Partner Traffic from PPC Affiliate Programs: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


And now another instalment in our long-running “Where are the Customers’ Yachts?” series. If you’re interested to see just how a company slated for a massive IPO has chosen to conduct itself lately, read carefully. I don’t really like to dump on Google considering how far they’ve taken so many aspects of online search and advertising. But … well … read on. It wouldn’t be right to simply put a lid on it.

A bit ironic to pick tonight to bring this issue up, given that I’m seeing serious AdWords deployment on right now. That means it’s “bye bye Sprinks.” Good show. The site looks better already. Not that Sprinks didn’t have some redeeming qualities.

Anyway, onto the main event. Lately my increased fixation on raw referral data on paid clicks has shown me what amounts to a very old movie: streams of junk traffic from obviously low-quality partners. Some might call it fraud. In any case, it isn’t what I and my clients signed up for when we decided to pay for ad space, that’s for sure. This movie has been showing repeatedly since GoTo launched years ago.

My first wave of scrutiny tonight was at some traffic (600 clicks) on an admittedly untargeted query that I paid two cents for on one of the second-tier pay-per-click services. Second-tier or not, it’s a company who, by now, should know better. I shudder to even repeat the names of the terrible partners they’re sharing revenue with. So that’s the UGLY. Too ugly to bear tonight. I don’t want to make a scene. Let’s move on to a more serious discussion.

Google’s content-targeting reach has been increasing steadily, and you know what? There are some really pleasant conversion surprises there, especially when people are in “navigation mode” on well known sites.

Some of the types of “good” partner sites include:

Now for the bad. Google, you probably need to reassess what you’re doing partnering with some of these sites! Here are some of the “lower quality” content syndication partners I’m seeing in raw referral data tonight (paying north of 50 cents a click, FYI). If you happen to own one of these sites, bear in mind, I’m not passing judgment on you, just noting that your traffic isn’t the kind that I or any of my clients would likely want to pay for, questioning whether it’s actually sincere traffic, and, oh yeah, it doesn’t convert. We are watching you closely.

  • (Oh, I *really* can’t believe this one.)
  • (you’re kidding, right?)
  • (utterly ridiculous… a site that trumpets “get paid to surf the web” and yes! a genuine bona fide Google partner!)
  • (seem to be hiding their tricks behind a members-only area)
  • (another members-only area… and some mention of getting “paid to click.” argh, this is like deja vu all over again)
  • (this one is actually quite a nice site, and I don’t have any problem with it at all, except that the webmaster made a mistake in *announcing* the presence of the advertising and basically, without meaning to, inducing curiosity-seekers to click… this is why small-time sites are so often poor sources of traffic from AdWords… they almost *always* get too geeked by their participation in the AdSense program to hold their tongues, and in spite of Google’s TOS, come right out and blurt out stuff that induces their users to click indiscriminately)
  • (sigh)
  • Or how about this nice search, done at Google itself: [ “get paid to click””auto clicker” ]

A couple of things in Google’s favor. I’ve heard that they are cutting off smaller AdSense accounts right and left, in some cases for violating certain stipulations about how one is allowed to discuss the ad program on the site. Good. Now they should quicken the pace of those shutdowns, and while they’re at it, slow the pace of approvals. Many of the small fry should never have been approved in the first place. It’s really tough to imagine what Google was thinking here.

One more thing. The Google syndication URL’s that I can now see in referral data are very rich and transparent. Webmasters and designers of tracking software should increasingly be able to stay on top of which partners are converting, and which aren’t. So hats off to Google on that front as they seem to be tinkering with providing more disclosure & transparency relating to syndication partner traffic.

There’s a long way to go yet, but one remains hopeful that Google, Overture, and perhaps two or three of the other top providers of keyword-targeted ads will allow advertisers greater control over distribution in the future. When the “junk” gets weeded out, it’s amazing how conversion rates go up. No, let’s just come out and say it. Junk we can deal with. It’s the daily helping of fraud that really sticks in the craw.

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