Maine Munchies Ad

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

WTF? Technorati, I like it!

At first, I was confused by Technorati's new feature, WTF, since I couldn't find it when I went to the site. Via the Technorati blog, there's an explanation:
There's been a little bit of buzz already around Where's the Fire, because we “soft launched” the new feature on the website last night and only three short hours later had to take it down because its awesomeness rocked our servers too hard. And then the people who were lucky enough to have gotten a peek really did wonder, hey, where IS the fire?
The list of Top Searches on Technorati can be a little cryptic. Now, Technorati users can write short WTF (Where's the Fire?) blurbs about a topic and an icon will appear next to the search (topic? - not sure what's the best nomenclature). This image might explain it:

technorati wtf

I like this new WTF feature. I'm often confused as to what a given search (topic?) on Technorati is about. Does it pertain to a current event? Is it a person? Is it specific to bloggers or general news? Instead of leaving the Technorati site and hunting through a pile of blogs to find an answer, you can get the answer directly. Presumably this will work if the best answers rise to the top. Hopefully, this won't be gamed too easily. This is a smart move on Technorati's part because it will keep people on their site longer. That's more of a chance for either CPC or CPM revenue. Plus, they should see a wider audience if people find the new feature useful.

I created a WTF to try it out. Mine pertains to distribution fraud, which I think will become a hot topic. Not sure what happens to WTFs that don't pertain to topics (searches?) that are, at the moment, hot. BTW, speaking of Technorati, if you're in the habit of creating Technorati tags for your blog, consider using TagBuildr. It's a free tool that builds tags (compatible with Technorati tags). Try TagBuildr! Check out these tags to see how they differ from Technorati tags: , , , , , ,

Free Keyword Research Tool Wordtracker Update

My firm's free keyword research tool has been updated to include links to results from the new, free version of Wordtracker. This is a smart move by WordTracker, particularly in light of the problems with the Overture keyword tool (Yahoo's legacy tool). Oh, and take this meta keywords advice: Don't use meta keywords but do research your competitors' meta keywords.

Tags (make your own with TagBuildr): , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Google Search Goes Offline, Bumps Ad?

Looks like core Google search results are now incorporating offline, local results. From the Google blog:
Many people come to Google.com to navigate the web, but are you aware that you can use it to navigate the real world as well? Over the past few months, we've been hard at work making it easier to find and compare local businesses and services right from the standard web results page.
Here's what I'm currently seeing for a Google.com "starbucks columbia md" search, above the standard search results:

starbucks columbia md google search

Hmm. Looks pretty cool for the end user and could be good for small business, but I wonder what impact this will have for AdWords advertisers. This takes up a fair amount of the screen real estate and focuses attention away from the ads. I wonder if Google will drop the number of ads they'll display per page to make room. Trying some other searches, I think they're only dropping off 1 ad spot. Whereas they used to show up to 11 ads per page in some cases, I'm only seeing 10 when there are local results - 2 ads across the top and 8 down the right side. Then again, the number of ads across the tops varies from 0-3 in the standard search results. I do wonder, though, if this will change to 0-2 if local search results are included.

NOT Technorati Tags (make your own with TagBuildr): , , ,

Monday, January 29, 2007

PPCmoz: Update to Click Fraud Isolation Strategy

I said I'd write more of these PPCmoz-style posts. In Click Fraud Minimization Strategies, I included some tactics to isolate click fraud. Based on some feedback, I need to clarify how this can be accomplished for a Google AdWords account. Note that this strategy is more important than I had initially anticipated, since Google is unapologetically perpetrating distribution fraud. This is the click fraud isolation strategy for Google AdWords I described:
  1. Create 3 new campaigns: Google only, search network only, content network only
  2. Move ad group experiencing click fraud activity to Google only campaign
  3. Copy ad group to search network only and content network only campaign
  4. Set very low budgets and/or low bids for the 2 network campaigns
  5. Use separate tracking URLs for the 3 ad groups
The point that needs clarification is how to create a "search network only" campaign. I advocate separating search engine advertising from contextual advertising. That's pretty straightforward. Separating Google search ads from Google network search ads is a little more involved. When editing campaign settings in an AdWords account, here are the network distribution choices:

google ad network distribution preferences
Notice that the "Search network" checkbox is indented. The primary choices are "Google search" and "Content network" distribution. This is, essentially, search engine advertising and contextual advertising. You cannot, however, choose "Search network" on its own. The search engine advertising distribution options are:
  • Google search
  • Google search + Search network
So, how can you isolate ads on the Search network? Create two campaigns with the above settings. For the campaign that is opted into the Search network, set the bids much lower than the pure Google search campaign. Because the ad groups contained in the campaigns are identical (same keywords, ad text, landing pages), the ranking of ads on Google properties will come down to CPC and CTR. Unless CTR varies widely, it will come down to CPC. So, if the CPCs are much lower for the "Google search + Search network" campaign, the "Google search" ads will outrank them and will be displayed for Google searches. In effect, then, you have a separate ad campaign for the Search network.

If you want more details on this click fraud (or distribution fraud) isolation strategy, see my answers here and here.

NOT Technorati Tags (make your own with TagBuildr): , , , , , ,

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Will MySpace Degrade the Quality of Google's Ad Network?

There seems to be some concern that MySpace will degrade the quality of Google's ad network. I'm not sure what the fuss is about. I'm more concerned about the distribution fraud that's prevalent on the Search network part of Google's advertising network. I think it's too early to say whether MySpace traffic will be of a lower quality than traffic from other Google advertising partners such as AOL. What I do find interesting, however, is that Google has published an AdWords help page specifically about ads on MySpace. It reads:
Google AdWords ads are now eligible to appear on MySpace.com. MySpace is included in both Google's search network and content network.

