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.”
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:
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:
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!