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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Think You’re Cut Out for Being A PPC Manager? Take This Quiz

So you wanna be a PPC manager. Do you think you can bring the goods? Here’s a quiz to see if you’re cut out for PPC:

1. You’ve run into a problem on the job that has you stumped. You:
a. Ask your boss for help
b. Look up the answer online
c. Move on – it’s probably not that big of a deal

2. You’re reading a book or article and you see a word or phrase that’s new to you. You’re not sure what it means. You:
a. Keep reading, making a note to ask someone about it later
b. Stop reading and dig out your smartphone to search for more information
c. Who has time to read?

3. At the weekly staff meeting, the boss announces that the entire office is being remodeled and all the desks will be moved around, creating a new seating arrangement. You:
a. Go along with it, but cringe inside at the thought of sitting next to people you don’t know well
b. Embrace the change, even though it may be challenging at first
c. Complain! Who needs the disruption of yet another office move?

4. You’re having trouble finding the answer to problem you were working on in Question 1. You:
a. Keep doggedly running Google searches in hopes of eventually finding the answer
b. Go to an online forum, discussion board, or Twitter and ask your question there
c. Fuhgeddaboudit

5. You’re talking to a colleague who doesn’t know a lot about your job, and they’re asking a lot of questions. You:
a. Answer them as quickly as you can
b. Patiently explain the concept in layman’s terms, pausing to check for understanding
c. Tell them to ask someone else

6. You’re at an amusement park with your best friend. He or she is bugging you to ride the latest thrill ride. You:
a. Hesitate, feeling the need to research the ride first
b. Run ahead to get in line for the ride
c. Tell him or her no thanks, it’s not your type of ride

7. Your boss has given you a new assignment, something you haven’t done before. You:
a. Ask a lot of questions, and check in with the boss daily for reassurance
b. Map out a plan, get the boss’s ok, and run with it from there
c. Ask the boss to assign the work to someone else

If you answered mostly B, congratulations! You’re ideally suited to be a PPC manager. The best PPC managers love to dig for the solutions to tricky challenges. They are constantly hungry for learning something new, and aren’t afraid to test it out on their own PPC account. They persist until they find out why performance has fallen off. They embrace change – let’s face it, PPC is a daily dose of something new! They love a new challenge and taking risks. And they’re patient, because most people don’t understand PPC. Whether you work in an agency or in-house, you’re going to have to explain what you do on a regular basis. And good PPC managers know when to ask for help, turning to the fantastic PPC community for help.

If you didn’t score well, don’t despair! You’ve just identified the areas you’ll need to work on in order to succeed as a PPC manager. (Although if you chose mostly C’s, you might want to consider an alternate career path.)

What about you? What traits do you look for when hiring new PPC managers? What do you still need to work on? What’s your favorite aspect of being a PPC manager? Share in the comments!

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5 Resources For Mobile PPC

Recently, I had the pleasure of appearing on my good friend David Szetela’s recently revived podcast, PPC Rockstars. We chatted about many things: my band geekiness, speculation on Google’s upcoming April 22 annoucement, and much more. You can check out the episode in the Webmaster Radio archives here (it should be live later today).

We talked a lot about mobile PPC and what advertisers should be doing with mobile. Listen to the episode for many of our expert tips. Here are a few additional resources that you can use to help you on your journey to mobile PPC success.

Generating Local Business Beyond the Click on Web Marketing Today. I wrote this piece geared toward small local businesses who think PPC is too expensive or too expansive for their business. Yes, local businesses can succeed with PPC! This article will show you how.

5 Critical Factors for Optimized Mobile PPC Targeting by Joe Kerschbaum over at Search Engine Watch. Joe offers a rundown of best practices for any mobile PPC advertiser.

B2B Search: It’s Time To Go Mobile by me, again at Search Engine Watch. I’ve found that many B2B advertiser have been slow to embrace mobile. This article talks about why B2B needs to get on board with mobile PPC.

Do Mobile PPC Ads Even Work? by Dan Shewan at WordStream. This info-packed post, complete with awesome screenshots and illustrations, shows exactly how to get your mobile ads to perform well.

If you haven’t gotten on the mobile PPC train yet, these articles are your ticket!

What about you? What are your favorite tips and success stories for mobile PPC? Share in the comments!

