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Thread: What Traffic Google Giveth, AutoLink Taketh

  1. #1
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    What Traffic Google Giveth, AutoLink Taketh

    The following was written by Steve Rubel

    In late 2000 Google introduced two innovative services that revolutionized the web. The first, Google AdWords, was a breakthrough advertising paradigm that enabled thousands of online marketers to attract more traffic to their websites.

    The other, the Google Toolbar, helped millions of users search the web more efficiently. But last month the company added a new feature to the latter, called AutoLink, which threatens to negate some of the benefits of the former by siphoning traffic away from sites without their permission ... unless advertisers do something to stop them.

    With AutoLink enabled, Google automatically embeds links to any unlinked U.S. addresses, package tracking numbers, vehicle identification (VIN) numbers and book ISBN numbers it finds on webpages. These links either point users to Google properties (for example, Google Maps in the case of U.S. addresses) or other sites of its choosing (such as Amazon.com for ISBN numbers).

    While some argue that AutoLink is a boon for users, many, myself included, feel it represents a significant overreaching threat to online advertisers. It’s just plain wrong. Google is altering publishers’ content without asking for permission. What’s worse, it’s not giving them any way to opt out (though some have developed unauthorized hacks to do so). This bullying is already forcing some to go to considerable effort to change their websites.

    Consider Barnes&Noble.com, for example. The online bookseller -- a Google advertiser -- recently added millions of links to every published ISBN number listed on its site. Otherwise, it would continue unintentionally pointing its Toolbar-using customers to Amazon.com. Other sites, meanwhile, like Powell’s Books, have yet to change their content and still may be leaking traffic for Google Toolbar users.

    AutoLink has sparked a tremendous outcry from bloggers and the press. A number of heavy-hitter influencers, including Dan Gillmor, Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, Steve Gillmor, Steve Outing and Danny Sullivan have flagged the feature as a threat to the future of web content. Others, myself included, have said that AutoLink is strangely similar to a once-planned Internet Explorer feature called Smart Tags. Microsoft was forced to pull Smart Tags in 2001 after a public outcry from both publishers and pundits, like the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg.

    Today Google has a similar public relations crisis on its hands, but it’s choosing to ignore a case study taken directly from Crisis Management 101 by continuing its arrogance. Consider what Google product manager Marissa Mayer told Washington Post columnist Leslie Walker: Mayer said that online publishers that want to protect their content should add links to prevent Google from doing so because the Toolbar technology will not override existing links. In other words, Google is saying “Tough luck. This is your problem, not ours.” What nerve.

    Public relations issues aside, the AutoLink story is about more than one company’s arrogance. It’s about a behemoth getting away with something that might lead to even more. If online publishers give Google an inch by failing to speak up, it will surely take a yard. Signs already point in that direction.

    In the same Washington Post article, Google hinted that it might add UPC codes to AutoLink. This would require thousands of websites to alter their SKUs in order to avoid sending traffic to places it never intended.

    The reason Google has yet to back down is that its AdWords customers have yet to speak up. AutoLink clearly threatens to erode some of the value that Google’s advertisers receive from AdWords by taking some of that traffic back.

    If you are an AdWords customer and you think this is overreaching, now is the time to act. Speak up. Demand that Google play nice by giving you an AutoLink opt-out. After all, you’re paying for them to give you traffic. Do you really want them taking it away behind your back? Google has already ignored the influencers over the AutoLink debacle and it seems like it is on track to be even more aggressive. But if Google AdWords customers speak up, you might be able to ensure that your content and traffic remains just that -- yours.

    Additional resources:

    The Washington Post interview with Google's Marissa Mayer. (Registration is free but required.)

    Some of Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble's comments on AutoLink.

    A Time Magazine article about AutoLink.

    Steve Gillmor comments.
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    UK Copyright law protects the HTML of a page.

    Arguably it also covers the appearence of a page; certainly there have been test cases which involve the taking of a photograph of a painting and making minor alterations to the image and this being deemed as an infringement of the painters copyright. As I recall it was the absence of any significant creative input that was the central point.

    On this basis I would suggest that ActiveLink would fall foul of this, the question would be who is prepared to take them to court if they persist.

    Whilst the arrogance shown by Google is reminiscent of a similar attitude shown by Microsoft, one wonders if the latter, amongst others, could be the saviour here as I can't see them wanting their sites bastardised in this fashion.

    But despite how site owners might view this development one has to question whether it is of any real benefit to users. We all know the inappropriteness of some sites returned by search engines. Try entering SHAPE into google and on the first page you will see sites concerning Weight Loss, Games and Nato. None of which would we want a link to on a page describing the HTML SHAPE Attribute!

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    RE: "What Traffic Google Giveth, AutoLink Taketh"

    Is anyone aware of any class action lawsuits regarding Google's autolink? Honestly, if you read copyright law, this would be considered an infringement of copyright as web pages are published and copyright protected. I am in total disagreement with Google's new toy and don't want my website's copyright infringed upon.

