Archive for August, 2007

What do parked domains have to do with your ad dollars?

Last April Leslie Walker and Brian Krebs of the Seattle Times published a piece about Google’s use of parked domains to promote their own ads. The piece, titled Typed too fast? Google profits from your typo tells a disturbing tale about how Google is profiting from possible trademark infringement and advertiser ignorance.

So why am I posting about an article that is over a year old? Well, in June 2007 Google made a brand new report available to Adwords advertisers. The Placement Performance report provides more transparency to advertisers who are opted into the content network. The report allows you to see many of the URLs/domains where your ads appear so you can analyze performance by site, and opt-out of domains that don’t convert well.

What a great idea! Finally we can see exactly where our ads are appearing without having to sift through pages and pages of web analytics reports!

Well, actually…no. The report often raises more questions than it answers because Google masks certain domains by grouping them into the categories of Domain Ads, error pages and other.  What is a Domain Ad? It’s an ad that appears on a parked domain.

Okay, so what’s a parked domain? Per Google:

A parked domain site is an undeveloped webpage belonging to a domain name registrar or domain name holder. Our AdSense for domains program places targeted AdWords ads on parked domain sites that are part of the Google Network.

How do people get to parked domains?

Users are brought to parked domain sites when they enter the URL of an undeveloped webpage in a browser’s address bar. On these pages, users will see ads that are relevant to their search query. In addition, some parked domain sites include a search box, which allows users to further refine their search.

Why would anyone want to own a parked domain that only contains Google ads, and how can this practice earn someone (and Google) a lot of money? I didn’t actually ask this question of Google, but the Seattle Times’ article I referenced above answers these questions pretty well.

In short, it is a fast growing business practice for people and/or companies to buy huge quantities of domain names using popular trademarked terms which are mispelled (e.g., so that when you typed the misspelled term into your browser, you get to the parked domain “site” and are greeted with a list of paid links courtesty of Google, Yahoo or whoever else happens to be selling text ads.

I have a few problems with my clients’ ads appearing on parked domains.

  1. In my experience, traffic coming from parked domains doesn’t convert…at all. I assume that’s because if you trick people into clicking on an ad that they don’t know is an ad, they really don’t represent high quality consumers and shouldn’t have ever been directed to your Web site in the first place.
  2. The whole setup is very spammy and stinks of trademark infringement. If you are getting rich from someone else’s hard-earned trademark, then you’re bound to piss that someone off which could translate into legal woes down the road. Also, it probably doesn’t behoove the trademark owner to be associated with crappy web sites filled with spammy links. I know if I were Oprah, I’d be mad.
  3. There isn’t transparency when it comes to what parked domains your ad appears on and advertisers don’t yet have the ability to opt out of this feature when they run content ads. Okay, so Google owns its network and if you want to advertise with them, you have to play by their rules (yadda yadda yadda). Still, I can’t help wonder how many small advertisers don’t realize that their ads are appearing on parked domains.

The thing is, as a media planner AND search marketer, I want my clients’ campaigns to work. I love the idea of experimenting with content ads, but not if it means that I’m forced to appear on parked domains that are nothing more than spammy money-making machines that mislead consumers and drain an advertisers’ budget.

This isn’t free money, folks. My solution to the problem is to opt out of content-targeting until there is either full disclosure on what domains are running my clients’ ads or advertisers have the ability to opt-out of domain advertising.

I’m sure I can’t be the only one who has come to this conclusion, which will likely have repercussions for everyone across the entire Adsense/Adwords food chain. And, over the long term, it could have serious repercussions for Google’s revenue stream.






2 comments August 30th, 2007

Leveraging Google’s Content Network

For the majority of Google advertisers who are not professional SEMs or don’t work with a search marketing professional in some capacity or other, Google’s content network remains a mystery. It is a tantalizing way to get more volume for a campaign, but conversions are inevitably lower (often MUCH lower) than ads on the search network, and click volume can be extremely high which translates into big bucks.

Understanding what Web sites are opted into Google’s content network (e.g., display Google ads) is the first step in creating order out of the chaos. For example, today MediaPost reported that will be continuing its partnership with Google Adsense and opening up its extensive inventory to all advertisers. The official press release about the agreement can be found on Google’s site.

Google is notoriously tight-lipped about the sites in the content network. However, they will occasionally announce partnerships like the one with in order to dangle the carrot of high-quality traffic in front of their many Adwords advertisers.

The possibility of getting your ad on a top tier Web site such as CNN is definitely a compelling reason to opt into the content network, but before you launch a content-targeted campaign on Google and let it rip, there are a few things you should know.

First of all, in a content-targeted campaign you can’t actually choose the sites your ad appears on. You can only do this with a site-targeted campaign. What’s the difference?

  • A site-targeted campaign is created at the campaign level (in the campaign-summary tab within Adwords) and runs on an impression-based cost model (e.g., cost per thousand impressions or CPM). That means you get charged for every 1000 ad impressions whether or not someone actually clicks on your ad. Even though you can set your CPM via a bidding system, this can still get pretty expensive.
  • A content-targeted campaign can only be set up as a keyword-targeted campaign. That is, there is no separate content-targeting campaign setup option within Adwords. So, after you’ve created your keyword-targeted campaign, you’ll need to opt out of the Google and partner search network and opt into the content network, which can be done at the campaign level. Clear as mud?

