Google Goes Ctrl - Alt - Delete
Three major events took place on, at, or around Google last week any one of which could radically change the company and its relationships with its users, advertisers, and ad delivery partners. Two of the events will have long lasting effects - the first being Google's look and operation and the second directly affecting the public's perception of Google as a trustworthy company.
Chronologically, the events started last Monday with the introduction of the new-look and feel of Google Universal. The same day, Google began the process of cleaning up its paid advertising program AdWords by terminating thousands of poorly performing "Made For AdSense" sites, a process that seemed to pick up speed as the week progressed. The week closed with the premature leak of information from the Fair Isaac Corporation's ongoing study of billable clíck-fraud rates.
The last event, the leak of preliminary information from Fair Isaac, is likely the best place to begin an explanation because it (the tone of the report) is arguably the primary causal reason for the other two. It is as if Google suddenly understands the depth of the public relations problems it is going to be facing going into the second half of 2007 and is making very public moves to deal with the root causes of those problems.
Google's Greatest Problem
Early last Friday morning a press release left the offices of the Fair Isaac Corporation. The press release stated that Fair Isaac had been conducting a study on billable clíck fraud rates at Google and had found 10 – 15 % of all billed clicks to a small sampling of accounts had stemmed from invalid activity. Naturally both the tech and mainstream media made an enormous issue of the news with virtually every important business or tech section mentioning the story.
By Saturday, the dust had settled and writers began taking a second, less euphoric look at the story. As Kevin Newcomb in Search Engine Watch wrote,
"Media reports (including Search Engine Watch's) saying Fair Isaac Corp. (FIC) reported industry-wide clíck fraud at 10 to 15 percent are not accurate. FIC decided to put out a press release and speak at its user conference about data that was extremely preliminary, based on a small sample size, and not statistically significant."
What happened and why was it an important event?
The significance of the media's reaction to the Fair Isaac report is the media's reaction itself. Within minutes of the release being issued, stories began appearing in Associated Press, Information Week, the Wall St. Journal and in other major publications. Though Kevin is correct in chastising himself and his colleagues (including me) for jumping the gun on the story, that so many of us feel there is a story about clíck fraud is in itself the story.
Readers have to understand how difficult it is for reporters to write about clíck fraud as there is very little corroborating evidence outside the information we ferret out of advertisers who complain to us about their experiences. Google and Yahoo are not known to be forthcoming with information surrounding their pay-per-click programs. Journalists rely on third-parties such as Clíck Forensics, ClickFacts other analytic companies (in this case, Fair Isaac) to supply us with information which in turn we supply to you the readers.
The numbers that came out of the Fair Isaac press release generally jive with those of Clíck Forensics and the index maintained by the Clíck Fraud Network which estimated a 14.8% clíck fraud rate at the end of the first quarter of 2007. Hundreds of other writers simultaneously experienced the same low-watt, light-bulb moment I did, hoping that Fair Isaac had provided a solid set of numbers to speculate from.
Unfortunately, as Kevin wrote, it was simply speculation but, the event did point out a gaping hole in Google's corporate awning. The press is clearly prepared to expect a 10 – 15% clíck fraud rate, as evidenced by the breakneck speed the story made from wire to writing to print. Perhaps that is the biggest reason for the second important event from last week.
Google to Close Low-Yield MFA Accounts
Google is sending closure notices to owners of low conversion "Made For AdSense" (MFA) sites. On Friday afternoon, reports that Google issued polite emails informing several owners of MFA type sites that their AdSense accounts are going to be terminated on June 1 began surfacing at WebmasterWorld.
Google is targeting a large group of people who use the AdSense system to scam monëy from advertisers. Some reports have suggested Google is going after the paid-search arbitrage community though others point out that though many (if not most) arbitragers are going to be affected they themselves were not the actual issue Google is dealing with.
Google is moving to close what are called "MFA" sites. Examples of MFA sites include parked domains, misspellings and faux-search engines, all of which tend to have AdSense advertising on them. When users go to or are somehow driven to those sites, those who clíck on the ads make the site owner (and Google) a little monëy. Though clicks on these sites might only be worth 5 – 10 cents, the Internet allows MFA site owners to run businesses based on huge volumes of purchased and misdirected visitors. On average, MFA site owners make a few hundred per month on their sites though in some cases, site owners can be making tens of thousands of dollars per month.
Obviously, this use of the AdWords and AdSense programs were far healthier for the MFA site owners (and Google's bottom line), than they were for advertisers or Internet users. For most, the halcyon days of MFA are over and those webmasters will have to adapt to the new rules surrounding ad distribution through the AdSense program.
As for Google, if cleaning up the system makes advertisers more comfortable over the long-run, it makes far more sense for Google to forgo what is to them a relatively minor revenue source in order to create a more stable advertising environment. Assuming Google successfully removes MFA sites from its system, it will have moved a long way towards cleaning up a highly lucrative arena for clíck fraud.
The third and perhaps most interesting thing Google did last week was the introduction of the Google Universal results. In a nutshell, Google Universal is about tying many of the multiple search indexes Google maintains into one coherent set of results.
Google literally has over a dozen types of search result available, depending on the type of search each user conducts. Google Universal is their first major attempt to bind all search types into an overarching set of results.
A good contemporary example might be the recent recall of pet foods across North America . This is a topic of extreme interest to pet owners, one that has received a high level of attention from news, governmental and consumer organizations. A search conducted for "pet food recall" might bring up results from general search, news, YouTube videos, radio reports, shopping search results, etc... Under Google's old system, a user would have to perform specialty searches to find information kept outside of Google's general search results. Google Universal should change that by bringing other file formats into what the user will perceive as the general search results.
