As a little experiment yesterday afternoon, I put the words “shooting at virginia tech” into the Google search engine. And I wasn’t surprised to see that three paid search results (based on Google’s AdWords system) popped up on top.
You can see the results above (I have edited the image slightly in order to make it more compact than on my high-resolution monitor but the essential layout is unchanged).
The premium paid result spot was occupied by the New York Times. Then there were two paid sidebar results, one by a company that wants you to download a news toolbar (no thanks!) and the other from a website called the First Post.
Then there were three “natural” search results from Google News, followed by the natural search results from Google’s regular index of web pages (not shown in my screenshot).
Blogger Tod Maffin says it’s “sick” that companies bought AdWords in the wake of such a tragedy, but I disagree – at least in the case of the media companies. Broadcasters and publishers often buy offline advertising to tell you about their news coverage (e.g. television stations advertising on afternoon radio or newspapers advertising on evening TV).
And in this case, the NY Times paid search result may have performed a valuable service, because the first natural search result (again, not shown on my screenshot) was actually to a news story headlined Shooting suspect caught in Blacksburg (huh?!). That story turned out to be eight months old.