Has Advertising Information Been Used by Google in Ranking Pages in Search Results?

In January of 2011, Google’s Matt Cutts published a blog post on the Official Google Blog, titled Google search and search engine spam, which told us:

One misconception that we’ve seen in the last few weeks is the idea that Google doesn’t take as strong action on spammy content in our index if those sites are serving Google ads. To be crystal clear:

  • Google absolutely takes action on sites that violate our quality guidelines regardless of whether they have ads powered by Google;
  • Displaying Google ads does not help a site’s rankings in Google; and
  • Buying Google ads does not increase a site’s rankings in Google’s search results.

These principles have always applied, but it’s important to affirm they still hold true.

But….

Making Money at the US Treasury
Making Money at the US Treasury

What if Google at some point in the past looked at advertising data to help in the rankings of pages? This is something that I didn’t expect to be asking at any point in time after seeing a lot of statements like the one above.

But….

A patent was granted at the USPTO today that points to a different story.

As Matt Cutts noted in the not too distant past, just because Google has a patent on something doesn’t mean that they are currently using it. A patent was granted to Google today that seems to contradict that statement about site rankings and Google ads.

What if Google used information about the terms that a site was advertising on in search results to learn more about the site and what terms were important for it?

What if Google looked at the ads displayed on a site to better determine what it was about for purposes of search rankings?

Those are the topics covered in this patent which was originally filed in 2003:

Methods and systems for improving search rankings using advertising data
Invented by Monika Henzinger and Alexander Mark Franz
US Patent 8,676,790
Granted March 18, 2014
Filed: December 5, 2003

Abstract

Systems and methods for improving search rankings using advertising data are disclosed.

In one embodiment, a search engine implements a method comprising receiving a search query, identifying a plurality of articles relevant the search query, determining advertising data associated with the search query, and ranking the articles based at least in part on the advertising data.

Inventor Monika Henzinger was the founder of the Research Department at Google and Director of that Department for a number of years. She also worked on a wide variety of topics related to search while at Google.

Alex Franz joined her in authoring a number of papers for Google and in patents as well. These are a couple of people who were involved in some pretty impactful developments at Google. Having their names as the inventors of this patent shows a level of seriousness about it.

The patent shows at the very least that the idea of using advertising information for particular queries and particular pages was something that Google thought seriously about, and dedicated the time of a couple of their top notch researchers towards, even if displaying ads at Google or buying Google ads never helped a site’s rankings at Google.

The patent does provide a picture of a full examination on how such advertising information could be used in the rankings of pages. Again, it’s not proof that Google has every done that, but t does show us that the implications of such an action were considered.

It’s quite possible that advertising information could have helped the Google of 2003 understand the content of pages better.

And yet I find myself happy thinking that it was never used in that manner.

Share

15 thoughts on “Has Advertising Information Been Used by Google in Ranking Pages in Search Results?”

  1. As I noted on G+, um, whoa. If Google is using (has used) paid search data to influence organic rankings, they may have finally opened search up to anti-trust claims. Not speaking as a lawyer, just someone who recognizes some major problems with this.

    And of course, they’d also probably be violating all sorts of FTC disclosure regulations.

    I simply can’t bring myself to believing that this is the case…

  2. Great post Bill, and I did read it =) I actually just wanted to actually leave a comment to let you know I have appreciated this site for about 3 years now since I found it. So thanks. =)

  3. Good find Bill! I always was of the mindset that it was common sense from a “Google perspective” to monitor ad driven visits and to then decipher whether or not the site in question was worthy of higher organic rankings. I mean, like, “Hey, since we are here, might as well see if they are relevant for an organic placement they might not currently enjoy based on the data we are now privy to”. Additionally, ad driven visits are more opportunities for the search engine to monitor, through Analytics, how the visitors engaged with the site once landing there. For examply, when Google sees that the visitors engaged well with an exact match keyword phrase trigger, they can naturally tell that organic visits would probably perform similarly, and therefore, would want to boost the site to improve their search results.