Search network ads on MySpace can appear alongside or above search results, as a part of a results page a user navigates to through the site's directory, or on other relevant search pages.

Content network ads on MySpace display alongside relevant content. Google scans the content and URL of MySpace pages and automatically displays ads that have keywords matching the page content. For instance, a MySpace blog post about baking brownies may display AdWords ads for brownie recipes. Remember that ad placement is based on the overall theme of an ad group. Therefore, clicks and impressions are not attributed to any of your specific keywords, but to the keyword list in general.
It would be useful if Google's help pages included a timestamp to indicate when the help page was created. I have no idea of the precise date when Google ads (both search and content) began running on MySpace. You'd think this would have been mentioned on the Inside AdWords blog the day the new help page was created. Searching for MySpace, using the AdWords Help Custom Search Engine (whose index includes the Inside AdWords blog), I see no mention on that official Google blog. There's no mention on the Inside AdWords review of 2006. It looks like Google ads have been live on MySpace since December of last year. This is the kind of information that Google should be relaying to its advertisers. The blog talks about optimizing an account. Knowing that a major Internet property is going to start driving traffic might require some account tweaks. Again, I think it's odd that Google created a custom help page pertaining to MySpace but didn't notify via blogging. Perhaps they're not confident the traffic will be of a high quality?

NOT Technorati Tags (make your own with TagBuildr): , , , , ,

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.

Tags (make your own with TagBuildr): , , , , , , ,

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

Friday, January 26, 2007

Distribution Fraud is the Real Click Fraud

Google AdWords customers are starting to realize that the real click fraud problem is distribution fraud. The problem is inherent in the way Google distributes search ads across its ad network. Google AdWords is broken. Let me say that again, with emphasis: Google AdWords is broken! I first saw the term "distribution fraud" a few days ago via SearchQuant: More On Distribution Fraud in Search. In The Click-Fraud Elephant, Craig Danuloff sums it up well:
Google and Yahoo need to stop pretending the problem is in click-stream analysis, and move to distribution-partner analysis. Further, advertisers need to make it 100% clear that paying to run ads on un-named websites over which they have no say or control is unacceptable.

Click fraud doesn't come (in any significant quantity) from serious sites. It comes from junk sites on which no advertiser would ever intentionally decide to place their ads. Surely there are some PHDs running around the GooglePlex that can look at a wasteland landing page full of nothing but sludge and PPC ads and decide that 'the best user experience' is not served by syndicating ads onto that site.
Click fraud is a distribution problem. And, it's a growing problem. This traffic graph of a site that powers parked domains should be an alarming stat for Google AdWords advertisers:

information.com alexa traffic rank chart

Google's customers (the advertisers) are waking up. They're starting to see this AdWords garbage traffic problem. They're starting to wonder about the sausage ingredients. I still wonder who at Google is going to follow the company's "Don't Be Evil" motto and actually solve this problem. Will they hold a meeting like this to solve the click fraud crisis? Does Shuman Ghosemajumder realize that solving the real AdWords click fraud problem is not about algorithms? No, it's a structural issue. It's about changing the way Google distributes ads. It's not a complex problem. Is there anyone at Google who's willing to tackle the problem? Anyone?

NOT Technorati Tags (make your own with TagBuildr): , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Howto: Track Google Content Ads Traffic

It's been awhile since I've done a PPCmoz-style, DIY PPC post. Need to get back to doing more of these. Lately, seems like a lot of people want to know how to track traffic they're buying from the Google AdWords Content network. There are a few different methods to do this. If you have access to your raw web server log files, you can track most of this traffic even if you don't have tracking URLs in place. You don't need to add any javascript snippets to your site, either. The information's in the log files. You just need to know where to look. Googe routes much of its contextual advertising through googlesyndication.com URLs. Find these in the log files and then parse them to extract the "url=" piece of query data. Then, urldecode the result and you'll see where your paid clicks came from. Here's an example URL, from the demo of my firm's free tracking tool (I'm inserting linebreaks to make it easier to read):

http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/ads?
client=ca-pub-3280446741348688&dt=1128043249746&
lmt=1128043249&
alt_color=ffffff&
prev_fmts=728x90_as&
format=300x250_as&
output=html&
channel=4554257847&
pv_ch=4554257847%2B&
url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.websitepublisher.net%2Farticle%2Fhtml_seo%2F&
color_bg=FFFFFF&
color_text=000000&
color_link=DD0A2D&
color_url=DD0A2D&
color_border=FFFFFF&
ad_type=text_image&
ref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.websitepublisher.net%2Fsuccessful_website%2F&
cc=100&
u_h=1024&
u_w=1280&
u_ah=996&
u_aw=1280&
u_cd=32&
u_tz=-240&
u_his=18&
u_java=true

What you need to do is extract the "url=" piece of the query data and then urldecode it:

urlencoded:
http%3A%2F%2Fwww.websitepublisher.net%2Farticle%2Fhtml_seo%2F

urldecoded:
http://www.websitepublisher.net/article/html_seo/

That's how you can see where the actual paid click came from. No, you don't want to do this manually. Try our free, open source Google AdWords Content Ad Tracking Tool. If you're buying pay per click ads via AdWords and have the Content network enabled, it's crucial to know where your clicks are coming from. If you don't like the sites displaying your ads, you can block them with the site exclusion tool. Pity the tool doesn't work for the Search network. But, that's another story about garbage traffic on the AdWords Search network...

NOT Technorati Tags (make your own with TagBuildr): , , , , , , , ,

Not a Word From Our Sponsors

I've noticed lately that quite a few prominent blogs write posts about their sponsors. Examples: Read/WriteWeb, Marketing Pilgrim, TechCrunch. I'm not sure I understand this. Is it an indication that the actual ads aren't effective? Is it a way to get the sponsors in front of the RSS readers? Perhaps this is a new form of contextual advertising, embedded in actual blog posts. If the blogger only chooses advertisers that match the general content of the blog, then these posts will actually be relevant to the readers.

