Ad Blockers and PPC

Ad blockers. A 2-word phrase that can strike fear into the hearts of PPC professionals. After all, we make our living from online advertising. The advent of technology that blocks our lifeblood is concerning to say the least.

Ad blockers work by detecting advertising code on a website, leaving blank space. They can also speed up page load times, especially on mobile devices, where content is often painfully slow to load. This is one of the reasons ad blockers have been adopted at a high rate – Smashing Magazine claims that 75% of their readers use them, and the iOS ad blocker app has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.

From a user standpoint, it’s pretty easy to see the appeal of ad blockers. I’m so tired of interstitials and pop-overs interrupting me when I’m trying to read an article online. On mobile, it’s often impossible to close or move the interstitials – which leads me to abandon the site entirely. It’s frustrating as a user.

And the web has indeed slowed to a crawl with all the tracking scripts running on many sites. Ad blockers can strip many of these tracking codes, speeding up the user experience – and killing the advertiser’s ability to track user behavior.

As I was researching for this post, I started to think about the definition of an ad. It’s clear that ad blockers define ads as third parties running ads on a website using javascript for Adsense or other ad syndicators. But what about ads for your own content? Aren’t those ads just the same?

Earlier this week, Ad Age ran an article called Three Reasons Why Ad Blockers Are Good for Advertising. They talk about over-saturation of the market, poor targeting, and the need for a better experience – all valid points.

But they contradicted themselves with the experience on their own website! When I first landed on the article, I was served a huge interstitial:

ad age interstitial

Sorry Ad Age – I don’t want to sign up for your “free” full access that you’re going to start charging me for after my “free” 14 day trial. I just want to read one article.

Once I got rid of the interstitial, I was treated to one of the most unappealing visual presentations of a web article that I’ve seen in a long time:

ad age ads

Look at that awful page. I had to scroll every sentence or two just to keep reading. Why? Because it was full of ads FOR THEIR OWN STUFF. Small Agency Guide! Look Book! Sign me up for the email that I just rejected on your stupid popup!

Is this what we’ve replaced “ads” with? Ads for our own crap? Is this the answer to the ad blocker problem? Is this a better experience??

Clearly, both the advertisers and the publishers need to do better. As PPC advertisers, we need to use better targeting. Use frequency caps. Resist the temptation to keep people on remarketing lists forever. Insist that clients use tag managers and limit the number of scripts running on landing pages. Maybe consider reducing your investment in display and remarketing and beef up search and RLSA – but only if display and remarketing aren’t performing. Base decisions on data, not a few outliers.

And publishers, don’t substitute ads for ads. Don’t frustrate and annoy your readers with silly popovers and ads filling the margins of your content. A bad on-site experience is just as responsible for the increase in ad blocker adoption as bad ads are. We’re all in this together. And it’s all about the user.

What say you? Are ad blockers impacting your PPC performance? Do publishers need to do better? Are ad blockers a “sky is falling” non-issue? Share in the comments!

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The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on PPC Ad Copy

When people think about PPC, they often think about keywords first. But good ad copy is just as important to a successful PPC campaign. With only 90 characters to work with, writing good PPC ad copy is harder than you think.

What is the goal of each ad group?

Think about the goal of each ad group. Is it to sell products? Generate leads? What specifically are you offering and what do you want people to do when they get to the landing page? Your goal will help you craft ad copy that encourages users to do what you want them to do.
Read more: Ideas Are Not Strategy

Write the call to action first.

Few PPC pros write ads this way, but they should. Writing the call to action first forces you to craft ad copy around it. It also ensures enough space to say what you need to say! Some calls to action are long -“Download The White Paper Now,” for example – so you need to make sure you have enough space, or at least know you need to write a shorter call to action.
Read more: PPC Ad Copy Creation: Where To Start?

Research the competition.

