Posted by: Marshall Sponder | April 7, 2008

My Comscore’s Google Moment and Paid Click Data discovery

Comscore hit onto something when it reported on Why Google’s surprising paid click data are less surprising as reported from their qSearch product (this is data I can’t get in Comscore’s Core Reports because it’s not in it):

“..The most puzzling data element is that Google’s U.S. paid clicks dropped sequentially by 7%, while, at the same time, its total number of search queries grew by 9%.”

“..The drop in paid clicks becomes even more puzzling when it is normalized on a per query basis: The number of paid clicks per search query drops by 16% in one month! The corresponding metric for the rest of the market drops by 4%.”

“…the percent of all queries that have at least one paid ad. This index dropped by 8% for Google, going from 52% to 48%. In addition, even when a query result page contained at least one paid ad link, the paid click rate, defined as the average number of clicks per such an ad supported query, declined by another 8%, going from .24 to .22..”

I think I know what happened – it’s sorta a synthesis of a few different things:

  1. Google using Landing Page Quality Scores to devalue properties that don’t adhere to their guidelines (which may often be “fuzzy”).
  2. Paid Links that transfer Page Rank, when found on publisher’s pages (those running AdSense) are taken out of the index or dropped to a level where they don’t rank for Organic at all – this is what happened, I believe to Know More Media’s network, which my webmetricsguru.com blog is part of.
  3. The softening Economy has played a part, people just aren’t as much in the market to buy things online when they are worried about their jobs or losing their homes – and many homeowners have been affected by the Sub-Prime Mortgage Meltdown – and many of those are not thinking about buying stuff on AdWords or AdSense. Since Google has most of the Paid Market, I believe they have the most to lose than Yahoo, MSN or anyone else.
  4. As mentioned in the Comscore press release – there are less pages come up now with ads on them due to changes at the Google backend to filter out what it considers to be riff-raff ads and sites – that has had the net effect, of lowering the number of clicks on paid advertising while at the same time the number of overall searches actually increased (see below).

Figure 1 shows the trend in these two metrics over a one year period. The graph illustrates two time periods where both measures declined together: first from January ‘07 to May ‘07, and then from December ‘07 to January ‘08. The remainder of the year was essentially flat.

According to Comscore – which makes sense to me:

“..The reduced supply, as well as the higher minimum bids, contributes to an increase in the price per paid click, which is what helps counteract the slowdown in the absolute number of paid clicks. Therefore, Google’s revenue will not necessarily suffer from this. In fact, Google wins by providing more relevant ads for consumers and a less cluttered ad environment for marketers.”

Which sorta suggest that Google decided to take a loss in clicks on ads in order to increase quality because they were afraid there was so much click fraud and complaints on the quality of the ads. On the other hand, they may have been too aggressive and raked in many sites and considered them spammy or bad experiences when they weren’t really – and that has gotten a lot of people upset – me, included.

However, I don’t have any problem with what Google did here – just the fact they don’t have a human being you can call up when you need to and get an authoritative answer to work on a ticket with – perhaps these changes were needed, after all – so that people don’t totally get fed up with Paid Search Ads that don’t deliver or sucky landing pages.

There just needs to be the addition of customer service – perhaps VOIP and a LivePerson or Google Chat session can start with someone at Google that can direct you to why sites are being penalized – and how to correct the problem for THAT SITE.

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