These "commercial break" posts gave me an idea. I'm testing Ads by Apogee on this blog, which aren't really ads. Many of the companies I work with don't blog. I could do a little blogging on their behalf. As this blog has no real sponsors, my clients are, in essence, the sponsors. Well, I'll try it and will see if it's useful, both for subscribers and for clients. I am genuinely interested in the business models of my clients and am keen to help them get the word out about what they're doing. Let's see if this makes for an interesting blog post...

cube emergency water storage containersHedwin has launched a microsite, Cube4Water.com to showcase their innovative Cube® Insert for emergency water storage.

timetrade appointment scheduling solutionsTimeTrade has hired a new CEO. This appointment scheduling software company has an impressive roster of customers.

Maine MunchiesCraig and Rosemary Gladstone, creators of Maine Munchies, were featured in a recent UMaine Today article about Maine specialty food producers.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Yahoo! Search Marketing Upgrade Downgrade

I received an email today from Yahoo! entitled "An Important Change to the Way Ads Are Ranked" which announced they're switching over to their Google-like ad ranking system on February 5, 2007. I think the upgrade is necessary for Yahoo! and for its advertisers, but there are two items from the email I don't like:
  1. "Standard match type ads will no longer receive priority placement over Advanced match type ads."
  2. Part of ad quality will be determined by: "The ad's expected performance – which is determined by various relevance factors considered by Yahoo!’s ranking algorithms, relative to other ads displayed at the same time."
Standard match type is similar to exact match on Google AdWords and Advanced match type is similar to broad match. I was hoping Yahoo! would differentiate itself from Google by retaining the priority for Standard match over Advanced match. I think that yielded more relevant results than Google. However, it probably resulted in less money for Yahoo! and the buzzword this week is monetization. Pity. If the new Yahoo! Search Marketing is, essentially, a Google AdWords clone, that'll be disappointing. Here's the relevant text from this Yahoo! Search Marketing upgrade help page:
What's changing is that ads of both match type distribution methods will now be displayed together (mixed) in search results. Formerly, all Standard (exact) match type ads were displayed first in results (from highest bid to lowest bid), then all Advanced match type bids were displayed (again, from highest bid to lowest bid).

Now, we've eliminated the priority ranking that Standard match type ads used to receive: In determining their relative position in search results, all Standard and Advanced match type ads that are relevant for a given search term will be equally judged by the combination of their bid amounts and ad quality. This may increase the competition on certain keywords for both types of ads, and could cause some advertisers to pay higher click charges and receive more traffic volume than they received under the old system.
This sounds good for Yahoo! but not necessarily good for its PPC advertisers. On the other hand, the ranking of ads by bid price and click quality does seem like a good move. However, this could have been accomplished in a two-tiered approach, ranking of Standard matches by bid plus quality and then Advanced matches by bid plus quality. It'll be interesting to see if the Yahoo! ads increase or decrease in relevance once the change goes into effect.

new yahoo ad ranking model
The other item I don't like is this notion that part of the ad quality will be determined by the ad's expected performance. To me, this indicates a lack of transparency. How is Yahoo! going to calculate expected performance? This is clearly out of the hands of the advertisers. Whereas in the old Overture PPC advertising system which was straight bidding, advertisers could control their ads with great precision, now they'll be subjected to the whims of Yahoo! algorithms. I don't like the sound of that. Do you?

Tags (make your own with TagBuildr): , , , , ,

New Google Groups Will Increase AdSense Footprint

Noticed the new Google Groups format yesterday when visiting AdWords Help. Looks pretty good. From the press release: "Web products for groups have traditionally focused on an email thread or message board format; they've been largely text based. Google Groups, however, now provides a richer forum for group collaboration... Read easily in a Gmail-style interface." What's missing from the press release, the blog announcement and even the new Google Groups tour is any mention of AdSense. I suspect that increasing the AdSense footprint is a primary driver for this new release. I don't believe ads are optional. Here's a screenshot:

adwords google groups

I don't have a problem with Google running ads in Google Groups, much like they do for Gmail. I do find it odd, though, that ads aren't mentioned anywhere, except buried in some of the help files. For example, this help page says: "As always, Google Groups never displays popups and banner ads. You see only relevant text ads." If the new Google Groups do become popular, this will, indeed, expand the AdSense footprint. That's obviously good for Google's revenue. Might be good for Google advertisers, too. I wonder if Google will, in the future, make it possible to target ads for specific Google Groups. That would be a useful feature. In the meantime, I suspect they're simply lumped in with the Content network.

Tags (make your own with TagBuildr): , , , ,

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

When Web 2.0 Tags Beat Search Keywords

Via a 9rules note, Scrivs posed the question: Why do you use Technorati? In the note, he states "If I'm going to search for a term it is pretty much always going to be on Google." That made me think about the differences between traditional (web 1.0 keyword, for lack of a better term) search engines like Google and newer (web 2.0 tag) search engines like Technorati. Technorati's more than simply a tag search engine. The point, though, is that tag searches are different from keyword searches. One case where I think web 2.0 tag searching beats web 1.0 keyword searching is in the case of events. Because time is a factor and keyword search engine results tend to be pretty static, it's often more useful to search the tags. I suppose this is what Technorati founder, Dave Sifry, means by the "World Live Web" in relation to tags.

Consider a TagSummary for these event-related tags: , , , , , , . It's useful to follow an event across multiple web 2.0 sites - blogs on Technorati, photos on Flickr, etc. Doing a keyword search on Google for dld is, for obvious reasons, not going to be too helpful in tracking the DLD Conference event.

