Mark Brandon is the Managing Partner of First Sustainable (http://www.firstsustainable.com), a registered investment advisory catering to socially responsible investors. In addition to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), he may opine on social venturing, microfinance, community investing, clean technology commercialization, sustainability public policy, green products, and, on occasion, University of Texas Longhorn sports.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ad-Sense and Overture Criminal Empire

This is a little off of my typical fare, but I have to get this off my chest. I am firmly convinced that Google and Yahoo are knowingly perpetuating criminal activity in their content networks.

As some of you know, I have a business promoting feed tools such as the ones in the right column. These tools aggregate the content of a blog community and containerize them. Other bloggers are displaying these tools, because they get to cross-promote their content throughout the community. The sponsors of the tool benefit by gaining pretty massive link popularity, which in turn, helps them gain on the search rankings. Info on this business is at http://www.viralinks.com.

Anyway, I've been running PPC campaigns on Google, Yahoo, and MSN. None of them deliver anything of value. Here's how I know.

I had a one-pixel image load with my home page, so I could know how long visitors were staying on the site. After noticing that scant few of the PPC visitors were staying, I had this pixel load 1 second after the home page loaded. This way, if the visitor did not load the pixel, then it would be clear to me that the visitor was not a real, human eyeball.

As it turned out, a full 86 percent of the visitors from both Yahoo and Google failed to load that pixel. It is apparent to me that the vast majority of the ad spending, accounting for several hundred dollars was fraudulent. There is no possible way that 86 percent of thsoe visitors don't stay longer than 1 second.

Noticing again that much of the traffic was originating in India, Moldova, and Hungary, I changed my settings for U.S. visitors only, and only natural search results. My click-throughs then plummeted to basically nothing.pn

I did not have the same results for MSN, but it's not because they do things honestly. I put up a campaign with the new MSN Search in its first week. Despite projecting 3,000 clicks per month, they have only been able to deliver 2-3 per week. I complained to MSN. They told me that those projections are only "meant to be a guide". However, they had no response when I pointed out that even their projection for the number of searches was off by 97 percent. I mean, I understand that click-throughs are imprecise. Search queries are a known factor. Three months later, even though I know for a fact they have hard data on the number of searches for the almost 500 terms I picked, they still advertise the much larger amount. Obviously, this is a ploy to get users to sign up for the first time.

The Search Engines have been scrambling to have the courts frame click fraud as "clicks originating from the same IP", but in fact, the clever fraudsters move past this technique a long time ago. Who can blame them for perpetuating this criminal enterprise? They have built billions of market valuation out of this model, even though it defrauds their customers. Just a hint that over half of their traffic was bogus would send their stock prices into freefall.

I, for one, will never engage in another PPC campaign. Natural search is the way to go. And, by the way, since I am in a position to shamelessly plug, the Viralinks system goes a long way to achieving this.

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