You can use a tool like SEMrush or AdGooRoo, or you can just perform a few ad hoc searches on your keywords. Find out what your competitors are talking about and what they’re offering. If they all offer free shipping, you’ll need to think seriously about doing the same thing. Sometimes, researching the competition yields ideas on how to differentiate your business from all the others in the space. Are you the only company that allows purchases without a credit card? Say so! Do you ship faster than others? Put that in your ad copy.
Read more: 3 Sneaky Ways To Bid On Competitor Keywords

Determine your unique selling proposition (USP).

What’s unique about your company? Why should people buy from you? This is your unique selling proposition, the differentiator for your business. By the way, slogans such as “Just Do It” aren’t USPs. There’s a place for slogans, but not in ad copy. Save them for callout extensions and put a true USP in your ad copy.
Read more: Why PPC and SEO Engagements Fail

Include elements to encourage conversions.

In PPC, ad copy must do two things: stand out to encourage clicks, and make the offer clear to encourage conversions. Include elements such as numbers, keywords, and urgency statements (“Limited time offer!”) to encourage users not only to click, but to convert.
Read more: Pay-per-click: 5 Tips for Successful Ad Copy

Test, test, test.

Your job doesn’t end once you’ve written one ad. It’s just started. Write at least 3-4 ads for each ad group. You’re not going to put all 4 ads into market now, but you’ll need them for testing. Once one ad wins, pause the loser and rotate in another ad you’ve already written. One of the great things about PPC is the ability to test ad copy. Use it! Learn from it!
Read more: PPC Ad Copy Testing: 2015 Edition

The Ultimate PPC Ad Copy Cheat Sheet

PPC Ad Copy cheat sheet

Download the cheat sheet in Excel here: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For PPC Ad Copy

What are your ultimate PPC ad copy writing tips? Share in the comments!

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PPC Professionals: The Mechanics of Digital

Earlier this week, I took my car to the shop for an oil change and tire rotation. 30 minutes and $30 later, it was done. Easy.

When I was a kid, it was common for people to change their own oil. Cars were simpler then. My first car was a 1972 Ford Gran Torino. Yes, I’m dating myself. But I loved that car. It looked just like this one except it was powder blue. It was awesome. I wish I still had it.

Anyway, back then cars were simple. You could easily change the oil, the filter, the air filter (which I did myself many times, it was a 5 minute job), the spark plugs (which I also changed), and many other parts to keep it running. The mechanics of it were simple.

Fast forward to cars now. I now drive a 2011 GMC Acadia Denali. I love this car too. It’s big and bossy and has lots of fun toys, including satellite radio, OnStar, and a fancy nav display.

I can’t fix a single thing in this car.

The engine is crammed into a third of the space of the engine in my Gran Torino. Everything’s hooked up to computers. I’m afraid to even open the hood, much less try to tinker with anything under there.

Keeping PPC running well is a lot like keeping a car running well. When I started doing PPC in 2002, it was simple: keywords and ad copy. No Google Display network. No remarketing. No social PPC. No multi-device fancy stuff. Just keywords and ad copy. PPC was easy for a novice to do, and do well. I fell into it as a special project, and we made money the first day, even though I didn’t know what I was doing. I was, in essence, changing my own oil.

Nowadays, PPC is complicated, just like my Acadia. It’s easy to mess up royally and cost yourself thousands of dollars. There’s way more competition than there was in 2002, so CPCs are higher. There’s Bing and Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and Instagram…. the head spins just thinking about it.

PPC is not DIY. It hasn’t been for a long time. I know that if I try to mess around with anything under the hood of my Acadia, I’ll screw it up and it’ll be an expensive mistake. The same thing goes for amateur PPC managers. It’s cheaper and better in the long run to hire PPC professionals.

What do you think? Can PPC still be done DIY? Or do you need a pro to succeed? Share in the comments!

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PPC Blogs You Need To Be Reading Right Now

In an industry that moves as fast as PPC, reading industry blogs is a must. Sure, you can learn PPC from books, but the unfortunate aspect of PPC books is that portions of them are outdated as soon as they hit the shelves. Blogs are inherently more up to date, so they’re a great source of PPC news and views. And new blogs are constantly coming on to the scene. I wrote a post 2 years ago on the top PPC blogs, and it already needs updating. Here are the top PPC blogs you need to be reading right now.