Following an event via tags works best when a single tag or a core set of tags are agreed upon prior to the event. For instance, I notice on the DLD Conference site this message: "If you are blogging or uploading images to your favorite photo sharing site, please consider using the following tag in your posts: DLD07"

Are there other cases where tag searches are more useful than keyword searches? BTW, if you want to tag your blog posts, try the free TagBuildr tool. ;-)

Apogee Tags: , , , , ,

Google.de a Parked Domain?

With all the trouble I'm having with Google and parked domains, I had a good laugh this morning hearing that Google Germany (google.de) was a parked domain for a few hours. I don't think it's a hoax. These are all reliable sources: Search Engine Land, Search Engine Roundtable, Google Blogoscoped, TechCrunch. Multiple stories on Techmeme. I actually wish it had been a parked domain for longer. Would have been interesting to see if Google still believes what their customer support reps have been telling me:
In the meantime, 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. We've found that AdWords ads showing on parked domain name pages often receive clicks from well-qualified leads within the advertisers' markets. As a result, the return on investment for these pages can be comparable to that of search pages. To determine the value of traffic you've received from parked domain name pages, we recommend you monitor your conversion rate.
Oh, the irony.

Apogee Tags: , , ,

Make your own tags with TagBuildr >>

Monday, January 22, 2007

Site Exclusion is NOT Unlimited

When I saw Site exclusion is now unlimited flash across my feed reader, my initial reaction was relief. Cool, I can now block sites such as parked domains from AdWords distribution. My relief didn't last long. Google's simply removing the cap on the number of sites you can block on the Content network. You still can't use the site exclusion tool for the Search network. Sigh. There's still "not search engine" spam. Google, when are you going to fix this? Site exclusion is clearly NOT unlimited. Bad headline. Sigh.

Apogee Tags (made with TagBuildr): , , , ,

Try TagBuildr for your blog.

Why I Like Mondays

It might sound strange, but I like Mondays. When I worked for other companies, this wasn't always the case. Now that I work for myself, for my clients, I enjoy getting the business week started. Mondays are always a fresh start, a day for new ideas. I enjoy my work. Here are some reasons why:
  • I still write software. Instead of writing software for other people, though, I'm writing tools to help me with search engine marketing or blogging. Because I'm writing the software for my own company, I can give it away for free. These are some of the free software applications I've written: keyword research tool, tool to create blog tags, tool to track Google content ads, game to explore web 2.0 tags.
  • My work has a tangible impact on clients' revenue. That's rewarding.
  • I enjoy learning about businesses and how they run. I learn a great deal about business from my clients.
  • In a similar vein, I'm learning how to run a business. With an education in aerospace engineering and most of my work experience developing software, business is still a bit of a foreign concept. I'm enjoying the learning process. I like being an entrepreneur.
I suppose I could easily write a post about what I don't like about my job, things like dealing with health insurance, establishing fees, collecting money, etc. Still, I think I would have a difficult time going back to work for somebody else, so I'll keep working for my clients. BTW, I'd like to thank Chris Hooley (ThinkBait) for giving me the idea for this post. I think my blog's been sounding a bit negative lately, due to all the problems I've been having with garbage traffic from Google AdWords. Reading his post about enjoying his job reminded me that I genuinely enjoy mine. It's nice to write a positive post.

Apogee Tags (made with the free TagBuildr tool): , , , , , ,

Friday, January 19, 2007

Try Free TagBuildr Tool to Replace Technorati Tags

Try TagBuildr for just one blog post. It creates Apogee Tags, an alternative to Technorati Tags. TagBuildr creates tags you can cut-and-paste into your blog post. These tags are compatible with Technorati. Read the FAQ for more info. Here's a sample of what an Apogee Tag looks like, for the tag :

apogee tag - kyrill

See more examples: , , , , , , , . I'm hoping the tags pages are useful in and of themselves. If you try TagBuildr for your blog, let me know if it works well for you! I'm thinking of making the design and the code open source so people can make tags to keep on their own sites. If you are interested, let me know.

Make tags for your blog >>

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Meeting Google Needs to Solve Their Click Fraud PR Crisis

I wonder how much of Google's click fraud PR crisis is due to garbage traffic from parked domains. Let's suppose it is. As click fraud is discussed more and more and more these days, advertisers are starting to pay more attention to the sources of their PPC traffic. Looking at the alarming growth of some of these parked domains, advertisers are going to notice that Google is charging them for garbage traffic. At the very least, Google is charging for clicks that are not search engine advertising. In the mind of an advertiser, that's click fraud. So, who at Google can solve this problem? I think the following people need to have a meeting to devise a solution:
  1. Shuman Ghosemajumder, Business Product Manager for Trust & Safety
  2. Eytan Elbaz, Head of Domain Channel
  3. Omid Kordestani, Senior Vice President, Global Sales & Business Development
  4. Matt Cutts, Head of Webspam Team
Here's the problem: Shuman's busy trying to fight click fraud, but Eytan's busy partnering with domainers (see him talking about DomainFest on Youtube). Someone at Google had the audacity to include parked domains on the Google AdWords Search network. Um, hello?! The Search network (as opposed to the Content network) is supposed to be for search engine advertising, right? So, while Shuman's trying to explain to confused AdWords advertisers how diligent Google is at tackling click fraud, Eytan's parked domain partners (are they spammers?) are increasing the click fraud problem (or at the very least the perception of click fraud) for Google. So, Shuman has to keep explaining Google's click fraud solutions again and again. He's chasing his tail. Omid, who launched AdWords and must therefore "own" it to some degree needs to step in help Shuman. How? By separating parked domain traffic from the Search network, of course. Now, why do I say Matt needs to be at the meeting? He's not involved on the ad side of things. But, he's a spam fighter and that's what's needed here - an outside perspective and someone who recognizes and deals with spam. Google doesn't need anymore search engine spam.