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The History of PPC

Once in a while, it’s good to look back on where we came from. I didn’t start out in PPC – in fact it didn’t exist when I started working. My PPC career began in 2002 when Google announced the CPC version of Adwords.

But the history of PPC, surprisingly, doesn’t start with Google. It started with GoTo back in the late 1990s. GoTo turned into Overture, and then Yahoo bought them in 2003.

Recently, some of us on PPCchat started a new hashtag, #ppctbt. It’s an homage to Throwback Thursday, but specifically related to the history of PPC. It’s been fun to reminisce about all the retro PPC engines that aren’t around anymore: FindWhat, LookSmart, Kanoodle, Enhance, and many more.

Back in the day, when I did in-house SEM and CPCs were a lot lower, I tested so many of these early engines. We tested FindWhat (so-so), LookSmart (decent), Kanoodle (not good), Enhance (pretty bad), Findology (not good, although shockingly, they still exist – which I didn’t realize until today!), and Quigo (which wasn’t bad, although time-consuming to manage).

It’s so funny to look at that list and realize that I was actually able to manage all of those engines and not lose my mind! Although, if you think about it, today isn’t that different. We just have Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn instead of Kanoodle and FindWhat.

In those early days of history, PPC was so new that there was only a small group of professionals doing it. We hung out on search forums like IHelpYou, Search Engine Watch, and High Rankings, sharing tips and asking questions. In those days, I learned so much from Danny Sullivan, Andrew Goodman, Jill Whalen, Brad Geddes, Kevin Lee – and many others who’ve since left the SEM field.

It’s interesting to look back and see how much the space has changed. We didn’t have Twitter in 2002; in fact, the Search Engine Watch forums didn’t exist in 2002, and SES had just started (I’m still getting used to calling it ClickZ Live, folks). Few blog posts on PPC strategy existed. We learned by trial and error. It was great!

Lest I sound too much like PPC Moses, I’ll just say that it’s fun to see the industry evolve. PPC is both easier and harder than it used to be: easier, because the engines have improved so much usability-wise; and harder, because the competition is so fierce. 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of paying more than $2-$3 per click; now, $20-$30 CPCs are common.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s been a great ride so far!

What about you? What do you remember about the history of PPC? When did you get your start? Share in the comments, or on Twitter using #ppctbt – you don’t have to wait till Thursday to chime in!

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Google Guest Blogging Smackdown: Lessons Learned

This week, the SEO world was rocked when Google slapped a penalty on MyBlogGuest, a guest blogging network. The news shocked many who felt that MyBlogGuest was running a reputable content marketing and sharing service. I’ve been acquainted with Ann Smarty, the owner of MyBlogGuest, for years, and have followed her in social media. Everything she was doing seemed above-board – until the penalty brought that into question. (I still think she did nothing wrong, but Google begs to differ.)

Then yesterday, Google put the beatdown on Portent, a SEM firm based in Seattle. This news was even more surprising – I’ve been acquainted with Portent’s work for some time, and I count their PPC director, Elizabeth Marsten, as a friend. Their company does much more than SEO, and yet they were penalized. Mind-boggling.

I’m confident that both of these organizations will emerge from the fray stronger than before. Still, it’s a lesson we should all take to heart:

Don’t put all your eggs in the Google basket.

I’ve talked to several business owners over the years who were getting 90% or more of their business from Google, often from organic listings. Then suddenly, a Google update hits, and their business vanishes. Or they were using Adwords and doing fine, and then their sales tanked. While I never enjoy hearing these stories, I always wonder about the soundness of counting on one entity for most of your business leads.

In investing, the rule of thumb is to diversify your portfolio. Smart investment advisors will tell you that it’s never a good idea to invest all your savings in one place (Enron, anyone?).

PPC and SEM are no different. At a minimum, I recommend using both Google and Bing for PPC. Performance often varies widely, and Bing is frequently cheaper than Google. So if your Google results tank, hopefully Bing can keep you going until you figure out what’s wrong.

And that’s why businesses should use an integrated approach to marketing. Advertising in multiple channels, investing in landing page optimization, and measuring success are crucial components to long-term success in online marketing.

What do you think about the recent Google penalties? Too harsh, too soft, just right? What baskets do you put your online marketing dollars in? Share in the comments!

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