Search Engine Land – as industry news sites go, Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land is the gold standard, with articles from nearly every PPC luminary out there.

The SEM Post – Curated by Jenn Slegg, The SEM Post covers just about everything that’s new and interesting in PPC and search in general. (Disclosure: I write a regular column for The SEM Post).

Inside Adwords blog – this is the place for Adwords product announcements and the official word from Google.

Bing Ads blog – Bing posts product announcements here, and also includes great industry stats, demographic info, and other interesting PPC stuff.

Neptune Moon – Julie Friedman Bacchini has one of the most fun blogs to read out there. An author after my own heart, she’s not afraid to speak her mind. She wrote a great post for me a few weeks ago, too.

The Seer Interactive Blog – Covering all aspects of search and analytics, look to Seer for new PPC ideas you hadn’t thought of before.

Merkle RKG Blog – these guys are the smartest folks in PPC. If you want to really nerd out and test the boundaries of your PPC technical chops, this is the place for you.

3Q Digital Blog – You’ll find how-to’s and helpful info here. I especially like all of their articles on Facebook Ads.

PPCChat.co – OK, this isn’t a traditional blog, but rather a collection of screencaps from the weekly PPCChats on Twitter. If you missed a chat, or want to refer back to one later, this is the place.

Are you reading all of these blogs? If not, what’s stopping you? What are your favorite PPC blogs – did I miss any? Share in the comments!

 

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Fail Fast, Learn Fast

Last week, I read a fascinating article on MediaPost about Google’s “planned failures.” The great gift of the internet and digital world, according to the Googlers quoted in the article, is the ability to fail fast. “The price of failing slow is high,” it says.

Google has had tons of failures. Some, like Froogle, morphed into something else over time. Some, like Google Reader, became outdated. Some, like Knol, just died. Many would say that other projects should die, such as self-driving cars or Google+.

Probably Google’s biggest, or at least most well-known, recent failure is Glass. I wrote about why it failed in MediaPost a while back.

Coming up with crazy projects is in Google’s DNA. Some of them work, some don’t – but most failed quickly. Fail fast, learn fast is their motto.

I like to apply the same principle to PPC. Not that I plan to fail, but we all know that not everything we try in PPC is going to work. Some keywords will drive hundreds of clicks without a single conversion. An ad copy variation isn’t going to convert. Some landing pages are less than ideal. Or you forgot to exclude mobile apps in a display campaign (don’t ask).

With even the most egregious PPC failures, though, we should always learn something – just like Google does. Google learned that people aren’t ready to wear weird glasses to take pictures and search for stuff. But you can bet they’ll take the best aspects of that technology and roll out with something else.

That’s what you need to do in PPC. Find the losers and pause them – but then study them to figure out why they were losers.

Found an ad that performed terribly? Why? Was the headline weak? Did it include ambiguous phrases? Was there an unfortunate instance of DKI in there somewhere? Did it lead to the wrong landing page? Use these learnings to fix what’s broken.

I always tell new PPC hires that almost nothing is permanent in PPC. That bad ad, keyword, or display placement can almost always be spotted very quickly – within a day or two if you’re doing your job well – and paused with (usually) minimal ill effects.

I’ll even report on bad stuff – clients need to know why things didn’t work. I don’t generally call attention to outright mistakes, but I do point out keywords that didn’t work or ad copy that didn’t resonate. One such conversation with a client recently led to the decision to create a new landing page that’s more relevant for a subset of client keywords. That’s a good thing! We failed fast and learned fast.

It’s also good to start strong to learn fast. We’ve all had clients who launch in the middle of the month, even though they may have assigned a full month’s budget. I almost never pro-rate the spend. For instance, if the budget is $10,000 and we launch on the 15th, I don’t aim to spend $5,000. I aim to spend $10,000. Fail fast, learn fast. That way, month 2 hits the ground with a fine-tuned campaign, instead of waiting 2 more weeks to learn stuff.

