Tag Archives: AdWords

Content Killer

Good piece by Publishing 2.0 » (Google Is Killing the Economics of Content) on how Google’s AdSense is killing the internet by driving the creation of sites that exist solely to squeeze money from AdSense. Here’s how it works in brief, based on Robert Weisman’s piece in The Boston Globe :

A company amasses hundreds of thousands of Internet domain names — and not just silly names, but ones like photography.com, bookstore.com, or jobfinder.com — and then puts a few links on it that look like content but aren’t (new term: “content-light”) . Users go there by typing in the name (rather than searching on Google, as many users apparently do; another new term: “direct navigation”) and then click on AdSense links on the site. As Scott Karp puts it:

The sites were talking about here are NOT about content and they are NOT about serving web users in any meaningful way — they exist for one purpose — pay-per-click ad revenue. …

Why bother with the expense of creating content? Google certainly doesn’t care. And the advertisers dumping billions of dollars into AdWords and similar ad networks don’t seem to care where their ads appear. It’s all about the click.

Companies involved: NameMedia, Marchex. According to alarm:clock, which monitors new tech ventures, NameMedia has acquired a leading domain reseller, BuyDomains, GoldKey, and dozens of smaller domain collections over the last year to create a portfolio of more than million domain names. It was formerly called YesDirect, and claims to have more than 25 million visitors a month.

Apple and Google AdWords

Further to my piece about Apple going after web sites using “iPod” somewhere in their name, is the company Apple going after third party developers using Google AdWords? A piece in TidBITS (“Apple Cracks Down on Google AdWords”) paints a worrying picture of trademark protection gone mad:

some recent unsettling events indicate that Apple may in fact be moving in the direction of preventing third-parties from using Apple trademarks in advertising. Last week, I received a confusing email message from Google AdWords Support, telling me that they had “disapproved” several of the ads I placed for “Take Control of Mac OS X Backups” because the ads used the trademarked term “Mac” in their text (there was no complaint about the fact that I was using “Mac” as one of the keywords that triggered my ads).

It’s a good piece, and errs on the side of caution as to Apple’s motives (suggesting it may be some over eager legal eagle.) But I do worry about this kind of thing. The developers of third party products for Apple have been instrumental in the company’s success, and this kind of misstep will damage their appetite to continue. Also, the non-response to this article by Apple PR is a familiar story and a disappointment. Contrary to what some folk have written I’m a huge fan of Apple’s products, but that’s not the point here. Every company needs to reach some basic standard of transparency and accountability, however great the stuff they put out.

Does Google Bar Adwords That Compete With Gmail?

Google has removed an adword on its search engine placed by a competitor to its Gmail service.

AlienCamel, an Australia-based email service (full disclosure: I use the service), applied to have the word ‘webmail’, along with several others, inserted into the ‘sponsored links’ section of Google’s search pages when people entered the search ‘webmail’. After initially accepting the ad, AlienCamel’s Sydney Low says, it was removed without explanation. Other keywords — white list, virus, spam, spamming etc were accepted. “It’s so arbitrary,” Low says.

(Low says an ad for the keyword ‘gmail’ was also rejected out of hand; this could be explained as a trademark issue, though Low points out that Google has stated that it will not adjudicate trademark issues. But I won’t get into that here.)

Any search for ‘webmail’ on Google throws up only one ad for —– Gmail. Google decline to comment on specific cases, but a spokesman replied to my query about the ‘webmail’ query thus:

As you may know, Google AdWords ads have a performance threshold to ensure relevance and protect the user experience and help advertisers get the best return from their advertising spend. That is, if an ad doesn’t receive a minimum click-through rate it is disabled. Again, I can’t comment on specifics but this often happens with general keywords like “webmail”. The advertisers has the option to revise keywords or ad text to continue to run.

In other words, if the advertiser is not getting enough clickthroughs from an ad, Google suspends it. But apparently, without telling them. But even if this were the real reason, is it true in AlienCamel’s case? No, says Syd Low: “They ran my ad on 1 day, between June 8th and 14th, gave it 841 impressions and then killed the ad.” The ad got one clickthrough on that day. Not great, but not awful in the first day. His point: he’d like to see how many click throughs the Gmail ad for the same keyword got. “I bet you it wasn’t any better. My point is that they are negatively favouring their own ads and not applying their own policies.