So how can you refine your content-targeted campaign so that your ads show up on high quality sites only? Well, it’s not entirely possible to eliminate all poor-performing sites, but you can certainly eliminate a lot by adding a list of URLs where you don’t want your ads to appear.

First create a content-only campaign based on your top performing keywords. You can do this easily using Google’s Adwords Editor which allows you to copy an entire campaign and clone it in about three seconds. Creating content-only campaigns also gives you complete control over ad messaging, which should be different from keyword-targeted ads since user motivation is different with content-targeted ads.

Then get a list of sites that are currently running Google ads. To do this you can create a site-targeted campaign (but remember, don’t launch it or you’ll pay on a CPM, not a CPC basis). 

  1. First, log in to Adwords - it can’t be done from the Adwords Editor.
  2. From the Campaign Summary page select “create a site-targeted campaign”
  3. When you get to the “Target Your Ad” page select “List URLs” This is the good part! You can search for specific Web sites that are showing ads in the content-network if you’re curious to see who’s partnered with Google by typing in a specific URL. For example, when I typed in, Google showed me a list of similar sites displaying Google ads including,, and many more.
  4. If you want to see what sites might display your ads within the content network, then paste the keywords your targeting into appropriate field and see what comes up. When I typed in a short list of SEM-related keywords I came up with a list of very low-traffic Web sites and/or competitor sites. I saved this list to a spreadsheet and went back to my content-targeted campaign to add them as negative URLs (this can be done by selecting Tools/Site Exclusion in the Adwords console.

I have one more trick up my sleeve for weeding out poor-performing sites in a content-targeted campaign. Run a Placement Report report on your campaign. This report lists some sites where your ad appears in the content network and if you’re tracking conversions through Adwords, you can see the best performing sites and eliminate the sites that don’t convert. This report is limited in that it doesn’t disclose all the URLs, but instead lists things like “Domain Ads” or “Other” as this post on SE Roundtable explains.

The key point of this extremely long post is that you can definitely benefit from Google’s high-profile content partnerships if you implement some optimization strategies, but they’re not necessarily going to make it easy for you to do this on a cost per click basis. My advice is to test, review results, weed out poorly performing sites and test some more. You might also consider running a site-targeted campaign on select Tier one sites to gauge performance – just be sure to watch the spend closely and (did I mention) test, test test!





Add comment August 29th, 2007

Goole (I left off the last “g” for GREED)

I noticed an interesting Google Adwords alert when I logged into one of my client’s accounts this morning. Per Google:

“Coming Soon: Improvement to the Top Ad Placement Formula
In a few weeks, we’ll improve how ads get promoted to top positions above Google search results, giving you greater control over the placement of your highest quality ads.”

This caught my attention, so I surfed over to the Google Adwords Blog to see if there was more info about this, and of course there was. I was startled to read this explanation about the planned change:

“With this new formula, instead of considering your actual CPC, we’ll consider your maximum CPC bid, which you control. This means that your ad’s eligibility to be promoted is no longer dependent on the bids of advertisers below you. Therefore, if you have a high quality ad, you now have more control to achieve a top position by increasing your maximum CPC.”

You have more control? Oh Goodie! All you need to do is raise your maximum bid! But hang on, if you’re confused about how this is different from what you’ve already been doing, then read on.

Well, the main crux of the change will be focused on an advertiser’s maximum bid determining an ad’s eligibility to be in the TOP 2-3 positions. In other words, those ads that appear just below the search field and the ones that tend to get the most clicks. It seems that the maximum bid an advertiser must set in order to gain a position in this coveted space is going to be arbitrarily determined by Google. Hmmm.

Currently your ad’s position is not entirely dependent on your actual CPC being higher than everyone else who is bidding on your keyword but your maximum bid must be higher. Still, while maximum bid and average cost per click for a keyword do play a role in ad positioning, Google also factors quality score into the equation so that higher quality ads (essentially ads with a higher clickthrough rate) can appear in the top search results,  even though the better-positioned advertiser may be paying less per click than someone who is in a lower position.

This gives an obvious edge to well-known brands who (for example) may set their maximum bid to $10.00 but in actuality are paying just pennies a click for a top spot because their CTR is likely very high compared with other advertisers (for example, competitors who may be bidding on the brand term to try to divert visitors to their own site).

A post on Tillson Consulting’s blog titled, “New Adwords Formula: Better quality or more profit?” explains the issue very well. It’s like someone at Google saw a loophole and said, “We’ve got advertisers setting max. bids to $10.00/click and we’re only charging them .50/click for the top spot. How can we close this gap?”

Is this wrong? I don’t know. Publishers and media properties have been setting the price of top ad spots for decades, so why should Google be any different? They are charging premium prices for the premium positions. Still, it strikes me as dishonest that Google is claiming this is an improvement on their quality score formula. On the contrary, it will likely force advertisers with high quality and limited budgets out of the game completely. It’s no longer a fair playing field when only those with deep pockets get to participate.

Addendum: Okay, so maybe I’m misunderstanding the new rules here. A post on Search Engine Land by Barry Schwartz states that quality is actually going to have a larger influence on the maximum bid threshold than CPC. Barry also explains that the actual CPC shouldn’t change, even if the maximum bid is increased as long as the quality score is high. However, I think this move of focusing on maximum bids will still force the actual CPC higher as advertisers with lower quality scores attempt to keep their ads in the top spots, thereby forcing even the high-quality advertisers to pay higher a higher CPC.

Add comment August 9th, 2007


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