What about you? Do you fail fast and learn fast? Or are you more conservative? Share in the comments!

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5 Challenges for PPC Lead Generation

One of the great things about PPC is it can be used for nearly every business: those selling products online via ecommerce, and those trying to drive leads. Each type of marketing has its own challenges. Here are 5 challenges for lead generation PPC.

Nothing is sold.

When people talk about PPC, they often talk about shopping carts, shopping feeds, revenue per sale, and other aspects of ecommerce PPC. These facets are crucial for ecommerce PPC advertisers to understand – and none of them apply to lead generation.

When you’re driving leads, there is no shopping cart. Sure, there are lead forms, but it’s a one-step process. Cart abandons just don’t happen. (You can have form abandons, but that’s not the same thing.) Revenue per sale doesn’t exist either, because you’re not driving sales online.

Of course, lead generation PPC advertisers can and should still focus on metrics like conversion rate and cost per conversion, and back-end metrics like lead-to-close (more on that in a minute). But sometimes it feels as though we’re speaking a different language than that of ecommerce.

Lead generation advertisers can’t use Shopping feeds.

When you’re not selling anything online, you can’t use Google Shopping and all the cool features it offers, like shopping ads, seller ratings, dynamic search ads, and countdowns in ad copy. There are a lot of features, especially in Google, that lead gen advertisers just can’t use. (More on that in a minute too.)

Landing pages can be a challenge.

Successful online stores have tons of landing pages that are already optimized for conversion. When an ecommerce site is ready to start PPC, they usually have many pages that can be used, as is, as landing pages.

Not so for lead generation PPC. Sure, some sites have well-designed landing pages and contact forms, but a surprising number do not. Often, a lead generation PPC launch is delayed while the advertiser creates a landing page that can actually generate a lead. And that’s just one page. Creating multiple landing pages can be a mammoth undertaking for lead gen advertisers.

Only initial responses are visible in the PPC accounts.

Most sophisticated lead generation advertisers have a good back-end system that tracks leads all the way through to the sale. Systems like Salesforce and Bizible help immensely with this. (Salesforce has a great lead-gen optimized landing page, by the way!)

But even the most complex lead tracking system won’t display data in your Adwords or Bing Ads account. You’ll only see the initial form fills (and possibly calls) in your account. You might have a PPC campaign that’s generating lots of initial leads, but few sales – in which case, you should de-prioritize it, not bid it higher as you’d be tempted to do by looking at the initial lead data.

That means that tools like Conversion Optimizer and other bid algorithms are potentially optimizing for the wrong thing. Even if you do get data from your client or boss on what keywords or campaigns ultimately drove sales, it’s usually a manual process to tie that back to the original data and calculate your lead-to-close percentage and cost. It’s not impossible – and it’s important to do – but it’s a challenge for nearly every PPC lead generation advertiser.

PPC tools and features are often at odds with lead generation.

Recently, I wrote a post titled 3 Signs That Google Hates B2B Advertisers. The gist of the post is that, as I alluded to earlier, many of Google’s features are geared toward ecommerce rather than lead generation. The same is true for Bing, and even Facebook and Twitter, although the social engines have quite a few features for lead generation.

So how do you overcome these challenges? Certainly it doesn’t make sense to abandon PPC, as it can be the largest source of qualified leads for advertisers. Really, you just need to understand all the features and functions, and use them appropriately. There are some features you won’t be able to take advantage of, but that’s ok.

All the best practices of PPC still apply: understand your goals, test, test, and test again; create good campaign structure, and understand your buyer journey. Try to get data from your client on how leads are progressing through the cycle. Optimize your landing pages. And ignore the new stuff that Google introduces for ecommerce advertisers.

I actually enjoy the challenge of generating leads in PPC. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a client’s lead volume increase so much that they tell you to pause PPC while they catch up!

What about you? Have you run into challenges with lead generation PPC? How have you overcome them? Share in the comments!