Google's pay per click advertisers (who are the ones paying the bills, after all) need more control over their ad spend. The current choices for ad distribution are: Google, Search network, Content network. Parked domains are sometimes classified for the Content network but can also be classified as Search network partners. No, that's not sufficient. These need to be the ad distribution choices: Google, Search network, Content network, Domain network. If these parked domains really do convert as well as Google asserts, advertisers will opt to display ads on the Domain network. Creating this new distribution choice will have the added benefit of reducing the perception of click fraud. It'd be a great PR move on Google's part to show that they've made a concrete move to battle click fraud. Advertisers who want to purchase search engine advertising would be able to choose Google and the Search network and all of their ads would display on actual search engines. What a concept! So, who's going to call the meeting? Google, do the right thing, for the companies that pay your bills. Don't be evil, anymore.

Apogee Tags (made with TagBuildr): , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, January 15, 2007

5 Things Blog Tag Meme

I've been blog tagged by fellow 9rules member, Andrew Wee. I'm supposed to write about 5 things people might not know about me and then tag 5 additional bloggers. Frankly, I could use a break from blogging about Google's garbage traffic problem, so I'll play blog tag. Here are my 5 things:
  1. I played 2 seasons of NCAA Division III soccer while at MIT
  2. My father is Welsh and my mother is English. I was born in Sheffield, England.
  3. I helped build the foundation for the Good Samaritan Hospital in the Dominican Republic
  4. I like to invest. Current top holdings in my portfolio: GOOG, JWN, SBUX, PNRA, ATVI
  5. My car is a 1996 Nissan 300ZX. It's #207 of the last 300 made.
Continuing this meme, I'll tag some frequent contributors to the AdWords Help groups, by user name:
  1. JezC
  2. ianfusa
  3. MrsC
  4. Tom Hale
  5. AdWordsPro (the Inside AdWords crew?)
Apogee Tags (constructed with TagBuildr): , , ,

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Alarming Stat for Google AdWords Advertisers

The Alexa traffic rank chart for information.com should be a concern for Google AdWords advertisers:
information.com alexa traffic rank chart

If you look closely at the information.com traffic rank, you'll see this data in the "Where do people go on information.com?" section:
  • searchportal.information.com - 91%
  • sp2.information.com - 8%
  • information.com - 1%
  • sp7.information.com - 1%
Why is this a concern for AdWords advertisers? The searchportal.information.com domain, where most of the traffic exists, powers parked domains. Google carries these parked domains on its Search network if they're classified as search engines. They are not, in fact, search engines. I cannot figure out why Google treats them as such. Perhaps because they have the word "search" in the name of the domain? Perhaps because they plaster a search box onto the pages? If you read either of my previous posts, Is Google Partnered with Spammers or Not Search Engine Spam, you'll realize this is a serious problem. The order of magnitude jump in traffic to searchportal.information.com should be alarming for anyone who buys PPC advertising via Google AdWords. You might not be purchasing search engine advertising. Be aware and take appropriate action.

Since Google is not dealing with this fraudulent situation in an appropriate manner (how much of their PPC revenue comes from this partnership?), I feel compelled to warn AdWords users. I'm a frequent contributor to the AdWords Help groups. I post there as Rich@Apogee. I'll repeat my suggestions from my last post which provides a detailed timeline related to this parked domain on Search network problem. Do one of the following:
  1. Turn off the Search network entirely
  2. Lower bids to stay out of the top 5
  3. Split ads into 2 campaigns: Google only w/ normal bids + Search network w/ lower bids
  4. Request Google block *.information.com + *.domainsponsor.com
Look at your historical traffic from Google's Search network. If you find extensive garbage traffic from searchportal.information.com, call Google via 1-866-2-Google and complain. They need to know this is a problem. From my conversations and emails with them, they think it's perfectly acceptable to consider parked domains as search engines. Here's their justification for this practice:
We've found that AdWords ads showing on parked domain name pages often receive clicks from well-qualified leads within the advertisers' markets. As a result, the return on investment for these pages can be comparable to that of search pages.
That's a pretty weak argument, IMHO. If I'm buying search engine advertising, I want my ads to display next to genuine search results, after someone has actively typed keywords into a search box. I don't want to pay for ads that originate from a parked domain that happens to have a search box or for some other reason is deemed equivalent to a search engine.

I'd like to thank Loren Baker for publishing Google AdWords & Domain Parking : Garbage Paid Search, Jeremy Luebke for publishing Google Domain Parking Arbitrage and Jennifer Laycock for publishing The Problem With Syndicating Paid Search Ads. I believe this is an important issue and I appreciate them getting the word out. Because of their posts, this story was on Techmeme and Megite yesterday and people submitted my last two posts to Digg: Is Google Partnered with Spammers and Google Partners with PPC Spammers. Hopefully, the increased awareness of this issue will save some AdWords customers both time and money.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Not Search Engine Spam

Stopping Spam O'Reilly BookIt's been a long time since I've engaged in serious spam fighting - about a decade. In 1998, the O'Reilly book Stopping Spam mentioned a spam filtering solution I had designed and helped implement for AOL's usenet system. Now, I find myself confronted with a very different form of spam, garbage traffic from Google's AdSense for Domains program. This new spam is costing my Google AdWords clients money and wasting my time. If you want the details, read my last post where I posed the question, "Is Google Partnered with Spammers?" Unfortunately, it looks like the answer is yes. After noticing unusual traffic from Google's Search network (not the Content network), I filled out the form to contact Google's Click Quality Team and expected to wait 3-5 business days for a rigorous review. Instead, within a few hours, I received this canned response:
Our team received your report regarding suspicious clicks on your AdWords ads. Thank you for your patience while we researched this issue.

