Google's Performics problem

Bundled in Google's DoubleClick acquisition came Performics: a search-engine marketing and optimization service

Ron Rule, lead developer for Web analytics company iWebTrack warns that with DoubleClick in general, Google now has access to significantly more data about users' behavior and ad campaigns, creating a potential for abuse. Advertisers can protect themselves by measuring their ad campaigns' effectiveness with independent Web analytics companies like iWebTrack, he said via e-mail.

"The merger effectively gives Google more pricing power and without proper unbiased analytics, large amounts of money can be wasted very quickly on [pay per click search advertising] campaigns, which Goggle and competitors like Yahoo are glad to take," Rule said.

The Performics ownership also puts Google in a delicate and difficult situation regarding its claim that its search results aren't influenced by commercial considerations, Buresh said. With Performics, Google is now in the business of taking money from clients in exchange for helping them rank better in search-engine results, he said. While Performics will not sell paid inclusion into Google search results, it does offer fee-based SEO services, he said.

"Google has maintained consistently that there's no amount of money you can spend with them [in paid search] that will help your site in the organic rankings, that they maintain a Chinese Wall between the two," Buresh said. "Now that it owns an organic optimization company, you're paying Google for better placement in search results."

In addition, Performics does provide paid inclusion services -- something Google has sworn never to do -- into search engines that engage in this practice, in which a company pays a search engine to include its Web site in its index. This puts Google and its new Performics division in a serious philosophical conflict, as search industry expert Danny Sullivan argued in his Search Engine Land blog recently.

"Google was the lone hold-out against paid inclusion at the time [2004] and often used this as a marketing point to help promote itself. Not only was it used for marketing, but Google's cofounders strongly believed the practice was wrong. That's why in the letter from the founders that formed part of the IPO filing, they called it out several times," Sullivan wrote.

For all these reasons, a consensus exists among SEO and SEM firms that Google should divest itself of Performics, but reached for comment, Google remained noncommittal, providing this prepared statement:

"We intend to spend the next several months assessing all of DoubleClick's products and services including those offered by Performics. In the near term, we intend to operate Performics as a stand-alone business unit consistent with its past practices. Upon the completion of our integration planning with respect to Performics, we will be in a better position to announce our future plans for this business."

For Loveday, the situation is clear: "I don't understand how it serves Google's interest to maintain Performics."

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