Is this an ad?
Plenty has been made of Google’s recently announced pay-per-action beta (where advertisers pay not for a user clicking over to their site, but only if they take some defined action such as filling out a web form, downloading a whitepaper or purchasing product).
Few people (notable exception TechCrunch, although for some reason the thread doesn’t seem to have been discussed widely) are talking about something that was buried in the release:
With this new pricing model, advertisers can create text or image ads in addition to using Google’s new text link ad format, which are brief text descriptions that take on the characteristics of a publisher’s page. [emphasis added]
So basically you can now disguise your advertising to look like a link on your site, embedded in the site itself rather than in its own clearly identified area (“ads powered by Google AdSense”). While affiliate marketing links abound on many web pages (click on a book review from a blog and you can be sure the blog owner gets a cut when you make your purchase) I don’t like the step Google is taking here at all.
The idea behind pay-per-action is to fight click-fraud not to create more bogus clicks by masking what’s advertising and what’s not.