We have a client with a campaign on Google adwords (keyword content and some retargeting) with a goal of a free trial sign-up on their product. The product is a straightforward legit offering from an industry leader. The product does quite well in other channels like Facebook and Twitter, but has struggled on the Adwords display network. The campaign exhibited a very high CTR for display in excess of .20% , but a very low conversion rate almost at .1%. The high CTR was not enough to overcome the super low conversion rate in this case. In looking at the campaign there were 70,000 clicks and 34 million impressions so a really good sample size to dig into and dig we did.
The first thing we did was run a site report and see where these clicks were coming from in the campaign. The campaign had both image ads (banners) and text ads. As we poured through the sites we saw a trend of sites with very very high CTR and rarely any conversions. So then we started the tedious task of looking at each site to see what the content of the site was and if there were any patterns.
Very quickly a trend developed. The sites were in large part content sites that tended to be dominated by one particular format.
Here is the basic make-up
1. A content page containing a slideshow of visuals or a thumbnail with a top 10 list call out
2. The slideshow typically would have images.
3. The slide show is surrounded by ads and usually in a place above the fold there is a Google ad with an arrow in it. Magazine
4. The arrow or button to actually advance the slideshow is at times below the fold and not as prominent as the arrow in the ads.
5. The ads at times have no border so they blend in with many of the pages.
6. The ads at times are very unclear as to what they are actually advertising.
Site after site, after site after site it was the same thing, slide show with Google arrow ads. These exist both in desktop and mobile and on mobile its even worse as the arrow in ads even more prominent and more clicky.
We started to add these sites to our various block lists and then we called Google. We explained what we found to a Google rep and at first they told us that these were not Google ads, but ads that had been modified by the publisher. We found that hard to believe all these sites perhaps over 100 were running modified ads breaking Google T & Cs? After several calls and some Googling we started to learn that the ads were an ad called a “Magazine ads” and they are essentially a text ad served in an image display position and modified to have an arrow. We were told that is is a beta product that apparently you are auto opted in to. This answer is just the last one we got and may or may not be correct, but we are 99% sure they are Google ads.
So we asked “don’t you think this is click baiting?” putting an ad with and arrow near content that requires an arrow to advance? No real answer here and we were told it was an adsense issue and we could report each site. Our position was that we did not want to report sites that the prevention of click baiting is Googles’ job and that the sites were very very easy to find. You simply run a site report and look for high CTR of text ads and Voila you have these ads by the fist full.
So in order to understand what effect these ad units had on our client we asked Google for a report on how many they ran and what the performance was for them. It was at this time we were told there is no reporting available. ( still an active request as we know they have this data)
In reviewing this issue it seemed like either the publishers are somehow placing this ad type near this type of content or the placement is algorithmic. The fact is these ads seem to get very high CTRs and the adwords model is CPC may indicate the latter.
So you ask what is wrong with this? Well if you are a publisher being paid on clicks perhaps its great. If you play in the ecosystem of content marketing and traffic monetization this is perfect. If you have some type of impulse product where all you need is traffic and you will sell X% fine!!! Where is does not work is for people like us who have clients and brands with products that need quality clicks. Quality clicks mean the people clicked on the ad because they were interested in it and not by mistake or by some gimmick. It does two very bad things for us 1) the obvious which is we pay for clicks that are never ever going to convert. 2) it makes it very very hard for us to use Adwords because the algorithm is set to clicks and therefore these junk clicks fog what is really going never allowing us to get our ads in front of our real audience. They never let us get the scale of conversion that would allow us to even use campaign optimizer. They are a disaster for us.
For Google I am not sure why they allow this or as it seems promote this? It may mean the business of real human clicks albeit mistake clicks is bigger then clicks of people interested in ads. It may mean the brand and direct response clicks is not a big of a business as the publisher traffic ecosystem of content clicks ” top 10 celebrity wardrobe malfunctions”.
Here is another thing our clients tend to require content approval of ads. It was frightening to learn that without our knowledge Google was physically modifying our ads by adding an arrow.
So what did we do.
1. We did submit some of the sites that do this to adsense. Now remember when you do this with Google you never get any feedback as to what Google did about it. To date we have not seen any of the sites we reported change their presentation of these ads.
2. We requested a report on how many of these ads ran on our clients account and what the performance was for them. Clearly if it is in beta and Google is monitoring it the reporting exists.
3. We added every site we found to a block list.
4. We stopped running text ads all together for a period of time.
5. We have appealed to Google to investigate the situation and consider ending this practice.
6. We asked to be removed from the beta.
So you be the judge is this practice click baiting? Agencies and brands take a look at your clicks and where they are coming from and look for this behavior you may be paying for bad clicks!!!