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PPC Remarketing: What Not To Do

By now, we’re all accustomed to being followed around by remarketing ads. Those of us in PPC are particularly attuned to remarketing ads. We know what they are, first of all. Most of us can probably spot a remarketing ad on the first impression. Second, we visit a lot of different websites as we research competitors, read news, and check display campaign placements. It always makes me chuckle to see our clients’ competitors as I move about the web.

I don’t blame the competitors for following me; after all, they don’t know why I was on their site and didn’t convert. As long as they don’t show me hundreds of impressions per day, it’s not a problem. Then again, there are some remarketing ads that seem nearly ubiquitous, almost to the point of harassment.

Here’s an example of an ad that most PPC pros probably see at least 20 times per day:

remarketing ad

Now, I think WordStream has good products – I’ve praised several of them in posts I’ve written. And I have nothing but respect for Larry Kim, their CEO. But I gotta be honest – I’m tired of seeing their ads all day long, everywhere I go.

How to avoid harassment: Use frequency caps! I usually start with 5 impressions per user per day. And even that might be high – I’ve gone as low as 1 per day.

Now, I’m sure the fine folks at WordStream have probably tested the frequency threshold and likely are serving the right number of impressions to drive the results they’re looking for. But gosh, these ads are everywhere. I’ve even tried to get them to stop showing by going to different pages & sites – I gave up after about 50 impressions.

This week, I got to thinking about another, bigger problem: showing salesy remarketing ads to people who already use your product. I credit my co-worker, Ben Nusekabel, with pointing this out. Here’s the ad he sent me – for the project management software we all use every day!

remarketing ad

Now, I love so many things about this ad: the copy, the art, the call to action… If I’d seen it, I probably would have downloaded the ebook! But here’s the thing: they’re wasting money on me, because I work for a company that already uses them.

The solution? Don’t remarket to people who log in to your site. Create an exclusion list for them.

Here’s another one, for the videoconferencing program we use:

remarketing ad

Great – I started seeing this ad AFTER a video meeting in which I gave a presentation from my home office in Michigan to our main office in Cincinnati, while I was logged in, of course. At least this ad wasn’t interesting enough for me to click on it. So maybe the key is to use boring creative? (I keed, I keed.)

And finally, the icing on the cake:

remarketing ad

Yes, our friends over at Adwords want me to check them out. “Try Google AdWords,” they say. As if I’m not logged in to their interface from dawn till dusk. This one made me laugh out loud. Yet another example of Adwords not using their own best practices.

I’d have been ok with seeing all of these ads if I weren’t logged in to their sites at the time I saw them. Makes me wonder if their PPC department or agency doesn’t understand how to use remarketing. At least it’s good for a few laughs.

What about you? What are the craziest (or best, or creepiest) remarketing ads you’ve seen lately? Share in the comments!

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PPC Campaign Setup Best Practices

Everyone who works in PPC management will have to set up at least a few new PPC campaigns. Setup seems easy, especially if you read what the engines tell you. But there are several tricky default settings that can trip you up.

It’s easy to make mistakes in campaign setup that can negatively impact performance. Here are some PPC campaign setup best practices to follow.

Campaign Setup Basics

Experienced PPC managers may take the basics for granted – after all, we’ve looked at these settings hundreds of times, right? But that doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. I recently set a campaign’s geotargeting to the entire US when it was supposed to be geotargeted to a few cities. Be sure to look at the following settings to ensure they mesh with your campaign goals:

  • Billing & Currency
  • Account Timezone
  • Geographic Distribution
  • Language
  • Campaign Budget
  • Ad Distribution
  • Ad Rotation

For an overview of all these settings, here’s an article I wrote for Web Marketing Today.

Campaign Setup Strategies

Once you understand the various settings that are available, you need to think about campaign strategy. What makes the most sense for each campaign? Review some of the choices you have in terms of ad rotation, budget delivery, etc.

Also, think long and hard about mobile. Do you have a mobile version of your site? Is your site responsive and works well on mobile? Can users take conversion actions on a mobile device? Don’t just automatically include or exclude mobile – think about how it fits with campaign strategy.

