A recent upgrade at Google has produced results that some small advertisers could do without. As anyone familiar with the über search engine knows, when you type in, say, basketball sneakers, you draw results that include a handful of ads. The company has long let advertisers bid for placement on search results pages based on keyword.
But with Google's fine-tuning, a company's ads will no longer be linked just to the specific keyword it paid for-- synonyms and other related phrases have been added to the mix automatically. So now basketball sneakers might draw an ad for Air Jordans--but could also send you to a site that sells all kinds of sneakers, or one that sells basketball gear and apparel.
Google says the new system helps advertisers reach a wider audience among its 45 million users, and that certainly seems likely. But some advertisers have complained that the new setup will send irrelevant traffic their way, wasting precious ad dollars with every erroneous click. "Google may have gone a little too far," says Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, who suggests that Google let companies select from a list of synonyms rather than automating the process.
The search engine counters that advertisers can opt out of the system, which also weeds out words that fail to yield results over time. More importantly, Google has a new tool to help companies calculate how many sales their keyword ads generate.