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    Hello All,

    Sorry to say, I've no time to read much of this at the moment. Leaving town tomorrow for most of the next couple of weeks. BUT,

    have just gotten the article about this google thing, and am apalled! Have a huge content website, with great positioning and traffic, that non the less, still does not produce income it should with my own affiliate programs : (.

    I very much want info about this asap:

    >Google is altering publishers' content without >asking for permission. What's worse, it's not >giving them any way to opt out (though some have >developed unauthorized hacks to do so

    If anyone can give me the info on how to block this stuff, please reply to jlfarley@scrtc.com, as I'll get it sooner than if I have to wait till I have time to come back to this forum and read more.

    I can NOT afford to put in the time and effort I do on my website to lose any chance of recovering my costs to google stealing my traffic!

    If they are really going to do that, I would think they OWE ME a commission on ANY sales anyone makes using my website.

    I am SO disgusted with this! And I don't have TIME to add a link to every possible key word in my site's content just to block them - and the pages would be way too big if I did that, also.

    There MUST be some simple way to 'just say no' to google, and anyone else who wants to steal someone's website traffic without their permission. Someone, please let me know how to do that. Thanks,
    Lynda R Farley

    Sole Webslave of
    'The Most Beautiful Pages On The Hidden Content href="Hidden Content target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.hosanna1.com/

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    Re: What Traffic Google Giveth, AutoLink Taketh

    Quote Originally Posted by CRich
    AutoLink has sparked a tremendous outcry from bloggers and the press.
    Well, it's got a few panties in a twist, sure. These are people with a very haphazard understanding of concepts like copyright, or even ethics. It's these same bloggers who scream about the sacrosanct appearance of their precious web pages who also have held forth at length about how the music publishing industry has to come up with a new business model, since it's impossible to stop piracy, and anyway, most music is crap, which makes piracy OK.

    The rest of the world understand that a browser can be styled to do any number of things that the original page creator didn't intend, and that this autolink is just another style, albeit with more intelligence behind it than "make this red bold letters."

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    miserable failure

    Perhaps a campaign similar to the "miserable failure" Google bomb would help them to see the errors of their ways. Suggestions? "greedy Google"?, "search nazis"?, "Dumb Links"?, "Auto-Lies"?
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    Quote Originally Posted by CRich
    AutoLink has sparked a tremendous outcry from bloggers and the press.
    Well, it's got a few panties in a twist, sure. These are people with a very haphazard understanding of concepts like copyright, or even ethics. It's these same bloggers who scream about the sacrosanct appearance of their precious web pages who also have held forth at length about how the music publishing industry has to come up with a new business model, since it's impossible to stop piracy, and anyway, most music is crap, which makes piracy OK.

    The rest of the world understand that a browser can be styled to do any number of things that the original page creator didn't intend, and that this autolink is just another style, albeit with more intelligence behind it than "make this red bold letters."

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    I must say that I fully agree with Steve, about Google’s Auto link feature. From my viewpoint it is not only unethical, but it is also quite contradictory to ideal of relevant search for which Google was once known. I still use Google most of the time, due to their extensive database, but as Yahoo and MSN search continue to mature and Google continues to diversify their field, Google once the king, is now slipping far behind when it comes to relevant search. The biggest drawback I see for Yahoo and MSN is that most people know them through their portal pages and are unaware of their dedicated search pages. Doing a search from a crowded portal page, just doesn’t feel right compared to using a clean and dedicated search page like Google built its reputation on. If ether spent a little promotion work on their dedicated search pages, I feel that they would be much closer to taking the lead from Google.
    Matt at Hidden Content

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    In response to 'hmoulding' post

    A style just changes the appearance of something; it doesn't physically change it's content or properties. Google is literally changing the content to link somewhere else, they are not just making the word 'appear red'.

  10. #10
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    Good post hmoulding. People are acting like this is the first tool ever created to enhance a surfers experience that also alters page content. Jeez guys get over it, surfers change how your page looks ALL the time. An excerpt from a post I made on another forum pertaining to this matter and how surfers make changes all the time.

    Some examples

    -Firefox Extensions (WebDev, adbar, anidisable, flashblock, nuke anything, nuke image)
    -Popup/Ad Blockers
    -Turning Javascript/ActiveX off
    -Text-browsers (older browsers)


    If they are using an older browser, or a text browser then the user is modifying how they see your page (even if they don't view it as that). But lots of surfers turn off flash, activex etc which change how your page is displayed. Same goes for ad blockers and more specifically Firefox extensions that give the users a lot of control over how they surf the net. Are we going to ban any firefox extension that allows someone to modify a webpage?


    If you want to argue that we should rid ALL instances of a tool or technologies that allow for the altering of pages Im all for it, but don't just point out google and crap on them for it.

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