Searching Beyond the Paid

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Google Adwords Domain Traffic: The Discussion Continues

Back in December, I posted the news that Google Adwords was now allowing site exclusion for parked domains - sort of. AdWordsRep came in with the official word that site exclusion for domain parking was indeed available on both the content network and the search network. However, it appears this may not be working the way PPC marketers thought it would work.

There's a great thread at Search Engine Watch forums called "Adwords for Domains Garbage Traffic." The thread was actually started in Decembe 2005, but it was revived a couple of weeks ago by poster ApogeeWebLLC. For one thing, ApogeeWeb and others have found that attempts to exclude sites like "" have not stopped Adwords traffic from that referrer. This is disconcerting.

Others have asked about conversion rates on domain-parked traffic, to which I replied that yes, we do get conversions from some of these - with the emphasis on some. Some of the domain traffic is awful - which is why I keep asking (begging?) for exclusion at the site level, network-wide.

Also, ApogeeWeb posted a link to his free tool which parses out the actual referring site from the content network. So instead of seeing "", you can get at the actual referring site. I haven't tried the tool, because it's complicated and I haven't had time, but it looks pretty cool.

Today, I noticed a new development in our referral analysis from Atlas. Starting sometime in January, we've been getting traffic from:

What the heck is that? SEW forum moderator Discovery and I surmise that Google may be trying to add a classification for domain traffic, distinct from Search and Content. Is that the case? Or is this another attempt by Google to cloak or mask their traffic and make it less transparent? And why is this such a touchy area for Google? They've been responsive to click fraud accusations, trademark complaints (TOO responsive on that one, if you ask me), and numerous other advertiser requests - why is this domain thing shrouded in mystery? Why the silence and backpedaling on the part of Google?

I think I know the answer: BIG MONEY. I believe there is huge money being made on this traffic. In fact, I bet it makes click fraud revenue look like yesterday's pocket change. I know we pay for a lot of clicks from stuff like this, and it's not all good.

Keep watching - I feel this is going to be a hot topic for a while to come.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Panama Postscripts

Much is being said in the SEM forums, as well as mainstream media, about Yahoo's new advertiser platform, Panama. I blogged about it myself last week. One of the issues I mentioned was that geotargeting wasn't working properly in some cases. No official word from Yahoo as to whether the bugs have been fixed, but it seems to be working ok for me.

Let me elaborate. I set up one of my less-important and lower-traffic campaigns with geo-targeting to US states only - all 50 of them. My ad copy does not use any geographical references, since they really don't apply to our business. I just want to get rid of Canadian traffic, since we can't sell to Canada. After setting up this campaign and letting it run for a week, I compared impressions and clicks to the previous week. I know, not a true A/B split test, but it's a decent comparison. Impressions were almost the same as the week before, and we didn't get any Canadian clicks that I could see on that campaign. So, I think it's working in this instance - not to be confused with other instances of using tighter geographical regions, geo-targeted keywords and ad copy, etc.

I also talked to Yahoo yesterday about their lack of custom reporting, which is causing pain for me and plenty others. The rep told me this is a frequent request, and one that should be available "soon." I can't say what "soon" means, but at least Y is aware that they need this. Badly.

There's a good thread at SEW about all this, and Barry at SE Roundtable has a nice summary of the feedback so far. He even said we were "civilized and useful." Thanks, Barry! ;>)

It's my perception that, on balance, advertisers do like Panama. I find it much easier to navigate, and I really like the fast activation of ads and keywords. That said, Yahoo has some work to do. I just hope the improvements are made quickly so we can all make money together.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Has Quality Score Made Garbitrage Cease To Be?

Andrew Goodman over at Traffick has a great illustration of PPC garbitrage in this post, "Searching for Parrot: Bad Monty Python Impression Waiting to Happen." If you are one of the two people on earth who's never seen this classic sketch, it's worth watching. Makes me laugh every time!

But back to the point... Google's much vaunted move to eliminate made-for-Adsense and garbitrage sites via their Quality Score obviously hasn't worked. It's helped, sure, but garbitrage is still out there and going strong.

