Many if not most search engine optimizers handle more than optimizing their clients’ websites. If there is any kind of search engine advertising campaign, SEOs help get that set up as well. After all, you’re already optimizing the site for particular keywords, and search engine marketing is keyword-based as well. Thus a recent change announced by Google AdWords will no doubt be of interest. I’ll also be covering some news related to an advertising practice that Google supposedly discourages, but makes the search engine a lot of money.
First, the AdWord news. It seems to be a reaction to the fact that people will search the web for different kinds of information. Sometimes you’re interested in finding who has the best price for that must-have item; other times you might want to find out the best way to treat poison ivy. The first type of query is commerce-related, while the second one isn’t.
Someone at Google figured out that the different nature of the queries might have an effect on how receptive the user making the query might be to seeing ads. The idea is that someone doing a search for information that is more educational — say “breast cancer” — might be less interested in seeing ads than someone doing a search for commercial information — say “car insurance.” If a user is less likely to click on ads, then there is little point in showing the ads; in fact, such users might find the ads annoying.
Coming to the sensible conclusion that relevance matters as much if not more for ads as it does for actual search results, Google decided to do something about this. As a result of this change, you might find that you have to make some changes to your AdWords ads to make sure your ads show up for certain keywords.
Basically, what Google says it will do is start displaying fewer ads for queries that are more non-commercial in nature, and more ads (up to its maximum of 11) for queries that are commercial in nature. A product manager for Google’s ongoing ads quality initiatives explained the rationale: “We believe that ads provide valuable information when they are highly relevant to what users wish to find — and that by showing high quality relevant ads, users will consider ads as a first choice when they’re searching for products and services. At the end of the day, our users benefit from relevant ads and our advertisers get more qualified leads over time.”
So how will Google accomplish this change to the number of ads displayed? It has to do with keyword matching options — specifically “broad match” and “phrase match.” As you know, if you apply broad match to your keyword matching options for when your ads will be displayed, your ads will come up whenever a user’s query contains your keywords, “in any order, and possibly along with other terms…including plurals and relevant variations,” according to Google’s AdWords help page. Broad match is the default option. Phrase match is only slightly more limiting; it will show your ads when a user puts in the exact phrase, in the order you specify, though it will still come up if there are other words in the query. So if your phrase is “tennis shoes,” Google would display your ad on a search for “red tennis shoes” but not “shoes for tennis.”
I’m mentioning these points because Google will be more conservative about these keyword matching options when it comes to displaying ads for education-related queries. To quote Google’s product manager, “If you notice a decline in impressions or clicks on some of your keywords, you may wish to ensure that your most important terms are each specifically entered as keywords in their own right, rather than relying on broad or phrase match to include them. Or, if you notice an unwanted increase in impressions or clicks for some keywords, consider adding negative keywords to more finely tune your targeting.”
I know that for some queries it’s obvious whether it’s mainly commercial or educational. But for others it’s not so clear, which leads me to wonder how Google plans to tell the difference on the fly. I remember a while back when the search engines were just starting to make searching more personalized, at least one of them — Yahoo, I think it was — came out with a sliding toolbar that you could adjust based on whether you wanted to see more commerce-related results or more educational-related results. I could see using the results from something like that; if you knew most people who put in particular keywords set the slider more towards information- or commerce-related results, you could start making predictions about other user queries. Google could still do it, obviously; the processing power it is bringing to bear behind this must be nothing short of incredible though.
Increasing the relevance of ads is not the only way that Google has been improving its advertising-based revenues lately. “The Washington Post” ran an article a few days ago about the money to be made in typosquatting. Typosquatting is when somebody buys a domain name that is very close to another company’s trademark, such as dearthlink.net.
Basically, the person who is typosquatting is trying to gain Internet traffic from someone else’s good name. If the owner of the trademark sues, or files for arbitration with the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), they can usually get the domain assigned to themselves. It’s illegal under trademark law. But typosquatting is widespread, and what people are doing with the domains has shifted thanks to search engine advertising affiliate networks (such as Google’s).
It works like this: about 15 percent of traffic to various domains is actually typed into the address bar these days, rather than being reached through a search engine or a bookmark. When somebody makes a typo, they end up at the purchased domain. The person who bought the domain might have “parked” it with a domain parking firm. The firm creates a placeholder site which it fills with ads from various Internet ad networks…such as Google’s. When web surfers come by the sites and click the ads, advertisers pay the search engine ad networks, and the networks pay the domain name owners. One would expect the domain name parking companies to collect a fee from the domain name owners for setting it all up.
The monetary risk to the typosquatting domain owners is minimal, with domains going for $6 or less. Indeed, a purchaser can drop a domain within five days and not even pay the fee. This gives them a few days to try out the domain with ads and see whether they’d get a return on their investment — if not, they simply drop the name. According to GoDaddy.com, there were 30 million domain names registered worldwide last month, and more than 90 percent were dropped.
Google claims it discourages this practice. Web addresses that violate trademarks are not allowed to use Google’s network; nor do its guidelines permit AdSense affiliates to set up web pages specifically for the display of ads, regardless of whether or not the page’s content is relevant to the ads. Nevertheless, many typoed domain names are apparently part of Google’s advertising network. The Washington Post article found 38 typos of Earthlink’s domain name parked at a Google-owned service that serves Google ads.
How does Google reconcile this practice with the fact that it seems to be violating its own guidelines? It doesn’t fit with Google’s “do no evil” motto. Then again, it’s hardly alone. Yahoo! runs a similar service.
Is there anything positive about typosquatting? Well, some typosquatters do link to the site that the searcher may have originally been trying to reach. And those who run domain name parking services claim that the pages work as alternatives to search engines, helping people to find what they’re looking for in among all those ads.
Typosquatters certainly make money from it. Ron Jackson, publisher of DNJournal.com which covers the domain name industry, said in an interview that “I know quite a few guys making over a million dollars a year from advertising on their domains…It’s like a 24-hour money-printing machine.” Granted, not all that money is being made by typosquatters, but with the possibly of that kind of revenue, it’s no wonder that the practice has become so pervasive.
And — let’s face it — the search engines make money from it too. No one is saying how much, but Google CEO Eric Schmidt admitted in an interview that “It’s a lot of money.” Analysts estimate that just under half of Google’s $6 billion in revenue last year came from affiliate advertising sites. No one knows how many of those sites are typosquatter domains, but if the number is significant, one can understand why it seems as if Google isn’t working too hard to get rid of this “problem.”