9 Notes on Google Related Links4/03/2006 11:35:00 PM
Google introduced Related Links in its Labs today. Here are 9 notes on the project followed by a few conjectures on its potential uses. (As this tool has been released for publishers to implement, most of these statements favor the publishers’ perspective.)
- Fun for some users, just like it's supposed to be
Just as it is intended to do, the Related Links unit makes it easy for casual readers to quickly jump onto other information sources that discuss similar topics. The unit is somewhat fun to browse, seems to provide mostly relevant links on initial inspection, and does not cause annoying popups or sluggish load times.
- But, publishers get no money
Web publishers do not normally provide contextually generated (and editor-unapproved) links without collecting referral payments. Currently, Related Links modules include links to 3 categories of information: Blogs, Searches, and Web Pages. Ads are not among these which means publishers will not be getting paid for the page real estate they surrender to these modules. On the upside, the FAQ says only that payment is not happening “at this time” which does not rule out a future revenue model. If ad integration happens, then it’s a brilliant way of mixing transparent/useful content with paid links in a way that combats ad-blindness (and potentially increases click through rates and thus revenues for publishers).
- Without money, publisher incentive is low
Assuming these boxes remain un-monetized, publishers have little reason to provide link units to content that they have not personally selected or written. Such a module may, however, work for sites that are less concerned with providing original content or retaining visitors.
- Related Links modules look like ad units
The units are available in 4 sizes: 728x90, 300x250, 468x60, and 180x150, all of which are standard IAB ad unit sizes. Either Google has designed these to easily replace existing ad units without breaking layouts or these are originally intended as ad units and have been repurposed as information modules for their introduction.
- Actually, they look like Chitika eMiniMalls
Chitika has been doing these AJAXy, tabbed contextual link units for awhile now, only for profit. Google’s Related Links modules for contextual content and search queries look a lot like Chitika, an ad unit design that I have found to be oversized and unconvincing. Google would have done better to design these more as streamlined list modules rather than as box modules.
- Some users will ignore Related Links
A) Many users have acquired ad-blindness, hence these ad-like units may be ignored. B) The units serve so few suggestions that it seems preferential to conduct one’s own Google News or general search in order to find related content, and a whole lot more of it. These units are targeted toward “impulse clickers,” who like shoppers in the checkout aisle, choose whatever seems interesting as they glance around.
- Google is tracking referrals
The click URLs for the link units contain “client=ca-rlu-yoursite.com” where yoursite.com matches the publisher’s domain name. The click URLs also contain information that sends the link unit size and type of related link (search, web page, news) that is clicked. This means a few things: A) Google is keeping close tabs on how these link units are used, to be expected of course B) Reporting for Related Links units by size and placement may be available at some point C) Referral payments may not be far away should this graduate from Google Labs.
- Related Links, not Related Content
Two reasons why this is interesting: A) Google has trouble being consistent with their naming. Script source for Related Links shows the product referred to as RC, related content, which is a bit confusing as the project has been discussed as “related content” around the web for weeks. Even the root URL for the program is googlesyndication.com/relcontent. B) The name does not cater to publishers in that it suggests links that drive away traffic rather than content that retains it.
- Not customizable by domain
Related Links should have a “site-flavored" feature. Imagine that a blogger could publish a link unit in his post footers that serves up related content from his site only. This automates (in a way that WordPress plugins already do) the ability for publishers to suggest to their readers related reading on their own site rather than driving traffic away to related content elsewhere. Publishers should be able to isolate the related links to a smaller set of domains or just their own. Additionally, some publishers might wish to exclude competing sites from the Related Links unit with inverse targeting.
While the above notes are for the most part critical, I do see potential success for this Google Labs project:
A. Related Links could be used on sites that are less concerned with creating content and more concerned with presenting it. This, along with editor-selected RSS feeds, could make content "creation" nearly painless for certain types of web pages.
B. Related Links could be mixed with ads in the same unit. Web-savvy visitors begin to ignore ads, but if the same ad units will sometimes show relevant news stories, they might be more interested in glancing over those same ad units. (Publishers, of course, would finally win with this implementation.)
C. The technology behind the units could be integrated into Google's own search pages (providing contextual, Amazon-like suggestions for search queries and results). This has long been something I think Google could integrate subtly at page footers and with much success.