One could argue that one-word queries aren't a good indication of the real searches people are performing, and that no one really searches for "parrot" anyway. I beg to differ. Close to 50% of our search traffic comes from one-word queries. Searches on our site are more like 80% one-worders. People *do* search this way all the time. Sure, it's hard to gauge intent from one word, so you might not get the results you're looking for - but it still happens and the garbitrageurs are profiting from it.

In fact, in many cases, the garbitrageurs are crowding out the legitimate advertisers. Andrew's parrot illustration is one such example. Another is my own personal experience, although it's with MSN's AdCenter program, not Google. MSN decided to arbitrarily reject several of our high-traffic keywords, because we carry Playboy magazine and someone found the cover image to be offensive. (I beg to differ, but that's another post. And, MSN's defense, my rep is working with me to get this righted around.) So, our ads aren't running on those keywords any more. What ads are running on, say, "playboy magazine"? One competitor, plus,, and toseeka -- all search arbitrage (and in my opinion, garbitrage) sites. What's even crazier is that all 3 sites have our ads on them - has our Google ad, and the others have our Yahoo ads. So, really, MSN is just throwing money away -- instead of getting our per-click fees on these keywords, Google and Yahoo are getting our dough. Does this seem right to anyone??

If you've gotten this far and are wondering what the heck search arbitrage and garbitrage is, Brian Quinton of DIRECT magazine did a great writeup on the topic a couple of weeks ago. In the article, I elaborate on why I don't like this practice. Frank Watson, aka AussieWebmaster, also makes some great points.

One thing that didn't make it into the article was my comment that "arbitrage is the new click fraud." Based on the amount of press it's getting, albeit mostly "insider" press at this point, I may have been more accurate than I thought.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Panama and Blog Relocation Woes

First off, I'll share a bit about my Panama experience so far. All in all, I think the interface has a lot of potential, with many improvements over the old Direct Traffic Center.

* Quicker page loads and simpler, more intuitive navigation
* Fast ad entry and activation
* Ability to run separate Sponsored Search and Content Match campaigns, with separate tracking
* Alerts section warns you immediately about problems or issues with your account

All is not well, however. Cons:
* Glitches in the system won't allow me to enter certain types of tracking URLs. I had to create an entire new Atlas campaign for my content ads, because for some reason the Panama interface couldn't handle my old campaign tracking - despite the fact that I'm using the same tracking in ALL my current ads. Makes no sense.
* Problems with geo-targeting, which have been discussed at Search Engine Watch Forums. I was looking forward to using this feature to eliminate Canadian clicks, but I had heard at SES Chicago that there might be problems, and sure enough, it appears there are (although Yahoo jumped in and downplayed them). I'll hold off for now, until this gets ironed out.
(Editors Note: Apparently the author of the SEW Forum thread asked that it be removed from the forum - so I've delinked it here. It's too bad, in a way, because I was hoping to hear how everything played out. Guess I'll have to get my info elsewhere!)
* Limits on the number of campaigns. As a Platinum advertiser, I was assured we'd be able to have 100 campaigns, instead of the normal (and way too low) limit of 20. We started out with ~28 campaigns. Well, when I tried to create a new campaign, I ran into a limit - the interface told me I couldn't add any more new campaigns. So I called Yahoo, and the rep immediately put through an override to get me back to 100. However, it took about 30 minutes to kick in. This was at the end of the day, so I couldn't create or work on my new campaign until the next morning. That means lost revenue for me and for Yahoo.
* Stupid editorial rejections. This is nothing new for Yahoo, but it's still annoying. I just had my Content ad for Strictly Slots Magazine rejected. Reason? "Promotes online gambling." Uh, sorry Yahoo, you're wrong. It's a magazine subscription, not online gambling. So now I've emailed them with an appeal, and I'm sure I'll end up calling later to get the ball rolling. Which leads to my final complaint...
* No improvement in responding to emails. I've resorted to just calling them instead of sending emails into the black hole. I *never* get replies to my emails. The only reason I emailed them about Strictly Slots is because although it's 9 a.m. here in Michigan, it's 6 a.m. on the West Coast, and no one's home at Yahoo yet. That's not really their fault, but it's still annoying. Good customer service departments have longer CS hours to account for time zone differences.

