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 reportÂ allows you to see many ofÂ 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.Â 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.Â 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., opra.com) 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.
- 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.
- The whole setup is very spammy and stinks of trademark infringement. If you are getting rich fromÂ someone else’s hard-earned trademark, then you’re bound to piss that someone off which could translate into legal woes down the road.Â Also,Â it probably doesn’tÂ 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.
- 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,Â I want my clients’Â campaigns to work.Â 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 haveÂ 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.
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2 comments August 30th, 2007