After thoroughly reviewing your [snip] campaign from [start date] through [end date], we were unable to find any conclusive evidence of invalid clicks charged to your account. The clicks your ads received appear to fit a pattern of normal user behavior.

Our monitoring system is designed to protect advertisers' ads from unethical or automated activity. Multiple data points are automatically analyzed for each click, as our system aims to discard potentially invalid activity before it is charged to your account.

Richard, please know that clicks from users on the search network are not automatically considered invalid. We've found that AdWords ads showing on the search network often receive clicks from well-qualified leads within the advertisers' markets. As a result, the return on investment for these pages can be comparable to that of Google search. To determine the value of traffic you've received from the search network, we recommend you monitor your conversion rate.

If you aren't satisfied with the value of the traffic from searchportal.information.com, please reply to this email. We can then assist you in preventing your ad from appearing on these pages.

To learn more about measuring conversions on your site, please visit https://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=6099&hl=en.

We hope this addresses your concerns. Please let us know if you have additional questions that we may assist you with.
I don't think they understood what the problem was. I wasn't talking about the entire Search network - just invalid clicks from one of Google's AdSense for Domains partners. A whopping 72% of clicks for a single exact match keyword originated from the searchportal.information.com domain. Investigating this domain, it turns out to be owned by a company called Oversee.net that owns DomainSponsor, a parked domain operation. Now, I don't have a problem with domainers or parked domain sites. What I do object to, however, is a situation where my clients opt into the Google AdWords Search network, expecting to pay for search engine advertising. Instead, they find themselves paying for garbage traffic. Let me emphasize that this garbage traffic originated from the Search network and not the Content network. The Content network was not enabled for my client's campaign.

I'm quite annoyed with Google, because now I have to waste my time researching this problem and devising strategies to minimize the risk of further garbage traffic for all of my clients. In the meantime, Google seems to be ignoring the detailed facts I provide them and is happy to take my client's money and share it with this company. Is this Oversee.net a bunch of spammers? I don't use the word lightly, so I'm not going to claim they are. I'm more annoyed with Google than with them, because it's Google's system that is permitting them to take money from unsuspecting AdWords advertisers. This text from the DomainSponsor site is misleading:
In the DomainSponsor program, when a user types in your parked domain name, they are redirected to a custom DomainSponsor landing page populated with targeted keywords, ads and content relevant to what they are looking for. These ads are placed by advertisers who have agreed to pay DomainSponsor each time their ad is clicked. DomainSponsor shares every dollar earned through traffic and searches from your domain equally with you. So each time a visitor clicks on an ad, we both get paid.
None of my clients have "agreed to pay DomainSponsor each time their ad is clicked." What's perplexing is that none of the clicks came from actual searches. You can tell by the format of the referring URL. Again, read my last post on Google and spammers if you want the details. Rather than being reactive, I'm going to be proactive and implement new strategies for my clients. Skip to the end of this post if you want those strategies. Now, I'm going to post research I've found that suggests this problem is well documented, has been ignored by Google, and is only going to get worse for Google's AdWords customers. Consider this timeline:

Sep 2004 - Karsten M. Self identifies domainsponsor.com as a homepage hijacking site

Dec 2005
- A blogger details AdWords clickfraud involving searchportal.information.com

Dec 2005
- Respected Search Engine Watch (and now Search Engine Land) editor Danny Sullivan declares Google AdSense For Domains Program Overdue For Reform

Dec 2005
- Microsoft Research includes information.com and domainsponsor.com in a list of Typo-Squatting Domains that Serve Questionable Advertisements

Dec 2005
- AdWords for Domain Garbage Traffic thread on SEW forum illustrates search traffic pattern that suggest click fraud: "The proportion of the search traffic is way out of line (Google 20%, domainsponsor 29%, information 41%)"

Jan 2006
- Search Engines Making Millions Off Type-In Traffic From Domains

Apr 2006
- Click Fraud thread on SEO Chat says, "virtually all of google traffic is coming from searchportal.information.com"

Jun 2006
- Oversee.net Buys Domain Portfolio of 35,000 Names, CEO claims, "An estimated 10-20% of paid search traffic now comes through direct navigation. This provides a great opportunity for Oversee.net, which has a rich history in this space."

Jul 2006
- An outfit called Chesterton Holdings is exposed as a "domain tasting" rat

Sep 2006 - Chesterton Holdings shares the same corporate address as the Oversee.net company headquarters?

Sep 2006 - Oversee.net Completes Acquisition of Ten Domain Portfolios

Nov 2006
- Oversee.net posts a 640% growth rate through 2005

Dec 2006
- Jeffrey K. Rohrs drafts The Sausage Manifesto, An Open Letter to Paid Search Networks on Behalf of PPC Advertisers

Jan 2007
- I pose this question: Is Google Partnered with Spammers?

You decide.

What's next? Is there anyone at Google who can solve this problem? Perhaps Shuman Ghosemajumder? Until Google stops this practice of distributing search engine ads to places other than actual search engines, I recommend that AdWords advertisers implement one of the following strategies:
  1. Turn off the Search network entirely
  2. Lower bids to stay out of the top 5
  3. Split ads into 2 campaigns: Google only w/ normal bids + Search network w/ lower bids
  4. Request Google block *.information.com + *.domainsponsor.com
I've uncovered a disturbing fact that might suggest that Google is, in fact, partnered with spammers. Again, I'm not calling anyone a spammer. I'm simply reporting facts I've found while trying to sort things out for my clients. I'll list two sources, so there's at least some sort of corroboration. It appears that Oversee.net is the creator and distributor of spyware, a malicious adware program called SearchAndBrowse (sources here and here). If that really is the case, then Google is, in effect, taking AdWords advertisers' money and funding a spyware company. That'd be awfully ironic considering that Google has published a proposal to help fight deceptive Internet software which specifically mentions spyware.