Now, a bit about my blog woes. I've read a lot about "the new Blogger" and its ability to host your blog on your own custom domain. I took the plunge a few weeks ago and purchased my own domain, with the goal of locating my blog on my own URL instead of a "blogspot" one. I was thrilled to see that I could just publish my Blogger blog on my domain. Problem is, I can't get it to work. I followed all the instructions and waited 3 days, but still nothing. I think it has to do with that silly QuickBlog from GoDaddy that I tried to set up. But I really don't know. I'm a complete novice when it comes to this stuff, so I'm learning by trial and (mostly) error! But, that's the best way to learn sometimes. Still, I look forward to having my very own domain soon!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Click Fraud: Tastes Like Sausage

A big "thank you" goes out to Jeffrey Rohrs from Optiem for his Sausage Manifesto. He's written an excellent piece, subtitled "An Open Letter to Paid Search Networks on Behalf of PPC Advertisers."

Sausage, you might ask? The name comes from this quote: "People who enjoy eating sausage and obeying the law shouldn’t watch either being made," which is attributed to Otto von Bismarck of Germany. Rohrs goes on to say, "Indeed, today’s PPC traffic is very much like sausage—a tasty mystery meat comprised of a variety of high quality ingredients as well as some bits and pieces that the engines would frankly prefer you don’t ask much about."

Indeed. Upon reading the Sausage Manifesto after seeing a link to it on the Search Engine Watch forum, I posted my own manifesto of sorts. I won't repeat it all here, but I will share one story, since I had planned to blog about it anyway.

I was at the Click Fraud ("Auditing Paid Listings") session at SES Chicago, to which Rohrs refers in the Manifesto. I heard the frustration during the Q & A, and asked questions myself. I, too, found myself replaying the Q & A in my head after the session.

The thing that stuck with me the most was when an audience member had asked a question, listened to the "answers" given by the panel (which, IMHO, were nothing more than PR platitudes), and became noticeably frustrated in his follow up questions. Voices were starting to rise on both sides of the speaker's table. Finally, Jessie Stricchiola interrupted one of her fellow panelists and said, (and I paraphrase), "What I'm hearing is that an advertiser is paying what is to them a lot of money for these ads, and they understand their business, and they're tracking their clicks and sales, and they feel these clicks were invalid, and they're being blown off and basically told by the engines that they don't know what they're talking about."

HEAR HEAR to Jessie. As advertisers, we understand that not every complaint is going to result in a full refund. That's fine with most of us. What we don't want is platitudes, condescencion, or worse, zero acknowledgement of our concerns and issues. We want the reps at the engines to at least acknowledge us, and admit there *might* be a problem. It all comes down to customer service.

It's high time something like this was brought to light. As Rohrs says, "So, my fellow paid search advertisers, it is time that we rise up in unison and demand to know what the heck is in our PPC sausage. Moreover, it’s time that we demand to be treated like valued customers as opposed to necessary evils. We pay the bills in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and elsewhere one click at a time; accordingly, it is time that we make some reasonable demands."

I couldn't agree more. We've been quiet long enough. We've tolerated the indifference from the engines for too long. It's time to start making a bigger stink. This issue has hit the mainstream press, and if something isn't done soon to reveal the sausage recipe, it stands to take a hit like email marketing has taken from the spam that almost ruined that marketing channel.

So, what should we as PPC advertisers do? How can we get the attention of the engines? Post your comments to the SEW forum thread, or here. Let's make some noise instead of just blindly eating the mystery meat!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I Love Google!

I'm feelin' the New Year's Love from Google! Hurrah!

Right before Christmas, I mentioned to my Google rep that I didn't get one of the cool digital photo frames that every other Adwords advertiser seemed to have gotten. She indicated that they had sent me one (although I can't say that for sure), but she would check and send me some other stuff in the meantime.

The "other stuff" came today. A way cool iPod case with built-in external speakers, a very nice laptop bag, and a bunch of Google pens. I love every one of these things! The iPod case is too cool - I'm not sure how it works, but you just put your iPod in it, turn the case's switch to "On," turn on your iPod, and voila! you have music playing! It has a carabiner clip so you can clip it to your belt, bag, or purse. Awesome!

I am in love with Google. Their customer service rocks. Seriously. (Yahoo, are you listening?)