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Monday, May 14, 2007

Howto: Block Google's Hidden Ad Network

Someone left me this anonymous comment over the weekend on my post about AdWords garbage traffic:
Hi, were you ever able to block domainsponsor traffic using the site exclusion? I read your posts here and on the search engine forum where the Google rep replied how to do it. Can you just post your answer so we all know if it works!
The solution does appear to be working. Read Blocking Parked Domains on the Search Network for a full explanation. I applied the fix to several clients' accounts early on 3/26. Checking server log files, the last activity I saw from Google's hidden ad network (I'll explain this term later in the post) was on 3/25. More than a month with no garbage traffic across client accounts. I'd say the solution is working.

The traffic in question is parked domain traffic that is appearing on the search network and not the content network. It all appears to originate from searchportal.information.com which sounds like a legitimate domain name. However, if you visit the actual links, you'll realize you're on a vast network of garbage sites. These are NOT high quality generic domain names (that post mentions "Direct navigation had a 4.2% conversion to sale rate, while search engine clicks lead on average to 2.3%" which is just plain wrong). Here are some examples I've found while sifting through clients' log files:

baikunthresorts.com
bottleboss.com
bushherp.com
cfta.ca
climetecrisis.net
goatlocker.com
millerecettes.com
thankgcollection.com
theedgedaily.com.my
vstoregifts.com
westernnuts.com

I can see why Google would want searchportal.information.com to appear in the log files and not the actual domain name sending the traffic. No, these sites do not belong on Google's supposedly high quality search network. They'd be a stretch even on the content network. How on earth do these sites generate traffic? Spyware? Arbitrage? This is the kind of traffic that led me to declare Distribution Fraud is the Real Click Fraud.

Now, why am I calling this Google's "hidden" ad network? On the advertiser side, Google has AdWords. On the publisher side, Google has AdSense. They don't quite match up. AdWords has a search network and a content network. However, on the publisher side you actually have AdSense for Search, AdSense for Content AND AdSense for Domains. So if,
  1. AdSense for Search == AdWords search network
  2. AdSense for Content == AdWords content network
why is there no AdWords "domain" network? Instead, the domain traffic is routed through *both* the search and content networks. This is the hidden ad network. Here is Google's explanation:
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.
Couple that with the fact that clicks are routed through sites like searchportal.information.com, obscuring the actual domain sending the traffic and you start to realize the existence of a hidden ad network. Is it really spinning straw into gold for Google? Will Google ever create a domain network for AdWords? In the meantime, since this traffic isn't from high quality domain names, save yourself some money and just block it. (If anyone from Google ever happens to read this post, shame on you guys. Seriously. I'd put you on a "time out" if you were my kids.)

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