Adwords + Organic = Law Suit

If you are not subscribed to SE News, then you should be. I read every issue in the first few days of the month. This month’s articles on Supplemental Results and Google Sitelinks are top notch. Mostly I agree with their articles and that’s more-or-less true this month as well, with a couple of exceptions.

In the list of "Top 10 Quality Indicators" there are a number of items presented as fact that I can not back up with actual measurements. Conversely, I don’t yet have the data to disprove them either, so I’ll let all that slide for now.

But there is a non-technical issue that keeps coming up that I will take issue with today. The referenced article [subscribe to read the whole thing as it does provide some good information and food for thought] claims:

"Now that Google has a spider to determine page quality for sites in their ad program, it won’t be long before that data is folded into Google’s organic search results."

In my opinion, this is just plain incorrect. Here’s why.


As one of several forms of actionable "anittrust" or "unfair trade practices" the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has identified the "tying arrangement" whereby use of one product or service is predicated on use of another. This is a very complex area of law loaded with judicial discretion and balancing corporate rights and "public policy" so all bets pre-trial are pretty much off, but I’ll give you mine anyway.

The FTC case against Microsoft vis-a-vis Windows and IE was precisely a "tying arrangement" case where the FTC claimed that Microsoft improperly used its market influence in the PC operating system market to create an (unfair) advantage in the browser market. While this is a classic example of unfair practice, it is not the only one.

With respect to Google, if the paid advertising programs — either Adwords or Adsense — impacted organic ranking in a positive way, this would create a tying arrangement between their "free" search and their paid programs seeking to coerce webmasters to buy advertising in exchange for better ranking.

Conversely, if participation in paid advertising programs created a negative organic ranking influence compared to non-participants, this would constitute contract fraud in as much as a material aspect of the advertising contract was non-disclosed. The FTC might or might not act on this as an unfair trade practice, but you can bet some large firm of attorneys will be happy to take it as a class action lawsuit.

This also came up in my recent review of VEO for OptiSmarts subscribers where the author of VEO claims various similar effects with Adsense. Again, same problem, undisclosed contract terms and tying arrangements.

In all cases, when it comes to tying organic and paid programs together, "there be dragons."

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