Competing for good search ad placement is hard enough when everyone goes by the book. It’s much harder when your competitors write their own chapters.
Look at the experience of Arthur Ilasco, Director, Acquisition Marketing, LetsTalk.com, an ecommerce site for cellular phones and service. About six months ago, he and his team noticed that some of the landing pages and shopping carts for their search competitors showed cosmetic differences only.
“We were seeing a strategy of competitors using smaller affiliates to corner certain keywords,” he says.
These companies use the same content to get multiple ads in a search result. Sometimes, they’ll create a shell-brand to double their ads; other times, they’ll team up with an affiliate, Ilasco says.
Delivering identical content to searchers is against policy at most search networks -- but it’s difficult to catch every violator. Ilasco and his team probed on their own and reported violators to their account reps. After a few months of providing evidence, some networks started removing the ads. Now Ilasco’s search CPC is down as much as 20% for some keywords. But it seems like a continuous fight.
“It’s sort of a ‘whack-a-mole’; find a new site, here’s another one, and just sort of reporting them as they come along,” he says.
Here are the strategies Ilasco uses to uncover these sites, spot red flags, and report them to search networks.Search Networks Viewpoint
Duplicate search ad landing pages pull networks in two directions:Direction #1:
Search engines want to provide a good ‘search experience’. Eliminating duplicate content can get users their information faster and make engines more efficient. Most search engines want to know when ads are delivering the same information to their users. Direction #2:
A greater number of ads creates more competition and higher keyword bids. That can make the search engines more money in the short term.
Those two directions pose a conflict of interest, Ilasco says. Some networks are more proactive in removing the sites than others. That could be a sign of limited resources or a limited desire to police the ads.
Ilasco advertises on four search networks and has seen duplicate landing pages on all of them: Google, Yahoo!, MSN and Ask.com.
o Violates policy
Most major search networks have policies against serving duplicate content on landing pages (see hotlinks below). But it is not clear where “similar” landing pages are deemed “duplicate.”
o Fighting back
Dave Frame, CMO, LetsTalk.com, says that the search engines have been increasingly proactive in cleaning up the space. Other marketers, however, are not happy with the efforts of any of the major search engines and say that it can be difficult to get them to pay attention--particularly if you have a smaller account. (See tips below for reporting to the engines and getting attention.)
Kristen Wareham, Director Corporate Communications, Yahoo!, says they typically remove duplicate results when they become aware of them.
Sarah Tran, Global Communications & Public Affairs, Google, says that Google has “manual and automated processes in place to detect and enforce [their] AdWords policies.” She provided a link to Google’s policy on “double-serving” of ads.
Ask.com declined to comment; MSN did not responded to queries.
o Few consequences
The penalty for double-served ads is minimal across the networks, Ilasco says. One of the sites gets removed and “it just continues to happen,” he says.
“There’s no real consequence other than having to continue to create these other co-brands and just having them trying to corner certain keywords.”
o Small in scope
The impact of double-served ads can depend on the size and competition of your search advertising market. Larger categories with more competition will likely see less impact on CPC bid prices. Niche categories with less competition, or marketers targeting long-tail three-word phrases, could see more of an impact on bid prices. Those in the latter category should be more vigilant in monitoring their competitors’ ads.
“We don’t see this as a growing trend; we believe violations of this policy are relatively limited,” Wareham says.Finding and Fighting Duplicate Sites
Search engines remove duplicate landing pages, but some still fall through the cracks. You should be making sure that none is boosting your ad spend.Red flags
Identifying which sites are selling products using the same information and shopping carts is very obvious, Ilasco says. Here are some red flags:
o Identical content
Identical content for a product’s features and usage shows up on both landing pages. The product or the page may look different, but the core content is the same.
Both sites offer nearly identical pricing.
o Shopping cart
The landing pages link to very similar shopping carts. There may be a change in color or logo on the page, but nothing else is much different.
“It all basically funnels through the same shopping cart. It might have a different logo, it might have different colors. But when it comes down to purchasing the phone, it’s the exact same shopping cart except for the logo. It’s one and the same page,” Ilasco says.
o Website terms and conditions
Some companies overlook changing their terms and conditions. Look for identical language and references to the same holding company.Assign a role
Ilasco does not have a person assigned specifically to identify nearly-duplicate sites. Instead, his search managers are responsible for the task.
If you find that these sites are a problem for your company, however, it is important to assign the responsibility of fighting them to a person on your team. Otherwise, the issue can be swept under the rug.Stay vigilant
Ilasco notices these sites popping up regularly. As one site is taken down, another takes its place to work with the same competitor. Steady vigilance is required to fight the problem and keep your CPCs down.Keep the moral high ground
Make sure your search strategies are squeaky clean before you start complaining to the networks about the competition. Your tactics will be scrutinized as well. Don’t dabble in any tactic that could cost you the moral high ground; it will be difficult to convince an account rep to fight for your cause.
Ilasco uses affiliates to help sell phones. He says he makes sure that their teams are not engaging in any questionable practices as well.Reporting to the Networks
A search network will take down a duplicate site depending on its policies and your account rep, Ilasco says. Some reps are more cooperative and will help argue your case internally. Others aren’t as supportive.
The best way to fight duplicate sites is to continue to identify them and pass on the information to your account reps. Send them:
o Time and date you noticed the problem
o Search terms and keywords
o Screenshots of the search results, landing pages and shopping carts
o URLs of all relevant pages
Be persistent. Marketers report varying levels of success in getting duplicate ads removed by search engines.
It’s important to follow up with your contacts at the search engines. Ask for their opinion on the potential violation you’ve identified. Bring new information or evidence to their attention as you uncover it. Useful links related to this article:
Special Report: Online Keyword Research Guide: 5 Tips & 9 Useful Tools
7 No-Cost SEO Tools to Help You Increase Your Website Traffic
Yahoo!: Search marketing editorial guidelines: Duplication of results http://help.yahoo.com/l/us/yahoo/ysm/sps/start/editorial/du
Google: AdWords help center: Double-serving policy
MSN: Microsoft AdCenter editorial guidelines
Ask: Sponsored Listings editorial guidelines