  4. Just having the patent registered, to my mind, is possible intent to use in future. Playing the constantly fluxing search engine guideline game is bad enough, without having cash influence a competitors result. I can’t say I blame a friend for leaving the SEO game – too many variables and it makes my head hurt.

  5. As long as they’re really careful about how they use the advertising data, I don’t see any antitrust issues or even any favoritism to Google advertisers in organic search.

    The kinds of ads you run on your site (including ones that fall outside of GDN) do provide contextual clues to what your site is about and who it’s relevant to. Why not mine that data?

    Depending on what the data were to say, it might even decrease position in organic search. For example, if your site were all about cat food and there were ads for dog food, presumably Google would have to sort out which was actually relevant: your site content or the ad content. That alone would argue that it would have to be a very weak signal or used in combination with many other factors.

    Interesting patent – I really value the insight reviewing the patents provides.

  6. While I’m sure everyone is familiar with this page, I thought I’d add it here for reference:

    To this day, we maintain a strict separation between our search business and our advertising business and we do not give any special treatment to Google advertisers. Our view is that if Google offers the best search results, in the long-run people will continue to choose to use Google over other search engines.

  7. Sorry for the repeat comments, one more from SEC filings:

    Objectivity. We believe it is very important that the results users get from Google are produced with only their interests in mind. We do not accept money for search result ranking or inclusion. We do accept fees for advertising, but it does not influence how we generate our search results. The advertising is clearly marked and separated. This is similar to a newspaper, where the articles are independent of the advertising. Some of our competitors charge web sites for inclusion in their indices or for more frequent updating of pages. Inclusion and frequent updating in our index are open to all sites free of charge. We apply these principles to each of our products and services. We believe it is important for users to have access to the best available information and research, not just the information that someone pays for them to see.

    http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1288776/000119312504142742/ds1a.htm

  8. Would we be naiive to think that they wouldn’t use all data available to them?

    I don’t think we need to keep reviewing text about objectivity, as no one’s talking about ranking a page organically absed on spend; maybe they’ll just be looking further into using quality score transparently in oragnic rankings :)

  9. Thanks Gyi,
    Your references provide good perspective. The comments were emitted by Google at their most cautious – during overviews and SEC investigations. Google states that they do not consider ‘expenditure’ on Ads as influential to organic rank. They do not state that they do not consider the data in ads, nor the traffic quality indicators resulting.
    I, for one, presume that, for better or for worse, there is some consideration given to Paid Ad, be it Keywords, CTR, Traffic Quality, or simply a binary consideration that when a website does Paid Ads, they are making an investment and that represents a Commercial interest and a possible Brand. That latter feature alone would eke out a signal of being an iota more relevant to transactional queries.

  10. Very interesting patent, Bill.

    I am not sure that the future ranking factors “advertisements users clicked on for what search terms, the ratio or number of users that clicked on particular search advertisements, and the number of users that purchased an advertised product after clicking of the advertisement” would really achieve the goal that Google say to have set:

    “By using advertising data, a better understanding of what users desire when inputting search queries and a better understanding of the documents can be determined. Additionally, it is very difficult for document authors or publishers to manipulate advertising data.”

    I guess that incorporating advertising data is exactly what would make the results more prone to manipulation.

    The document states that “Publishers or authors of a document, such as a web page, can use a variety of techniques to manipulate the document to increase the ranking of the document by a search engine” but at the same time paying for advertisement and using this data would automatically make the publisher efforts not so “manipulative” after all. And now how that makes sense at all?:)

  11. Hi Michael –

    Very true, as to Google’s cautious posture in those statements. Still, “we maintain a strict separation between our search business and our advertising business,” could be easily viewed to meaning that advertising has no influence on search. At least in my humble view.

    On the other hand, I tend to be skeptical, bordering on cynical on these matters. Especially as they relate to CTR.

    In any case, if they are indeed using paid search data to influence organic listings, in any way, they would do well to clarify this.

  12. I agree that this definitely is pretty much shocking. Internet marketers like me are really grateful to posts like this that somehow gives us an idea of what’s happening in the world of thrilling internet. Great post, by the way. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>