Sausage or Bratwurst?

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Jeffrey Rohrs was a speaker at the Chicago Search Engine Strategies conference last year when he got a bright idea. Actually, he was losing sleep so he blogged. Out came “The Sausage Manifesto.”

The issue is pay-per-click fraud. It’s become a big deal among advertisers on Google, Yahoo and other search engines. In a nutshell, it goes like this: Rich people spend a lot of money on these ads. Sometimes, their competition, or random nefarious bad guys, will click the ads on the search pages – or wherever they appear – for the sole purpose of driving up the ad costs of the advertisers in an attempt to break their banks – or just irritate the bejesus out of them. Another form of click fraud is when one of the bad guys sets up a website with Google AdSense ads on it and pays someone to click the ads so they can get the revenue from that effort. In the end, it doesn’t hurt the search engines – they make money. It does hurt the advertisers because they end up spending money on clicks that aren’t valid. The problem is, no one can define what exactly is a valid click.

Jim Hedger at SiteProNews usually is pretty good about shedding light on such issues. He ran an article on Rohrs in today’s issue. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a lot out of that article, an unusual disappointment. But he does make the following statement:

The search engines themselves tend to downplay issues associated with click fraud at one point suggesting that outright fraud accounts for only one half of one percent of all click activity. If that estimate was in fact true, why would so many people think click fraud is a problem?

Bear in mind that pay-per-click advertising is a billion dollar industry. Some advertisers pay millions of dollars every year to advertise their products and services. One half of one percent may not seem like much but if there is $1 billion of PPC money changing hands in a single year then we’re talking about $50 million – in fraud money. That’s a lot of dough.

Hedger follows that paragraph with this one:

Every problem has a solution and, since most problems can be traced back to differing perceptions, perhaps the solution to the multiple issues presented by the current pay per click model could come from clearer communications.

Hedger hits the nail on the head with this one. The pay-per-click issue is a matter of differing perceptions. And there does need to be more open communications. This is at the heart of Rohr’s Sausage Manifesto. He’s asking for more communication and his point, well taken, is that Google – nor any of the other search engines – are providing it.

While Rohrs makes some salient points, he also makes a few statements that are a bit off the cuff. Of course, I understand all of this was off the top of his head. Perhaps a little more thought into his 11 points would be in order. Otherwise, he could spark more sarcasm from bloggers like the author of the Bratwurst Defense.

Here’s a sample from Rohr’s manifesto and the Bratwurst response:

We understand that conversion tracking is our responsibility to implement and monitor. However, even if we’re watching our conversion rates, please understand that we may not be able to identify fraudulent clicks due to market realities.

Case in point, the holiday season when many of our conversion rates spike. That natural spike in conversion rate can provide cover for fraudulent click activities. Accordingly, please don’t promote your “free” conversion tracking tools like they are a click fraud panacea. We all know that the issue is far more complicated than that.

  1. Tracking alone is not the answer – Yes, but you’re willing to pay for the clicks even though I don’t even give you the number of conversions in a default view. It’s easier to make you dig for it, or better yet – get tired of digging and get back to stuffing your face with the sausage.

Quite frankly, I feel like Rorin does in some sense. Just shut up and eat your sausage. All of the chatter about how this person ripped me off and that person ripped me off is just noise. PPC advertisers are the ones who created the buzz about the advertising model in the first place. The search engines supply the service, but it was the advertisers who created the demand and fed the beast. Now they’re complaining that the sausage tastes bad? Perhaps if you hadn’t rushed in so fast the search engines could have developed some of those demands and built them into the service model as they progressed along the PPC path over time. But that’s not the way it happened.

Do you really expect search engines to build a “click quality education resource center?” What would that solve? It might just add more to the confusion. Create more questions, which click quality teams would have to spend more time on to answer and to which people like Rohrs would get upset over and fire back with more questions.

PPC advertisers have to understand that there is no perfect model of advertising. Off line, advertisers do not always see positive results. Newspapers, television and radio advertising providers do not have ad quality education resource centers. If an advertiser pays for a television ad that is ineffective, they do not call the television station and complain of ad abuse, or if they do they are laughed at.

Most advertising is ineffective. That’s a fact. Some advertisers complain about click fraud when their ads produce click-throughs but their websites don’t make the conversion. That isn’t click fraud. That’s ineffective sales copy on your website. Some legitimate click-throughs are called fraud when clickers click-through then immediately back out of a site. It isn’t necessarily fraud. Maybe the person visited the site, didn’t like what they saw and left. It happens. That’s not fraud. But that’s not to say fraud doesn’t exist.

Search engines are afraid that if they talk too much about this issue they may be forced to tell everyone their algorithmic secrets. It’s a valid concern. But if PPC advertisers stop advertising until the search engines play fair, then they will listen. After all, you have to hit them in the pocketbook if you want action. Otherwise, we could all just be staring each other in the face and squawking like birds come this time in 2027. Can’t we all just sit down and talk about this peacefully?

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