Recently we were called in to investigate a PPC account that had been migrated from Yahoo Search Marketing to Microsoft adCenter. Since moving to adCenter, the account experienced a significant drop in ROI. They were still getting plenty of clicks but those clicks weren’t converting, which was badly hammering their cost-per-acquisition.
The company sells Christmas decorations from their website. They have an excellent web analytics tool that can track individual incoming visitors (which Google Analytics does not do) so it didn’t take us long to spot quite a number of paid clicks that spent almost no time on the site. We looked at the referring URLs to see where the ads were appearing that sent these visitors and discovered something very interesting about Microsoft adCenter PPC that’s potentially costing advertisers some real money.
In a moment, we’re going to explain what is occurring and tell you how to fix it if it is happening to you. This affects advertisers using adCenter as well as those who previously used Yahoo Search Marketing, because YSM is now managed through adCenter. There are some similar issues with AdWords but we won’t cover them in this article.
First some background. Most people use Google AdWords or Microsoft adCenter because they want their ads to appear in the search engine results pages. Advertisers use AdWords to show up on Google and use adCenter to place ads in the Bing and Yahoo search results. These platforms allow you to run ads on contextually-related websites, known as the Content or Display network. Those networks can be a good way to expand your reach, if (and it’s a big if) you’re really careful and know what you’re doing.
The company whose campaigns we were investigating had a Yahoo account that had recently been migrated to adCenter. When we scrutinized their web analytics, we learned that some of their paid clicks had come from sites including these below:
Take a look at a couple of them. You’ll notice there’s a Christmas feel to many of these sites, which is all very well and good, but where is the content? Click through some of the links and you’ll see it’s nothing but paid ads. Experienced Internet travelers will recognize these as “parked domains”.
Google allows advertisers to opt out of parked domains via a checkbox at the Campaign level. The checkbox is set to allow ads to show on parked domains by default, but that’s another matter. In adCenter, however, you won’t find an opt-out checkbox at the Campaign level.
Instead, you have to drill down to the adgroup level to fix this. There, you will find a “Change Settings” link. Click it and you’ll see:
Here’s where you control ad distribution, but it says your ads are appearing on the Search network, not the Content network. Huh?? How can this be?
The answer is that many parked domains have little “search” boxes on them. Microsoft adCenter classifies them as “syndicated search partners.” Sounds pretty classy until you go look at the sites and the quality of the traffic they are sending to your landing page. (If you are advertising on the Content network or Display network, you should be keeping a vigilant eye on the referring paid sites. But you know that already, right?)
How do you fix this? Click the blue Edit link to open this dialog:
Then click the SECOND button labeled “Only Bing and Yahoo websites” and be sure to click the [Save] button at the bottom of the page. Now repeat for each adgroup you’re running. Done? Congratulations! You’ve eliminated parked domains from your advertising mix. Now go have a beer because you’ve taken care of a problem that probably 99% of the people spending money on adCenter don’t even know exists.