Audit and QA

Even the most experienced PPC managers make mistakes in campaign setup. I’ve set the wrong budget, opted campaigns into display by mistake, set wrong geos, added “keyword” to my keyword list, and messed up destination URLs and tagging. It happens to the best of us.

The worst possible thing that can happen is to have a client, or your boss, find your mistakes. While some things will inevitably slip through the cracks despite your best efforts, putting an audit and quality assurance (QA) process in place will help you to avoid the most egregious errors.

One key to successful QA is to have someone else check your work. We recently did a huge launch of new landing pages for a client with a very large campaign. On top of that, we had to manually tag our URLs. It was a complicated process with a big margin for error. We had multiple sets of eyes on the destination URLs to make sure everything was set up correctly. We checked, and then checked again. And I had others help me, because after I’d stared at it for multiple 10-hour days straight, it was hard to find my own mistakes.

Another key to correcting errors is to do regular audits. We’ve all made changes to accounts in good faith, only to realize we messed something up in the process. Auditing your campaigns on a weekly or monthly basis will help keep errors from perpetuating over time.

My favorite audit tool is Joe Kerschbaum’s 10-Minute Audit spreadsheet. He presented it at SMX Advanced 2012 on a panel we were both speaking on, and I’ve used it ever since. Even though it’s 2 years old, it still holds up – the only thing that’s changed is device segmentation (sadly). Even still, you should think about mobile as I mentioned above. Are you using mobile-preferred ads? Call extensions? Other tactics for mobile success? Use the audit spreadsheet to find mistakes quickly.

Again, it’s best to have someone else audit the campaigns you manage. While I’ve used it on my own campaigns, it’s easy to miss things. If you work on a team, take turns auditing each other’s campaigns each month. You’ll be glad you did.

What are your favorite campaign setup best practices? Share in the comments!

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6 Milestones For Successful PPC Campaigns

When I train new PPC hires, one of the questions they often ask me is, “How long does it take to get a PPC campaign running well?” It’s a fair question, and the answer isn’t what you might think.

A good PPC campaign takes time to set up. It’s not immediate like Google Adwords would lead you to believe:

This is Google's idea of how quickly a campaign can go live. They're wrong.

This is Google’s idea of how quickly a campaign can go live. They’re wrong.

Here are 6 milestones that will take you on your way to a well-run campaign.

Research

Doing your homework is a must. Guessing at keywords and creating one ad that lands on the homepage is not the way to approach PPC. You’ll need to think about campaign goals first, and then do your keyword research.

Creating good ad copy is harder than ever with all the options out there today. Be sure to incorporate best practices.

Campaign structure is also vital for success. Plan for expansion, and create campaigns and ad groups that will make management and reporting easier.

Tracking

If you don’t measure results, how will you know if the campaign is running well? Tracking setup can be very simple, using only Google Analytics or the engine conversion tracking scripts, or it can be ridiculously complex, with content marketing and CMS integration, call tracking, social media, and other integration elements.

Set aside time to get the tracking right before you launch. Inaccurate tracking is worse than no tracking.

Approvals

Whether you’re in an agency dealing with clients, or in-house with a boss or CEO, someone will need to approve your campaign before it goes live. Chances are you’ll need someone else to set up the tracking on the website, too. Allow time for approvals – in my experience, a 2-day turnaround is lightning-fast, and it frequently takes a week or more for all approvals and tracking codes to be installed. Work that time into your launch plan.

And if you’re creating new landing pages, plan on at least a month to get them up and running. Even with marketing automation, I’ve found it takes several weeks to create new pages, QA them, and get them ready for traffic.

Relevant Data

One of the great things about PPC is its immediacy – you can start seeing data right away. But just because you can see data the first day doesn’t mean you should act on it.

Use the first days of a new campaign to trouble-shoot: ad disapprovals, broken links, and tracking issues are some of the roadblocks that can crop up in the early days of a new campaign. You should definitely look at the data to spot these challenges and fix them as soon as possible.

