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Advertising Vs Editorial: The Church-State Relationship at Google

At Google there was always—and this is one of the things that surprised me because I came from a newspaper and in newspapers there was a very clear distinction between advertising and editorial—a religious differentiation between what was paid content and what was developed by reporters and journalists. 

And what surprised me when I came to Google was they had that same vision of search engine results.  And it surprised me because it was a business—not that newspapers aren’t a business—but they serve a special role as media.  And it was clear to me that Larry and Sergey really believed that the integrity of the results was paramount and that Google needed to be trusted, and the only way to be trusted was if our results were not paid for, were not influenced by outside monetary forces.

And in fact, if you go back to their original paper at Stanford describing the search engine that became Google, they talked about the danger of advertising and even accepting advertising at all because it might corrupt or lead the people running the search engine to want to corrupt the results in favor of advertisers. 

So it was an issue they engaged very early on and one that they took quite seriously.  They devoted a lot of time and effort, and the engineers at Google have devoted a lot of time and effort to weeding out the influence of paid search.  And that might be people who have developed content farms where they’re basically generating kind of false results just in order to get higher rankings.  

And so I think it’s an ongoing struggle because it’s not easy to determine what is genuine content of value to users and what is just content that is being shoveled onto the Internet in the hopes of improving the page and its rank in the search results.  So it will always be a struggle. 

The more important Google has become as the major player in search, the more motivation advertisers and website owners have to try to gain those results, because if they can get high in Google that can make or break their business.  So I think there will never be a day that Google can declare victory and say we’ve solved all the problems of promoting sites that don’t deserve to be promoted, but they have a lot of people working to try to prevent that.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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