February 9, 2005

Google Games

Building an online business around asbestos ads, in mere minutes.

Carl Bialik

Blogger Michael Buffington has an online business plan that wouldn't be possible without Google. It works like this: He finds articles, via a Google News e-mail alert, about asbestos. He posts links to said articles. Then he signs up for Google AdSense, a program that runs ads on his site, Asbestos News, related to the content therein. If people click on the asbestos-related ads that run on his site, he gets a cut of the revenue. (Here's his explanation of the plan.)

Why asbestos? Not because he's especially interested in it, but because it's widely known among Webmasters that ads tied to asbestos and related keywords are among the highest-paying (the cost per click for such ads, as well as search ads, is determined by a bidding system). That's because trial lawyers seeking clients for asbestos lawsuits will pay top prices to find them reading relevant articles and Websites. (I wrote about this phenomenon for the Wall Street Journal last year; some Webmasters have set up sites entirely around high-value keywords to cash in on this form of advertising.)

Buffington is merely following taking this strange market to its logical conclusion. I say "conclusion" because eventually, as more websites try to gin up clicks to these ads, the clicks will become less valuable and lawyers will pay less for them. But as long as inexperienced advertisers keep entering the search-ad market, Buffington and his ilk will keep building relevant sites to try to cash in.

Incidentally, if you want to see how much such bids are running, you can play with the Yahoo bidding tool—Google doesn't make its bids public, last I checked. On Wednesday evening, "mesothelioma"—a cancer caused by asbestos—was running about $51 a click; "asbestos," $16.

These kinds of ads can be too targeted for comfort. For instance, this L.A. Times article exposing questionable business practices at Super Bowl halftime sponsor Ameriquest Mortgage had ads at the bottom for the company, as noted by Eric Wittmershaus on the Romenesko media-news board.

Gelf disclosure: We run AdSense, though so far we've apparently chosen topics with minimal interest from paying advertisers, judging from all the public-service ads we've been getting.

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Article by Carl Bialik

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