Posts

Are You Paying for Ads on Parked Domains?

ParkingPeople who place ads through AdWords or Microsoft adCenter typically do so primarily because they want the chance to bring someone who has typed a relevant search query into Google, Yahoo or Bing to their website. What is not so well known is that roughly half of the money that is spent on AdWords or adCenter goes for clicks on ads that do not appear on search results pages, but instead appear on other websites.

AdWords and adCenter show ads on these non-search websites by default unless this feature is manually disabled. This approach, known as Contextual PPC, provides many more opportunities for ads to be seen and clicked than if they just appeared on search results pages, so it drives substantial revenue for Google and Microsoft, gives advertisers greater exposure, and helps website publishers monetize their content.

Savvy advertisers have known for years that managing profitable PPC campaigns takes experience, attention to detail and a lot of work. This is true whether your ads appear on search results or contextual sites or both. Note that contextual PPC is not necessarily bad. Indeed, it provides an avenue for industry and demographic targeting that search PPC cannot match, so it can be more profitable than search in some situations. However, it opens the door to many ways for click budgets to be wasted.

Parked Domains are one of those ways and are perhaps the most obvious. This list of Frequently Asked Questions is designed to help you understand the problem of Parked Domains and what to do about them.

Parked Domain FAQ

What is a Parked Domain?

A Parked Domain is a registered domain name that does not have an actual website associated with it.

What do you see when you visit a Parked Domain?

Years ago, you’d typically see a notice that the site was “under construction” or that the domain name was already reserved. You might see a notice that the domain name was for sale. Today, most Parked Domains show PPC ads and little else.

Who places PPC ads on Parked Domains?

Some companies buy thousands of domain names in the hope of someday selling them for a profit. While they are waiting for sales, they try to monetize those properties by enabling the placement of PPC ads on them. Individuals often buy domains with the intent to put up a site, but while the domain is in “limbo” the domain name registrar will typically plaster the site with ads.

Why are Parked Domains a problem for PPC advertisers?

In general, people land on Parked Domains by accident, for example, by misspelling a legitimate domain name. Sometimes, they will click on an ad just to try to get off the site quickly. As a result, most clicks from Parked Domains are a waste of money. We have found that advertisers whose ads appear on Parked Domains are almost always making other mistakes as well – mistakes that cost them money.

Why do Google and Microsoft allow PPC ads to appear on Parked Domains?

They get paid for every click.

How many Parked Domains are there?

Millions.

Can I prevent my ads from appearing on Parked Domains by disabling the Display Network (AdWords) or Content Network (adCenter)?

Not entirely. While that used to work, many savvy domain parkers have implemented a search box on the pages of their parked domains. Typing a keyword into the search box displays additional ads triggered by that search query. Typically, if a parked domain has a search box, it is classified as a Search Network partner, not a Display Network or Content Network site. So disabling Parked Domains does not block your ads from appearing on Parked Domains that have a Search box.

Does disabling both Content/Display and Search Network prevent my ads from showing on Parked Domains?

If you do it properly, then yes, but you’re also giving up all of the exposure of free ad impressions and the opportunity to purchase high-value clicks outside of Search.

How do I disable my ads from showing on networks that include Parked Domains?

Obviously, you need to be able to log in to your AdWords or adCenter account. Disabling Parked Domains is done in Campaign Settings in AdWords and in Ad Group Settings in adCenter. However, be careful, the language is confusing, especially on adCenter. You should read our blog post called How To Avoid the Microsoft AdCenter Parked Domain Landmine to see examples of parked domain sites and to get step-by-step instructions.

What if I need help?

Contact us to discuss your situation. We manage hundreds of thousands of dollars in Pay-per-Click advertising per month on behalf of our clients. We’ve been eliminating fraud and abuse in PPC campaigns for years, and we can help you significantly improve the efficiency of your PPC campaigns too. We’re typically available Monday – Friday from 9am – 5pm Eastern Time at the number / email below. Or simply submit the form located here (no cost or obligation) and we’ll get in touch with you.

Phone: 978-482-0131 (Direct)

Email: info@market-vantage.com

How to Stop Competitors from Clicking Your PPC Ads

mouse-clickThere are various types of click fraud in online advertising. One form involves competitors clicking on your Pay Per Click ads. They do this to waste your budget on worthless clicks, discouraging you from continuing to advertise online. With typical per-click charges ranging from a few dollars to tens of dollars, it doesn’t take long to burn someone’s daily budget and take their ads off the air.

