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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Ex-Google Search head worried his team was 'too involved with ads'

Google declared a “Code Yellow” after user queries slowed in February 2019 to find out why. Ben Gomes, then the head of Google Search, became concerned about a thinning firewall between Search and Ads, according to emails revealed during the ongoing U.S. vs. Google antitrust trial.

Why we care. We’ve been concerned to learn Google has increased ad prices to meet quarterly revenue goals and Ads, Search and Chrome teams working to boost ad revenue. While Google talks about always doing what’s best for users, clearly it also has done what’s best for Google revenue and profits.

The emails. In March 2019 emails, an “annoyed” Gomes told other executives that the Search team was “getting too close to the money,” Bloomberg reported (see PDF of emails here):

  • “I think it is good for us to aspire to query growth and to aspire to more users. But I think we are getting too involved with ads for the good of the product and company.”
  • “I am getting concerned that growth is all we are thinking about.”
  • “We could increase queries quite easily in the short term in user negative ways (turn off spell correction, turn off ranking improvement, place refinements all over the page).”

However, Gomes said during his testimony that he was “discussing things we would never do,” in that last bullet.

Code Yellow aftermath. The “emergency” lasted seven weeks, after which Google created a new metric to measure groups of queries, rather than user queries as a metric (“I think this metric of just using queries is not one that optimizes appropriately,” Gomes explained.).

Gomes left his role about a year later, when Prabhakar Raghavan became the new head of Google Search.

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