Peering into the mind of Google

by William Grosso

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For over a year now, I've really wanted to update my personal web site. I first created the site to serve as support site for a my book on RMI. But I've learned a lot since I created it and the purpose of the site has changed too. These days it's more of a single place you can go to find links to everything I've written or given a presentation about in the last 5 years.

So I took advantage of the holiday downtime to redesign the site. In doing so, I completely restructured it and took it from approximately 70 pages to 9 pages. The upside is that the site looks nicer, is easier to navigate, and actually has more content (primarily because I added my talks from 2003 to it; they weren't on the old site).

The downside is that I've broken almost all the external dependencies. Old links to interior pages on my website won't work (including search engine result sets). And, since I went from 70 pages to 9 by saying things like "these 8 pages should really just be one page," I was a little worried that I might have made things harder for search engines (since many of the pages are probably harder to precisely categorize).

The final thing I did as part of the redesign was incorporate Adsense. This is more of a learning exercise than anything else; I'm certainly not expecting the level of traffic I get to generate significant revenue. But it's also been interesting, and a little bit scary, to watch over the past day as Google "learns" about the new site.

The first time I looked, the ads were generic. Two of them seemed to be served based on the fact that my first name is "William" (a name I share with William Firestone, who owned one of the ads that showed up). Another advertised "Compelling stories of faithful dedicated Christian men and women" which doesn't even come close to making sense from a site-content perspective.

Over the past 24 hours, the ads underwent a series of alterations as Google started to "figure out" what the site was about. Scarily enough, the first page Google started serving relevant ads for was the about me page. An ad from Laszlo Systems (claiming they have "J2EE's answer to Longhorn" and directing people who clicked to their developer site) showed up there within a couple of hours.

Soon after that, other pages began getting relevant ads. Ads from Borland and Sybase started showing up. Symtier showed up in a number of places. I learned that Bea uses Google to place ads too, and that Google thinks my personal website is a good place for them.

At this point, I understand why all of the ads are there. Some (like the one for NTP Time Servers make less sense than others. And I'm not clear on why that's on my front page unless it's keying off the headline saying "Recent News"). But they all make sense.

Let me repeat that, because it's pretty darn astounding:

Within 24 hours, Google went from being completely clueless about a new website to serving up relevant and on-topic ads on almost every page.

What's more, some of these ads are for things that I have never heard of, but am interested in. I found that very surprising. On the one hand, you might think "Well, duh. It's his personal website, it has references to the articles he wrote and the presentations he's given. Given that he's interested in the content of the site, OF COURSE he's going to be interested in the ads."

On the other hand, well ... wow. From this slice of what I'm professionally interested in, Google is smart enough to show me ads that I want to click on. That's just stunning. Going to my website and looking at the ads is a little bit like doing a google search for "What might Bill be interested in?"

Okay. That last sentence was over the top. And, in any case, it's more like Google is really serving up the answer to "What should Bill be interested in?" Judging by the number of ads, model driven architectures are more interesting than I would have guessed. Guess I need to do some reading there. And, hmmmm, I'd really like to slap Adsense on this weblog and see what Google thinks is related to it....

Anyway. The point is that, even though I'm less impressed by their search engine these days, I'm now pretty much stunned by how well Google's ad-serving application works.

And it just tickles me pink that I'm clicking on my own ads.

Do you think Adsense adds to, or detracts from, a website?


2004-01-03 20:07:22
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Gee, if only there was some way to redirect page requests from an old location to a new location. It would be cool if the browser followed them automatically too, updating bookmarks, etc...
2004-01-03 22:07:07
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If there isn't a canonical 1-1 mapping from old pages to new pages, it's probably better to explicitly let the user know what happened and let them decide where to go (maybe offering them a little helpful advice if the decision is complicated).

Otherwise they follow a link and wind up on a page that doesn't match their expectations, and they don't know what happened.

2004-01-05 05:48:48
From Google's AdSense Policy:

Prohibited/Fraudulent Clicks

Any method that artificially and/or fraudulently generates clicks is strictly prohibited. These prohibited methods include but are not limited to: repeated manual clicks, using robots, automated clicking tools, or other deceptive software. Please note that clicking on your own ads for any reason is prohibited, to avoid potential inflation of advertiser costs.

2004-01-05 06:58:49
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OmniWeb does this, as indicated by this Signal v. Noise discussion (had to use TinyURL to shorten the Google Cache version):

2004-01-05 08:16:38
Point taken. Thanks. I'm manually typing in my advertisers links now.