It seems no matter how hard advertisers try, they can never seem to evade the financial damage caused by search arbitrage. As one loop hole is closed, another loophole appears. The search engines continue to not to offer full transparency or the tools to root out the violators that are making a mint doing nothing more than flipping unqualified or less qualified traffic.
One issue that is consistently present is how product comparison engines that carry Google search ads are able to drive traffic on service offering. Given that these product comparison engines don’t present services in their product comparison results, how do they get the traffic? Organic search is obviously out the door. Paid search is low volume bottom feeding. Where are they getting the traffic?
Interestingly, we are now seeing traffic generation occurring through unsolicited commercial email on a cost-per-action/revenue sharing basis. Take for instance the unsolicited email received that I received below at my Hotmail account. The email below was sent to me was from Short Key Solutions, an affiliate marketer with whom I have no relationship with and given it is my personal email account, no permission was ever granted.
To understand how this works, you simply need to follow the link hops to see what companies are involved. In the example here, we find the following tracking URL: http://bookmeat.info/cubivisbhh4qdsh8. As we follow the hops, we see the traffic trails through Short Key Solutions over to AdKnowledge and then on to its final destination at ValueClick’s Smarter.com.
We then reach the final destination at Smarter.com that simply presents us with a list of ads from Google. While I believe that traffic received from product comparison engines is typically high quality, this is one of the instances where question marks arise because the ads are not meant to be contextual to the main content…they are the content.
Its important to note that if you follow the hops at different times of the day from the starting point URL, you can see different players involved throughout the day and the week. At different stages of evaluation, we also found AdKnowledge partnered with a company called SearchNext.com. In these situations, we found redirects to final resting spots that included Suggest.com and DoTellAll.com.
Here is some documentation of the traffic behavior:
Again, note that because these are redirects, the links can change at any time based on those involved changing the redirect destinations in their systems. We’ve detailed screenshots here because the final landing spots continue to change and new end recipients keep appearing. The switch appears to occur at AdKnowledge as they pare out traffic to those seeking traffic to these pages. We can only surmise this is the result of limited budgets and willingness to pay by the end recipients of traffic.
So who are the bad guys? Is it Suggest.com and DoTellAll.com for partnering with SearchNext.com? Is it SearchNext.com or Smarter.com for partnering with AdKnowledge? Is it AdKnowledge for allowing an affiliate to utilize unsolicited email? The answer is none of these companies are to blame because they are all working within guidelines set forth by Google. The company at fault here is Google for not enforcing stricter standards.
Google continues to make half steps forward to unveiling the true demons underlying the non-transparent system, but does so while minding the chinging of the cash register. While Yahoo made the ethical steps to allow specific reporting details down to the partner level in January, Google continues to protect its search partner network by keeping performance details aggregated so that quality performance from the likes of AOL and Ask.com can buffer the bad stuff we aren’t allowed to see.
If you want the Google search network, you got to take it all or nothing. You don’t get to choose the sites within. Also, if you want the Google search network, you can’t separate it from Google proper. You have to set your bids with Google proper included so that the partners get a premium price too. While Google ensures us they charge us accordingly, why should we buy this when they refuse to give transparency?
Its time for Google to finally step to the podium and give use transparency and choice as Advertisers. If we don’t want the search arbitraged flipped traffic from Smarter.com, we should be able to not accept this without havingt to reject AOL and Ask.com traffic as well. If we want to pay a different price for the Smarter.com given their marketing practices in generating traffic, we should be allowed that option as well.
At the end of the day, we still want that Smarter.com traffic, we just don’t want to pay a premium for something that isn’t premium. The balls in your court Google. Its time to show your advertisers you care as much about their financial performance as you do your own.