Don’t Try Writing About Ste*oids

It’s easy to see why the Google Ads system appeals to both Web publishers and advertisers: It offers the former the opportunity for advertising revenue with little effort and the latter the chance to reach readers already interested in their product area. The ads are selected by a Google program that “understands the meaning of a Web page” and is designed to make sure Web surfers see only the most targeted ads.

But the program ain’t perfect. Just ask the folks over at Editor & Publisher, who on Wednesday ran a piece by Joe Strupp about two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who plan on turning their reporting on the BALCO steroids scandal into a book. It’s a solid story about the reporters’ plans that touches on where they’ll be doing their work and the difficulty of writing about a still-developing scandal. So what ads did the Google-bots flash alongside the piece? Here’s the list:

Steroids for Sale
Legally obtain steroids. Winstrol, Deca, Testosterone.

legal steroids and more
gain lean mass or get cut shredded parabol, dekka, dianobol buy now

Rock Hard Huge Muscles
Build a Freaky, Extremely Muscular Physique. Fast, Powerful Results!

Buy Hardcore Anabolics
Steroids Build Muscle Fast. Legal — D-Bol, Winni-V, Anodrol, Deca, Test

And, of course:

New York Times Newspaper
New Yorkers — Get Home Delivery for as little as $2.40 per week!

Way to go, Times, for making it into such an elite group. As for the rest of the ads, Greg Mitchell, E&P’s editor, says he’s asked his in-house technology people to have them removed, and they’re still working on it (apparently what Google does, humankind cannot easily undo). In the meantime, Mitchell encouraged us to look back at the Google ads accompanying E&P’s coverage of male-escort-turned-journalist Jeff Gannon. E&P has run more than 40 items on Gannon, but, somewhat surprisingly, the Google ads that accompany those pieces focus on politics and newspapers, not escort services. (One notable exception was a letter sent to E&P responding to Gannon’s confusing of Einstein and Freud. The letter offered a handy guide to “Old Jewish Men” Moses, Jesus Christ, and Bob Dylan. Google offered up ads trumpeting “Free Ten Commandments Study,” “Everything for the Jewish Kid,” and, oddly enough, “Do Jews Believe in Jesus?”)

We don’t know much about the complicated program that Google uses to match ads with content — best we can tell, the company doesn’t release information on how it works. But we can’t help but be amused by the fact that Jose Canseco apparently has a friend in Google.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.