Google Begins Ad Distribution at Earthlink

Search engine Google, in a significant change in policy, has begun serving up ads to users of the Earthlink Web site, taking over a partnership previously held by Overture.

Atlanta-based Earthlink is one of the largest Internet service providers in the United States, and it had used Overture’s paid placement search engine on its site for the past two years. That deal expired in January, with Google being selected to take over.

With the shift in search engines came a shift in strategy for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google. Keyword listings — called AdWords — now appear on the Google results provided to Earthlink, in the clearly marked “Sponsored Results” section at the top of the page.

Earthlink’s not the only new distributor of Google results and ads. The firm’s search engine results are also showing up at Sympatico, a Canadian portal minority owned by Terra Lycos. Additionally, Google is also now providing international Web search results at the Web.de German search site, though AdWords distribution does not appear to be happening there.

This is the first time Google has distributed ads on sites other than its own, and a first move toward competing with Pasadena, Calif.-based Overture, which has made a profitable business out of syndicating paid listings. Previously, Google told its AdWords advertisers that their results wouldn’t appear on any other sites. (In fact, that promise still appears in the AdWords program’s Frequently Asked Questions on Google.)

Google said it couldn’t yet comment about the Earthlink deal.

The change could prove lucrative for the search engine, which receives revenue for every impression served. (Publishers, like Earthlink, also get a cut.) Meanwhile, the search engine’s advertisers benefit from a wider distribution, though they must also foot the bill for extra impressions. Google has told its advertisers that they would be warned by email when it expands its AdWords syndication.

Additionally, the new offering is likely to make Google more competitive. Until now, a weakness in the Google distribution strategy has been the fact that it charges sites to carry its search results. In a tight economy, that’s a tough sell against Overture, which tells sites that carry its results that they’ll share in ad revenues. Now Google can also tell sites that carry its listings that they can share in ad revenues.

The change also could mean extremely good news for searchers concerned about the relevancy of paid listings. Last year, as search sites such as Walt Disney-backed Go, General Electric-owned NBCi and Excite threatened to go under, it seemed as if the paid placement model was going to take over. All of those sites dropped editorially compiled results — which had been supported by banner ad sales — and went for the easier money of paid placement listings.

Overture’s replacement on Earthlink by Google is a substantial shift in the opposite direction, since Google’s results are culled from spidered Web pages. As a result, the search engine delivers both paid listings and algorithmically-selected results.

This story originally appeared on SearchEngineWatch.com, an INT Media Group property. internetnews.com senior editor Christopher Saunders contributed to this story.

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