I would have agree that Google’s answer seems lame. Can it be that no one — AlienCamel aside — wants to advertise on the word ‘webmail’, or if they did, that they can get enough clickthroughs from it to justify the cost? Even the words ‘web mail’ hav some sponsors — I get five on my Hong Kong-directed Google search, three from Hong Kong itself, one Google and another more global. And if this is the correct explanation, why wasn’t AlienCamel told? (At time of posting they have not received any answer to their request for explanation.)

Given that the adword ‘webmail’ does not fall into any of the categories that Google lists as unacceptable content, and it does not constitute a trademark term, which might otherwise have explained Google’s removal of the term, one might be forgiven for suspecting that Google is using its position to elbow out potential competitors to a parallel service it offers. I think Google owes AlienCamel, and us, a better explanation.

Gmail, Gator and Spam

Gmail: Better than spam?  

ClickZ reports that an interesting side effect of Google’s new ad-supported email application, Gmail, are contextual ads from competitors. “Because the contextual ads are targeted based on e-mail message content, as determined by Google’s technology, commercial messages are the ones most likely to trigger ads. That’s because they’re most likely to contain commercial product or brand names, for which Google’s AdWords advertisers frequently buy keywords,” writes ClickZ’s Pamela Parker.

A recent newsletter from fashion vendor Neiman Marcus, for example, triggered ads with the headlines “Kate Spade Handbags,” “Ferragamo at Neoluxury” and “Prada Handbags.” Listings were for BizRate.com, Neoluxury.com and FinestDesigners.com, respectively. Interestingly, all of these must have been triggered purely by the subject line — “Salvatore Ferragamo: Shop the spring collection of shoes, handbags, and more” – since the email content was in the form of pictures, “none of which display by default in the Gmail client,” says ClickZ. What’s more, in a default view in Gmail, a reader would only see the competitors’ ads unless they selected to display external images.

The ClickZ article — itself entitled “Gmail: The Next Gator?” — suggests the situation is “akin to the kind of competitive pop-up ads that have generated controversy (and legal action) for Claria, the renamed company that fires its own ads to users, blotting out those designed to be there by a website’s creator.

What’s interesting here is that, tied in with Google’s recent decision to allow advertisers to bid on trademarked keywords they don’t own, you could see “a message from Banana Republic (for example), simply because of its subject line, trigger ads from J. Crew, Eddie Bauer and the like”.

I haven’t mulled over all the consequences of this, but I don’t see it as exactly similar to Gator. An email newsletter is not facing the obliteration or alteration of its message, design and website integrity in the same way a Gatored website is. But I can see a couple of other possible outcomes:

  • Google’s Gmail suddenly makes a whole lot more commercial sense. Marketers can reach into your inbox more effectively than any spammer. If I sold Gucci handbags, for example, all I have to do is buy ads for every competing brand of fashion handbag and I could be sure that my ads would reach every Gmail account holder interested in the subject, because they’re bound at some point to write about it in an email, or receive an email on it, either from a friend or a supplier;
  • I would imagine this would prod marketing newsletters to move to RSS quite quickly. There they can be a little more confident, for now, that their ‘message’ is not diluted by by contextual ads.

I think this will be more relevant than the discussion about privacy. End users might be quite happy to get contextual ads alongside their handbag newsletter. But they might be more alarmed if they see contextual ads for psychiatric help if they get an email from a friend describing how they went ‘crazy’ on Saturday night, or, more seriously, ads for cancer treatment if they discuss how a family member is coping with his prostate. When does contextual advertising go beyond ‘well targeted’ to become ‘scarily intrusive’?

The Pay Per Click Scam

Is the whole pay-per-click industry swamped by fraud?

WebProWorld says that Michael Bradley, recently arrested for trying to extort money from Google, is a wake up call to the PPC industry. He claimed to have developed software that would automatically click on Google ads, potentially costing both Google and their advertisers millions of dollars. (Here’s more on Bradley and his Google Clique software from InternetNews and SEOBook.)

As WPW point out, this could be just the tip of an iceberg, both in terms of what is already out there, and what could be out there. While it’s by no means clear how widespread it is, but the potential is strong: Why would companies want to pay for ads if they’re not convinced real people are clicking on them?

And if that happened — or if it’s already happened — what would happen to online advertising?