January 29, 2002 2:35 PM PST

Google distances itself from pop-ups

If you get a pop-up advertisement when searching on Google, don't blame this search site.

The Web favorite made a stand Tuesday to protect its consumer-friendly image by posting a notice decrying pop-up ads as "annoying" and unwelcome at its site. If consumers receive a pop-up, the notice explains, it's likely the fault of a third-party application targeting search terms or another Web publisher peddling pop-unders, ads that spontaneously appear behind a requested Web page.

The company said it posted the notice in response to numerous complaints from Web surfers who encountered pop-ups while searching Google.

"It seems like we're seeing increasing confusion from users...in response to the Web-wide proliferation of pop-ups. We thought this was a good time to explain that Google does not show pop-up ads," said Matt Cutts, a software engineer at the company.

Such ads have overrun the Web since the Internet ad market soured, pushing ad-dependent publishers to use more aggressive tactics to attract consumers' attention. Almost impossible to ignore, pop-up ads have become standard on the Web sites of major publishers including Yahoo, MSNBC and The New York Times.

The ads have become so rampant that they even pushed an unknown company, surveillance camera maker X10, into the top ranks of trafficked sites last year. Even major Web publishers such as Vivendi Universal report the majority of their online traffic from pop-up ads, according to Jupiter Media Metrix, which recently created a pop-up ad category in its measurement results to separate those numbers from overall figures.

In its notice, Google pointed fingers at several potential sources of pop-up ads. It said consumers might encounter pop-ups from a Web site with a similar address to Google.com. In a form of cybersquatting, companies will register a domain name that is close to the name of a popular Web site to gain traffic through misspellings.

Another source of the ads is Web publishers that spawn pop-unders. "When you came to Google, the windows may have become visible. Again, we do not condone this practice and do not allow it on Google," according to the note.

The company also attributed pop-ups to a rise in file-sharing applications such as Audiogalaxy and BearShare, which often include ad-tracking software. Such applications may launch pop-ups when a visitor types in certain search terms on a Web site, for example.

"They see you type a search term in and bring up a pop-under," Cutts said. "It's a jarring experience. We don't want people to show pop-ups on Google, and our focus is to help improve the consumer experience."

The company recommended that consumers install ad-detection software for blocking pop-ups if they are bothered by the promotions. In addition, it suggested consumers complain to the Federal Trade Commission if they feel duped by a program creating pop-ups.

Analysts say the company may be extra sensitive to consumer response about its recent steps toward commercializing its search service. Google recently launched a catalog-specific search directory and announced intentions to sell sponsored placement for the section.

"Google's built its service around providing a better search experience than other search technologies. But they've started to add sponsored links," said Jim Nail, advertising analyst at Forrester Research. "They're probably trying to reassure users that while yes, they have to make money, they're not going to turn into a complete money-grubbing, grow-revenue-at-all-costs company."

 

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