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How the Google stole Christmas

A heart two sizes too small

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When Google unloaded the world's largest collection of desktop search ads onto the Apple iPhone, it didn't ask advertisers for their approval. It just unloaded, happily collecting the extra revenue.

As iPhonies began clicking on those ads, advertisers were obliged to pay for them - whether they were interested in mobile clicks or not. If they didn't want their dollars spent on the Jesus Phone - an untried ad platform - they could stop the bleeding. But they had to stop it on their own.

"It's taking HOURS to clean up and turn this crap off," search-engine ad consultant Dan Thies told us in early December, struggling to right his own Google account and several client accounts. "If you don't watch Google 24x7, they will go behind your back and get as deep into your wallet as they can."

And Dan Thies is in the minority. When Google opts advertisers into new ad placements, few realize they can opt out. "If Google turns something on by default," says Richard Stokes, president and founder of search-marketing consultant AdGooRoo, "95 per cent of advertisers are never going to notice it."

In other words, most Google advertisers who have no interest in advertising on the iPhone are advertising on the iPhone. And Google reaps the benefits.

With Google controlling at least sixty per cent of the web-search market, search advertisers looking for heavy traffic have little choice but to embrace the Chocolate Factory's ad platform. And once they've embraced it, Google reserves the right to spend their ad dollars as it pleases.

Yes, advertisers have some control over their own fate. They can cap their daily budgets. They can place ads against keywords of their choosing. But Google has a way of posting ads against keywords you haven't bid on, thanks to (opt-out) mechanisms like "broad match" or the new-fangled "automatic match."

Google's ad platform is so vast and so complex, the typical user doesn't realize which end is up. And even the most experienced users have less control than they realize.

In the end, if Google wants the added dollars, it can simply serve more ads. And this Christmas, that's exactly what happened.

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