While both Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter claim to refund charges for “suspicious” clicks, we have seen instances where consistent clicking by competitors has required manual requests for refunds. Both platforms allow IP address blocking of ads. Let’s review how this works to understand what can (and can’t) be accomplished with IP address blocking.

Every device browsing the web presents an IP address (for example 102.205.23.7) detectable by the site they are visiting. If you’re at home or work for a small company, your IP address is probably assigned dynamically (changes from time to time) by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). If you work for a medium to large company, your IP address might be a static (unchanging) IP that’s assigned to your company. If you’re on a network, your router assigns IP addresses to all internally connected devices. These “local” IPs typically begin with 192.168 and are generally not visible to the outside world. But all of these devices will present the same IP address to external sites.

A free and easy way to see what IP address you are presenting to the outside world is to visit the website www.whatismyip.com.

Not only does every user connected to the Internet have an IP address, but every website has an IP address as well. Some websites have a unique, dedicated IP address, but it’s also common to find multiple websites sharing one IP address because website hosting is typically cheaper with a shared IP address.

Larger companies are more likely to have one static IP address or an IP address range and host their own website. In this case, you can perform a reverse-lookup of the website to determine its IP address and then block this IP address in your AdWords or adCenter account. Once that’s done, if the people in that company present the same IP address as the website, then they will not see your ads. Of course, if they can’t see them, they can’t click on them.

Many companies do not host their own websites. For example, here at Market Vantage, we host our site with a large web hosting company called Hostgator. Our site does have a dedicated IP address, 192.254.236.190. If you type this IP address into your browser, you will see our website come up. But if you block this IP address in your AdWords or adCenter account, we will still see your ads because our company uses a local ISP and we present a completely different IP address when we’re surfing the web or sending email. You would need to block our ISP-assigned IP address in AdWords and adCenter to block us from seeing your ads.

Unfortunately, while there are reverse lookup tools that can give you the IP address of a website, for example, http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp, determining the network IP address of a company is not so easy. If you receive an email from a person within the company, you can find their IP address in the expanded header of their email. Their IP address is also readable by your webserver when they visit your site, including when they visit your site via an ad click. But anyone who takes their laptop to Starbucks or the public library will temporarily be assigned a completely different IP address.

While it would be nice to preemptively block all possible fraudulent clicks, we have found that the most effective way to use IP address blocking against unwanted clicks requires that you first detect repeated unwanted clicks. Most of your competitors probably won’t be engaging in this form of sabotage anyway, so blocking your ads from all of them is a waste of time. You need to block the repeat offenders. If you have the right tool, this is fairly easy to do.

You can subscribe to a service like Adometry. You can also use a general-purpose web analytics tool that reports on individual visitors. Note that Google Analytics does not do this and therefore is of no use in detecting fraudulent clicks from competitors. IVA, on the other hand, does provide click fraud detection. It will send you an email detailing the suspicious activity after a user-definable threshold (for example, 3 or more clicks) has been exceeded. You can simply forward this email to a Google or Microsoft account rep to request a refund.

IVA-Click-Fraud-150X209To view a demo of IVA’s click fraud detection, visit our Web Analytics page and click the link for the “demo of IVA Web Analytics.” Then in the left menu, under Campaigns, choose Click Fraud > Repeat Clicks. This tool offers a rich assortment of ways to be alerted for various suspicious activity via email or on-screen reports.

Both will show you the IP address of the offender. Copy that IP address and paste it into the exclusion list on AdWords or adCenter and you can sleep better knowing that your money will henceforth be going toward bringing prospects, not competitors, to your website.

 

How to Avoid the Microsoft adCenter Parked Domain Landmine

 

Recently we were called in to investigate a PPC account that had been migrated from YahooLandmine4 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:

http://www.cotoncolors.com/Christmas_Ornaments.htm

http://xmasaisle.net/index.php

http://procraft.com/search.php

http://www8.megasearch.biz/search.aspx?g=072C5653-8167-459F-ACA7-542850A696ED

http://myxmastoday.net/index.php

http://www.christmas.com/search.php?d=christmas.com

http://christmastrees.com/index.php

http://www.christmasandco.com/Personalized_Ornaments.cfm

http://wwwgiftsforyounow.com/display.cfm

http://angelornament.net/Ornaments.cfmx

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:

adcenter_ad_group_settings

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.