Google Universal is probably the biggest change made to Google results since the introduction of paid advertising five years ago. The move was made by Google to present a wider array of file types to users. It is a logical change that will have sweeping effects throughout the search marketing industry. SiteProNews will carry fuller coverage of Google Universal later this week.
Last week was one of the most significant and startling weeks in Google's history. From an outsider's perspective, it appears Google is taking serious action to improve its services on several fronts. Its greatest weakness is the specter of clíck fraud, as evidenced by the speed at which the media bit the hook dangled by the Fair Isaac press release. It is prepared to forgo revenues in order to clean up its system and is working to integrate richer media into its general search results. Any one of the three stories could have provided months worth of material for writers in the search marketing space. Together, they provide a clearer indication of Google's greatest fears and best intentions. This is likely to be another interesting week watching Google.
22 June 2007
Search marketing expert Jim Hedger is one of the most prolific writers in the search sector with articles appearing in numerous search related websites and newsletters, including SiteProNews, Search Engine Journal, ISEDB.com, and Search Engine Guide.
He is currently Senior Editor for the Jayde Online news sources SEO-News and SiteProNews. You can also find additional tips and news on webmaster and SEO topics by Jim at the SiteProNews blog.
Articles on Google Matters:
Google Analytics - Tracking The Success Of Your Website
How successful is your website? Do you really know how well it is performing for your business?
Many website owners make the mistake of thinking that the more traffíc they get to their website the better, and they work towards this end. It is better to focus efforts on bringing in targeted traffíc that will convert to salës or enquiries. To understand more correctly how well a website is performing, and who is visiting the website, a good website statistics package is required, as well as an understanding of the data these website reports produce.
With many website hostíng packages frëe, website statistics are available. However, the information is not always easy to understand or doesn't always give you the information in a way that is easy to understand.
Google Analytics is a great application that Google provides absolutely frëe. It tracks all activity on your website, not just visits through Google. All you need is a Google Account, and FTP access to your website to insert a small amount of code in your website, and away you go. If you don't already have a Google account, I encourage you to set one up as soon as possible! You can do so at: https://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount . Not only will you have access to Google Analytics, but having a Google account gives you a whole host of other tools.
As a start, it is a good idea to find out how many visitors are coming to your website. Visitors are broken down into new and returning visitors. While it is great to attract new visitors to your site, you should aim to see a decent percentage of returning visitors as well, as this gives a good indication that people find your site interesting enough to come back to.
Depth of Visit
How many pages are viewed during a visit to your website?
Length of Visit
How much time do visitors spend on your website? If they are spending very little time on your site when you have an information-rich site, then you need to start looking at the navigational report to find out where you are losing them.
The Keywords that people are finding your website through, are a good indication of what keywords are performing well for you in the search engines. Are the keywords that are displaying for you truly reflective of what you offër? If not, then it is time to revamp the content on your website.
Which referrals drive the highest quality traffíc? This report lists activity coming via referrals from other websites. This is useful for tracking links that you cannot control. You can gauge the overall effectiveness and importance of PR activities, partnerships, etc. The referrals are compared to the number of visits, page views per visit, conversion rates and average value per visit.
Which navigation paths resulted in conversions during the visit? For each navigation path, this report shows conversion rates and the value per visit.
From which pages do visitors commonly exit your site? This report shows the number of exits from pages on your site. If you notice a high number of exits for specific pages, it is time to seriously analyze these pages and try to improve them, because it is very likely that people are not getting the information they expect or want.
Arguably this is one of the most important pieces of information. Conversion data gives you a true understanding of how successful your site really is.
Conversional goals can be set up through your Analytics settings. Take time to think about what goals you want to track. These may be salës or web enquiries you are receiving, or specific pages in your website that you want to focus on. Keep in mind that if your visitor contacts you by telephone or fax, this will not be reflected in the goal conversions. However, you can set your contact page as being a goal to get a feel for how many people are looking for your contact details.
By monitoring the changes in conversion rates for your primary goals, you can monitor the overall effectiveness of website changes, marketing roll-outs and other events.
Organic vs Pay-Per-Clíck comparison
How does paid search compare with organic search in driving high quality traffíc to my site? This report compares paid and organic referrals with respect to number of visits, page views per visit, conversion rates and average visit value.
Throughout the report it gives you the ability to track your website statistics between various date ranges. At this time it only allows you to see a maximum of a month's data at a time. The reports also allow you to compare data, so you can find out how your site is tracking against a previous date period.
The current Beta which is just in the process of being released, provides a lot more flexibility, and one of the most exciting things about the new version is that it allows you to schedule reports, daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. This is great news as it makes the process of accessing your website reports even easier.
Google Analytics Features
There are many other features that Google Analytics offers, and it is worth spending the time having a good look at them and trying to understand what they have to offër you. Alternatively, speak to your webmaster or SEO specialist and get them to help you understand how Google Analytics can help improve your website performance. By having a better understanding of it, you can potentially íncrease your profíts significantly.
When you analyze the data from your website statistics with the intention of improving your site, or getting a good indication of how your site is performing, it is important that you have a decent snapshot of the data to work from, i.e. make sure that you are not making assumptions based on the data of a single day, as trends vary over time, and even from day-to-day. IMPORTANT- nevër become complacent! Make sure you review your website reports at least weekly or monthly--if not daily--to make sure that your website is performing to your expectations.
03 June 2007
Andrew Seidel is the Director of Quantum Web Solutions, specialising in web site design and web site promotion .
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