Searching Beyond the Paid

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cracking Down on Garbitrage

Internet giant has had enough of typosquatters profiting off misspellings of their URL. Via Internet Retailer, "Adept online shoppers aren’t all great typists. One slip of a finger can send a shopper to sites registered to others who want to use that accidental traffic for their own purposes, such as advertising or collecting keyword payments on the errant clicks. To clean up its affiliate program and reduce the negative effects of such “typosquatting” on URLs close to its own, has been using the beta release of a new hosted service called Typosquasher recently launched by technology vendor CitizenHawk Inc."

What a great concept. I love this. Typosquatting makes up a large percentage of PPC garbitrage traffic. Not all such traffic is bad for advertisers, especially if you're a reseller of the brand in question. However, typosquatting on trademarked domains is frustrating, and borders on deception, in my opinion. We've seen a few typosquatters on our domains, and it's annoying to realize we just paid for those clicks via our PPC ads, instead of getting the traffic directly for free. And it definitely confuses visitors. My 10-year-old daughter recently was looking for a kids web site she'd seen advertised on TV. She didn't remember the exact URL, so she tried typing a few into the address bar. She called me over to look at what she'd found, and there it was - a page full of garbitrage, and not all of it child-friendly. (For those of you who are wondering: yes, we had a repeat performance of the "internet safety" chat after this little escapade.)

I'm curious to see how things pan out with CitizenHawk. They have a tool on their site where you can test the service for free. It told me that there are 72 potential squatters on our domain, and at least some of them are monetizing the traffic. I think CitizenHawk has a great business idea. Let's hope it pans out for them.

Friday, April 06, 2007

More Examples of MSN Not Getting It

I know I've been picking on MSN lately, but I just can't help it. A couple things crossed my desk as I was catching up on some industry reading on this quiet Friday afternoon that I just can't let go...

From the New York Times via Search Engine Guide, "What do you do if you've spent tons of money over the last few years attempting to build a product that will compete with the recognized leaders of the industry only to find that no one wants to use it? If you're Microsoft, apparently you start writing checks...." Apparently, MSN has resorted to paying companies to install their search tool on their desktop computers. This made me laugh out loud. Paying people to use your product is even more lame than giving away your product for free, which I've said for years is not a sound marketing strategy. Talk about devaluing your product! My favorite quote from the SE Guide article: "What it ultimately boils down to is this... if you've got to pay someone to use your product or service, it's probably not a very good product or service. " Reminds me of Philipp Lenssen's comment in my earlier post about MSN.

And another goodie, which I've seen several places, including Search Engine Guide and Search Engine Roundtable, is MSN's announcement that they're shutting off advanced queries like link: and inurl:. Any SEM worth their salt knows what these are. They're basic research tools that are critical for doing research on your own site, as well as those of competitors. Well, MSN can't handle the load, so they just shut the features off. Stoney deGeyter's comments on SE Guide are the best: "It must really suck to be a third place search engine and have people actually using your site to gather research."

And finally, this gem from my own research on my adCenter ads. I'm trying to figure out why we're not getting any traffic on some popular search terms. I typed in "childrens magazines" (no quotes) to Live Search, just for grins. I got this:

(OK, I know it's kinda hard to read, but humor me.) What a joke. We're in 7th place. Look at the garbitrage sites in spots #1-#5. How are those ads even relevant to this query??? The "good" ads don't start till #6 - everything above that is just pure junk. How can MSN claim they have an ad ranking algo that takes CTR into account? Who on earth is clicking on those crappy ads??? How are these garbitrageurs getting away with this? Who even searches on MSN, anyway? By the way, this very same ad is a top performer on both Google and Yahoo, so it's tried and true. So I'm really not crazy. Is it just me, or is MSN falling further and further behind the curve here? With results like this, they'll never be able to catch the big guys.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Is Panama Really Better?

At the end of February, comScore published data showing that CTRs were up with the new ranking model in Yahoo's Panama sponsored search. Mind you, the report compares one week to two weeks, the week before the new ranking model vs. the two weeks after. I contend that this comparison is not totally statistically significant. Variations such as this can occur from week to week even without changes in ranking models or other major factors, and does not necessarily indicate a trend. With Valentines Day falling in there, I contend that the numbers are even further skewed.

All that said, most experts are agreeing with the statistics. Mona Elesseily from Page Zero Media has a good writeup of their experience at Search Engine Land. Everybody seems pretty happy with Panama and the new model.

Everybody except me. I am happy with the new interface - it's light years better than the old Direct Traffic Center, with features that even Google doesn't have, such as the Alternate Text for keyword insertion. However, our stats since the new ranking algo don't look so rosy.

Looking at our data for the same time frame as comScore, our CTR is actually down 20%. There's a caveat to that, though. We enjoyed almost a 50% increase in CTR when we converted to Panama from the old system. CTRs post-new-algo are better than they were under the old DTC. Mona claims there were problems with CTR calculations in the DTC, though, so who knows. All I know is, our CTRs plunged with the new algo.

Mona also talks about improvements in average CPC. Again, looking at the comScore time frame, our CPCs are up, not down. They're up from DTC levels, too. Cost per conversion is up significantly, as well. I attribute this to the loss of the auction and rules-based bidding. Many of our competitors weren't bidding very intelligently in the auction, which allowed us to use bid management tools and rules to get good positions at very low costs. With that gone, we've had to pay a lot more to maintain our position in the landscape. This is one reason why I wasn't in favor of the new algo in the first place!

Let me end by saying that I don't dispute the claims made by comScore or by Mona. I met Mona at SES Chicago - I'm the one who asked her how we could get rid of Canada - and in addition to being a really, really nice person, I think she's one of the top experts out there on Yahoo Search Marketing. I just think the new system isn't all roses for every advertiser or every sector.

I also realize by crunching our numbers that it's probably time for some creative testing. We've done extensive testing in Google, but not Yahoo, since it wasn't available pre-Panama. Now that it is, it's time to make use of it.

In that vein, Yahoo, when will you launch your own version of AdWords Editor? (wink, wink)

MSN Doesn't Get It

Lots of chatter over MSN's ill-fated test, where they prefilled the search box with sponsored keywords. Search Engine Land summarizes the story, and the feedback MSN got, which apparently was extremely negative.

The best part about the SEL post is the comment by Philipp Lenssen: "If you need user feedback and click statistics to figure out this is a bad idea, you're seriously in trouble as a search engine, because your team misses certain people with a good common sense understanding of the web."

That about sums it up. I've commented in several places, including on this blog, about MSN's foibles with adCenter and PPC in general. They just don't seem to get it when it comes to search and PPC. I'm not even sure they listen to their users, even though they say they do. It takes them so long to make fixes and improvements to adCenter, I wonder if they really believe what we say. Or are they just so big and bureaucratic that it takes forever to make simple changes? Or both?