 10 years old and has a staff of almost 200 search marketing specialists.

For Google, owning Performics has put it in the uncomfortable position of providing search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) services. Google has traditionally partnered with independent SEO and SEM firms, and Performics has made it a competitor to them. When Google purchased DoubleClick, it retained Performics' affiliate marketing business and integrated it into existing Google operations.

SEO and SEM firms, which provide services for improving Web sites' search-engine rankings and running effective search-engine ad campaigns, have been vocal about their displeasure at having Google, until now a partner, turned into a competitor via Performics.

SEO firms have been concerned that Performics would get special access to inside information about Google's search-engine algorithms, putting them at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, SEM firms fretted that Google would push its in-house Performics SEM services at highly discounted prices, or maybe even for free.

Critics also suggested that Performics clients would not be well served. Performics is supposed to get its clients the highest return on investment from their paid search campaigns -- spending as little as necessary to achieve their goals. But Google's business is to sell as much advertising as possible.

The Performics SEO services also has put Google in the business of taking money from clients in exchange for helping them rank better in search-engine results, something Google had always vowed not to do. Moreover, Performics provides paid inclusion services into search engines that engage in this practice, in which a company pays a search engine to include its Web site in its index. Google has always been highly critical of paid inclusion services, and doesn't offer them.

"It's clear to us that we do not want to be in the search engine marketing business. Maintaining objectivity in both search and advertising is paramount to Google's mission and core to the trust we ask from our users," wrote Tom Phillips, director of the DoubleClick integration process, in an official blog posting back in April.

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