Posted July 11, 2007 12:07 pm by with 3 comments

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Elinor Mills is asking whether Google’s Tim Armstrong involvement with Associated Content is a conflict of interest. Associated Content creates content optimized for Google – so it can earn revenue from AdSense ads – and that raises questions about Armstrong sitting on the company’s board of directors.

Does it exist to game Google search results and generate revenue through Google’s AdWords advertising service by displaying contextual ads next to the copy? Or is it a new kind of media site, chock full of original articles written mostly by average folk about everything from presidential pardons and karaoke to smoker’s guilt and ventriloquism?

Add to the mix at Associated Content two prominent board members?Tim Armstrong, head of advertising for Google in North America, and venture capitalist Eric Hippeau, a managing partner at SoftBank Capital, who also happens to serve on Yahoo’s board of directors?and you have a little company that’s drawing outsized and quite possibly unwanted attention.

Elinor was kind enough to ask me for my thoughts. I basically shared with her that regardless of what barriers may exist to prevent a conflict of interest, it’s the perception that’s the issue. Google operates from a “don’t be evil” platform and it’s hurting that perception by allowing its executives to be involved in a “gray” area.

“The key issue here is you’ve got someone directly involved in Google’s revenue generation also involved in a company that is taking advantage of ways to generate revenue from Google,” said Andy Beal, founder of Internet marketing consultancy and blog Marketing Pilgrim. “That’s the conflict.”

You can read the extended article here.

What do you think?

  • Google has a hand in almost everything these days. Almost every website is monetized by, or dependent on Google for traffic in one way or another. By this reasoning, folks from Google can not work with websites that serve ads on their website since at least some of those ads will be from Google or DoubleClick. If they don’t use these programs to monetize the website, you could argue that it’s still a conflict of interest because he earns lots of money from the direct competition. (Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t)

  • Hi Dave – thanks for your input. The biggest problem is that AC encourages its writers to include lots of keywords. Go take a look at their stuff and the targeted keywords will jump out at you.

  • Thanks Andy,

    “AC encourages its writers to include lots of keywords.”

    So does the New York Times… Just search for “New York Times SEO”

    For example, when the Pope died, Times reporters headlined stories with titles like “Papacy Change” or “Pilgrims converge on the Vatican.” They have now trained many editors and producers to write content friendly to both users and searchers. “We encouraged them to use “Pope John Paul dies”

    I just browsed several Legal & Law articles on AC… Nothing unusual there.
    The articles about credit had some keywords bold and it looks like the author wanted to earn some extra money via the revenue share but it was only something that a person like me would notice. It wasn’t that bad.

    Other articles link the relevant keywords in the article text, back to the main category in a similar way that Wikipedia does it. Again… Nothing too distracting for the reader.

    They use the technique on an article about the new iPhone… Every time the word iPhone is mentioned, it links to the main category page. (Maybe they’re trying to rank highly for that phrase)

    But… they also use the same technique with the word “Sand” (How much is ranking well for “Sand” worth?)

    Most of the ads I saw were not from Google. I saw banner ads from the Tacoda, Tribal Fusion & BlueLithium ad networks. I also saw ads that were served by AdRevolver so I assume those were direct ad sales. (It might be a different story if it were All Google, All the time.

    Maybe I just have low standards for what sort of optimization & monetization techniques are acceptable but I don’t see anything tricky, improper or evil about AC.