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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Google's Dirty Little Secret: Distribution Fraud

Since "distribution fraud" (Google's practice of distributing search engine advertising ads via parked domains, which are clearly not search engines) is the real click fraud, Google AdWords advertisers have been clamoring for a way to buy what they think they're buying: pure search engine advertising. Here's Google's dirty little secret:
Depending on the design of the site, a parked domain site will be classified as either a search site or a content site. That means your ads may show on parked domain sites if your campaign is opted in to the search or content networks.
Yes, Google will often classify a parked domain site as a search engine. AdWords advertisers who opt into the AdWords Search network (I'm not talking about the Content network) will have their search engine ads displayed on parked domains. When I complained about this practice to Google after witnessing an AdWords account with more than 10% of its traffic coming from parked domains, I received the following reply:
I do want to let you know that we include sites such as the ones you mentioned as part of our search network. Using Google's contextual targeting technology, AdSense for domains shows AdWords ads on parked domain name pages.
Oops, Google, you just admitted that displaying ads on parked domains involves contextual targeting. That's contextual advertising and NOT search engine advertising. Contextual advertising belongs on the Content network, NOT on the Search network. Therefore, parked domains should never be included in the Search network. What's frustrating about this practice is that Google is claiming that the site exclusion tool (which only applies to the Content network), now works for parked domains on the Search network. This is causing a fair amount of confusion. The tool doesn't, in fact, block parked domains. I've tried. Calling 1-866-2Google, I've been told that parked domains can, indeed, be blocked from the Search network but you have to request a manual exclusion. So, I'm in the process of scouring log files to compile a list of parked domains I need to exclude for all clients. Here's my initial list:
  1. searchportal.information.com
  2. landing.domainsponsor.com
  3. sedoparking.com
If you're an AdWords customer, please check your logs and let me know if there are more parked domains that need to be added to this list. What domains am I missing?

BTW, regarding this assertion that the site exclusion tool works for parked domains, I'll believe it when I see an announcement on either the Official Google Blog or Inside AdWords. The Inside AdWords blog has been talking about AdWords Editor now available for Mac, Report Center Series (Part 1), and Site exclusion is now unlimited. No mention of site exclusion and domain park sites. Incidentally, site exclusion being unlimited is not really true. The cap on excluded sites has been changed from 500 to unlimited. However, that's still purely for the Content network. Look, if you need to block more than 500 sites on the AdWords Content network (AdSense), you should just turn it off. This is not a significant development. On the main Google blog, they've been talking about Fun with robotics, Controlling how search engines access and index your website, and New life for network equipment. Again, no mention of AdWords and site exclusion and parked domains. Nope, I'd like to see these blogs address this issue. We advertisers are starting to notice.

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Update (January 29, 2007): Learn how to deal with this distribution/click fraud problem!

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