Could someone at Google please sort this out? For any AdWords advertiser who happens to stumble upon this post, check your server logs for searchportal.information.com and read my above recommendations for dealing with this garbage traffic on the Google AdWords Search network. Call 1-866-2-Google if you are experiencing click fraud on the Search network. Let them know Rich@Apogee sent you. ;-)

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Is Google Partnered with Spammers?

I've given Google the benefit of the doubt when it comes to click fraud. Over the past year or so, whenever a sensational article concerning click fraud crops up, I've argued that it's largely up to the advertisers to manage their PPC accounts to minimize click fraud. Google's been claiming that only a small fraction of its traffic is invalid. Over the past few days, I'm seeing as much as 40% of the traffic for a client account coming from bogus sites. This account is structured to only display ads on Google and its Search network. The Content network is turned off. All of the fraudulent traffic is coming from a single domain: searchportal.information.com. Tracking the traffic via log files, I'm seeing some rather disturbing trends. Google talks about how good its click fraud prevention algorithms are and how diligent they are about not charging advertisers for clicks. I'm not seeing that. I'm seeing one of Google's "Adsense for Domains" partners cheating my client. I've been aware of Google's parked domain program for awhile, but until now, none of my clients have been adversely affected. Note that in answering the question "Will my ads show on parked domain sites?", Google says:
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.
I have a problem with that. I can live with parked domains cropping up on the Content network. You can use the AdWords Site Exclusion Tool to block sites on the Content network. Despite suggestions that this tool now works for parked domains on the Search network, that is not the case. So, it's either turn off the Search network and lose valid traffic with invalid traffic or split a campaign into two and run ads on the Search network at lower bids. Yes, that'll minimize the risk but it still means the loss of valid traffic. I'd rather simply block the parked domain garbage sites and keep a campaign's distribution preferences set to Google + Search network.

Google's algorithms should've picked up the traffic as fraudulent. No way there are more searches from a parked domain traffic than on google.com itself. No way all these searches from different IP addresses just happened to all type the exact same keywords with the exact same case. Each search has the first letter capitalized. That's not normal search behavior. It is, however, what you'd see if someone went to a parked domain site powered by searchportal.information.com and then clicked on a link. Those pages have pretend navigation that looks something like this:

» Some Keywords
» Other Keywords
» More Keywords
» These Keywords
» Those Keywords

Those links go to a long, ugly URLs that look sort of like (for obvious reason I'm editing):

searchportal.information.com/?epl=[snip]&query=Some%20Keywords

Note the "query=" part of the URL. The keywords begin with capital letters. If anyone reading this blog entry is using the Search network, start digging through your traffic (either via web analytics or log file analyis) and see if you have been exposed to traffic from this site. Judging by Alexa, information.com has a traffic rank of 167 and 91% of that traffic is on the searchportal.information.com subdomain. Doesn't that sound fishy? I don't know if information.com owned by oversee.net who also happens to own domainsponsor.com are spammers or not. I'd be hesitant to label anyone a spammer without solid proof. I do wonder, though, where they get their traffic from. How can parked domains bring more traffic than a property like google.com? Gee, it just so happens that this is the case for some expensive keywords. Whether these guys or spammers or not, Google is guilty of cheating its clients, the AdWords advertisers. I think they're looking out for these domainers more so than their advertisers. Note this line on their parked domains page:
Powering millions of domain names, Google AdSense for domains is the industry's premier parked page service. Google is seeking new partnerships with large domain portfolios owners. As a leading innovator and one of the fastest growing ad providers on the web, we want to build strong relationships with partners who have a proven record of high-quality traffic and who share our vision of providing highly relevant advertising on parked page inventory. We align our goals squarely between Google and our partners, making the user experience positive while generating revenues for both parties.
Yikes! Millions of domain names? Where in here does it talk about the interests of the companies that pay Google's bills? Nope, not a word about the advertisers. I need to figure out how to get a clickfraud refund for my client and also how to manage all of my clients' accounts going forward to prevent this sort of fraud from happening. I need your help. If you use AdWords and are opted into the Search network, check your site traffic and see if you're paying for traffic from searchportal.information.com. Post a comment here if you are. With an Alexa rank in the top 200 of all web sites, I've got to believe many AdWords advertisers are exposed to traffic from these garbage sites. If you've complained to Google about searchportal.information.com traffic, let me know. I'd like to find out Google's response. Now, I've got some web server log file analysis to do. Sigh.

Is Google partnered with spammers? It looks that way to me. What do you think?

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Lee's Large List Lacks Link

Lee Odden has made public blogs he reads. Lee describes the list as "a collection of over 250 blogs covering search marketing with a few that venture into blogging, social media and new media public relations. This list is an output of my own RSS reader and it will update (add/remove) as I update the list of blogs and feeds that I track." He suggests linking to his list if you want to be considered for inclusion. Clever way to gain more links. It's quite a comprehensive list and is worth linking to. If you're interested in SEO/M, SMO/M, PR or online marketing in general, you'll find some useful blogs. Lee's list lacks a link, though. No Apogee Weblog. I'm just kidding. It's Lee's personal RSS feed. What he reads, he reads. ;-)

Rather than ask for my blog to be included in the list, I thought it'd be interesting to note a few things Lee and I have in common:
  1. We both write for Search Engine Guide: Lee, Me
  2. Our blogs were both added to 9rules in the latest round.
  3. On 9rules, our blogs are in the same categories: business, marketing
  4. We've both played a game of TagMan (see Lee's comment on this AdWords post)
Lee, if you do happen to read this post, no worries if you don't include my blog. However, I do notice that you're boosting Technorati's inbound links by using Technorati Tags in all of your posts. How about switching to Apogee Tags for at least one post? BTW, I'd be happy to help you create a tagging system on your blog such that you keep all the tag links on your site but still have your posts listed on the Technorati Tags pages. Whaddya say?

