Searching Beyond the Paid

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.


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