But don’t fall into the trap of viewing performance after a couple of days or weeks and making huge decisions on it. Most campaigns need at least a month to really get a feel for performance. The first couple weeks will have huge swings in key metrics – so it doesn’t make sense to decide the fate of keywords and ad copy while things are going back and forth. Give it time.

Optimization

Campaign optimization should be ongoing, of course, but it’s in the first month or two that the most learning happens. You’ll probably find a couple of keywords and ad variations that perform terribly. As long as you remove them quickly, usually there’s little to no harm done. Fail fast and learn fast should be your motto.

Reporting

Reporting is another way to get your campaign performing well. In a report, you must show results, highlight key wins, and point out issues and problems. Even though you’re looking at your PPC data on a regular basis, you’ll probably see something in the first report that you didn’t notice before. And that’s ok.

I always tell clients that their first report is going to be their worst report in terms of performance. It’s the baseline by which future performance is judged. And a good PPC report will facilitate a conversation between you and your client or boss that will help you get the campaign to perform better in the future.

Work toward these milestones as you set up your next PPC campaign. What milestones do you look for in a new campaign? Share in the comments!

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Hey Ask.com: Yes, That’s Google Arbitrage

Earlier this week, Susan Waldes caused quite a stir with her Search Engine Land post, Will Ask.com Google Arbitrage Ever Stop? Google arbitrage is the practice of advertisers buying Google Adwords ads for the sole purpose of driving traffic to their made-for-Adsense or other site where the primary goal is to generate ad revenue. Susan called out Ask.com for arbitrage practices, giving examples of how Ask.com buys traffic via PPC, and then sends it to their own search results pages – which are full of ads and links to other sites owned by the same entity that owns Ask.com.

Susan garnered the attention of Ask.com’s CEO Doug Leeds with her post. In fact, he wrote a rebuttal to Search Engine Land that was published yesterday.

Leeds claims that Ask.com is not engaging in arbitrage, but rather is “(providing) information from our own network of sites, or from around the web, that can answer (searcher’s) questions.”

Bullcrap.

I’ve long been tired of seeing Ask.com results clogging the PPC landscape. Instead of giving searchers the information they asked for, Ask ads take searchers to yet another search page – a terrible user experience that I can’t imagine Google is excited about if they really care about ad quality. (And that’s a topic for another post.)

So, I ran a couple searches. I decided to sidestep Google and try Bing instead. Here is the same search that Leeds performed in his rebuttal, on Bing:

bing SERP

 

You’ll notice that the ONLY ad at the top of the page is an Ask.com ad. And it’s a terrible ad. The whole premise of both the ad copy and sitelinks is, “Hey searcher, come to Ask.com to get answers to your questions!” Hey Ask.com, guess what? The searcher ALREADY ASKED A QUESTION! They want INFORMATION, not your crappy ads taking them to your crappy SERPs that do anything but answer the searcher’s questions.

(Not to mention the fact that the first ad on the right is an About.com ad – and About.com is owned by the same parent company as Ask.com, as Susan Waldes pointed out.)

Here’s the Ask.com landing page for that ad:

ask serp

I added the red box. What’s at the top of the page? Arbitrage ads! Ads that Ask.com is profiting from!

Let’s recap this process:

  • Ask.com buys ads on Bing
  • Ask’s ads take users to their crappy search engine results page
  • Users click on their ads
  • Ask makes money

What other possible goal could their Bing ads have but to drive profit from their own ads? Isn’t that the definition of search arbitrage?

In fact, look at the organic results on that Ask.com “landing page.” And look at the “ads” on the top right. All that stuff is driving traffic to Ask.com pages! Ask is taking their poor unsuspecting site visitors on a virtual wild goose chase through their various SERPs!

It’s kind of like voice mail hell – every option you choose just takes you to something else that still doesn’t answer your question. That’s the antithesis of a quality landing page, in my book.

What do you think? Is Ask.com the king of PPC arbitrage? Or are they justified in their actions? Is Doug Leeds admitting guilt with his rebuttal, or does he have a point? Share in the comments!

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