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

2007 Blog Predictions Meme

I've been tagged by fellow 9ruler, Andrew Wee, regarding his Blog Predictions 2007 Meme. I'll play. Here are two blog predictions for 2007:
  1. Bloggers will gradually stop using Technorati Tags.
  2. Google will actually start blogging.
TagMan gameLet me start by saying I really like Technorati. The first version of the TagMan game for web 2.0 tags I wrote was Technorati TagMan. However, the Technorati site is too slow and often unreliable. Plus, the new tags pages are too cluttered. Too many images, videos and not enough blog posts. They're trying to do too many things. Besides, they've got way too many backlinks, don't you think? I realized recently that I could create tags for blog posts that would get picked up by blog search engines like Technorati without having to link to them. From their tags help page:
If your blog software doesn't support categories or you're not sure, you can still participate. To associate a post with a Technorati Tag all you have to do is tag your post by including a special link in the body of your post. Please note that two word tags should be joined by a "+". For example:
  • <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/[tagname]" rel="tag">[tagname]</a>
  • <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/[tagname]+[tagname]" rel="tag">[tagname tagname]</a>
  • <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/global+warming" rel="tag">global warming</a>
The [tagname] can be anything, but it should be descriptive. Please only use tags that are relevant to the post. You do not need to include the brackets, just the descriptive keyword for your post. Just make sure to include rel="tag". You do not have to link to Technorati. You can link to any web page that ends in a tag - even your own site! For example, these tag links would also be included:
  • <a href="http://apple.com/ipod" rel="tag">iPod</a>
  • <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity" rel="tag">Gravity</a>
  • <a href="http://flickr.com/photos/tags/chihuahua" rel="tag">Chihuahua</a>
So, I've implemented a tag solution I'm calling Apogee Tags for my blogs that adheres to the rel-tag microformats specification. These tags can be generated using the TagBuildr tool. Each tag links to a TagSummary page which will load much faster than a given Technorati tags page. Plus, these summary pages link to tag resources across many web 2.0 sites including Flickr, del.icio.us, Squidoo as well as Technorati. Compare these tag pages:

http://www.apogee-web-consulting.com/tagman/tag/technorati+tags
http://www.technorati.com/tag/technorati+tags

Which is more useful, loads faster, and has less ads? ;-)
If you prefer the Technorati page, keep using their tags. If you like the Apogee Tag, then feel free to use TagBuildr for your blog posts. Or, implement a similar solution for your own site. At any rate, I predict more bloggers will realize, like I did, that blog tags don't have to link to Technorati to be listed on their site. Why keep boosting their link count?

Regarding my second prediction, ask yourself this: Is a blog without comments really a blog? Or is it just a web page, an article, a press release, something other than a blog? Even if you contend that a blog without comments is still a blog, you must admit it's rather ironic for the company that owns Blogger to not have comments on their own corporate blogs. See the discussion on Zoli's blog post, The Official Google Blog is NOT a Blog, to see Google chime in. Isn't that also a bit ironic to have Googlemployees posting comments? Maybe I'm too much of a dork but this seems *really* funny to me. Here's what I hear Google saying:
Hey! We can comment on your blogs about our blogs not having comments, but you can't comment on our blogs because, well, we don't allow comments. We do really like feedback, though, so come visit our handy dandy members-spamming-helping-members groups. Have fun guessing who's a spammer, who's a troll and who actually has a legitimate answer for you. We'll post answers if we feel like it. Maybe. We're just too darn busy on our mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" that we simply don't have time to organize the information about Google's core asset, search. Ha ha! Silly peasants.
I am a dork. I'm laughing at that quote I just wrote. Well, time to tag some others for this blog meme and build some blog tags with TagBuildr. I'll tag some more 9rules members:
  1. Mike Rundle
  2. Martin Ringlein
  3. Jeff Gates
  4. Jon Christopher
  5. James Mathias
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Monday, January 01, 2007

Announcing TagBuildr - Free Tool for Blog Tags

On this first day of 2007, I'm launching TagBuildr. It generates an alternative to Technorati Tags I'm calling Apogee Tags. Simply enter a list of tags and it builds them using the rel-tag microformat. The holidays are one of the few times during the year I have a chance to work on some side projects. Last holiday break, I launched the TagMan game. In the year since, I've been thinking about tags and blogs and realized it's a bit silly to keep creating links for the benefit of Technorati. If you want an alternative to Technorati Tags for your blog posts, try TagBuildr.

I think Apogee Tags are, in some ways, more useful than Technorati Tags because they link to tag resource pages for Flickr, del.icio.us and Squidoo as well as Technorati. This is accomplished through a TagSummary tool (which people might also find helpful) that is used to create each Apogee Tag page. If you want some underlying details, read this Apogee Tags test post from the TagMan game blog. Basically, though, it works like this: Any tag is mapped to a corresponding TagSummary page. For example, these are equivalent pages:

http://www.apogee-web-consulting.com/tagman/tagsummary.php?tag=technorati+tags
http://www.apogee-web-consulting.com/tagman/tag/technorati+tags

The latter page is the tag format that will get picked up by blog search engines like Technorati and IceRocket. Well, Happy New Year and let me know if you find TagBuildr and/or TagSummary useful tools!

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