All About Content

Are Behavioral/Interest-Based Ads More Relevant?

Posted by Melanie Phung on Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at 11:01 pm

With the new buzz about AdSense going the route of behavioral targeting (or “interest-based advertising” in Google-speak), I felt a strange sense of deja vu. I went through some old blog drafts and found a note I had written, but never published:

When I search “melanie phung” and clicked through to my blog, I got a bunch of “Melanie B ringtones” [AdSense] ads on my site. When I get to my site via SEO-related terms I’m presented with search ads. The content on the site, in both cases, is obviously identical (and not at all related to ringtones or “Melanie B”).

I wrote that in October of 2007. At some point after I wrote that draft, I stopped seeing radically different ad units depending on the referring keyword so I completely forgot about it, but it really bugged me at the time — I didn’t want my site content associated with ringtone ads. (Eventually I just took AdSense off my blog because even the ads that were relevant to my content didn’t seem to reflect well on the site)

In theory, you wouldn’t appear in the results for search terms that aren’t aligned with your content — in which case, AdSense could match ads to either your content or the referring search query and it would be six of one/half dozen of the other — but we know that isn’t true in reality; often users find our pages using search terms that have nothing to do with our content.”Contextual ads” that place advertisements based on broad match keyword search terms rather than landing page copy can easily miss the mark and create message mismatches that could have advertisers annoyed and uncomfortable.

And that’s nothing compared to what could happen with this new behavioral targeting Google AdSense is rolling out. Donna just made some compelling observations about how Google’s behavioral targeting could be a nightmare for publishers and users alike over on SEO Chicks.

I always thought the beauty of AdSense is that it matches ads to content. Messing with that formula seems like a losing proposition – for users, publishers and advertisers alike.

What do you think? Would you, as a Web user, click on AdSense ads targeted at you, even if they aren’t relevant to what you’re currently doing? As a publisher, how do you feel about ads on your site that aren’t related to your content? Should advertisers on Google’s Content Network worry this will hurt their campaign performance?

Updated March 12: Also read Aaron Wall’s critique of grave privacy issues, and Bob Massa’s impassioned comment in response.

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Category: Contextual Ads

eBay Affiliates No Longer Allowed to Compete in PPC

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, May 29, 2007 at 10:05 pm

According to AuctionBytes (an online publication for online merchants): As of June 1st, eBay will no longer compensate affiliates for “paid search traffic purchased from,,, nor from any of their content networks, such as Google AdSense, Yahoo! Publisher Network, and MSN ContentAds, if it is linked directly to the, eBay Express, or eBay Store domains.”

As strange as it might seem for someone who spends as much time on the Web as I do, I’ve never purchased anything off eBay, much less set up an eBay affiliate account, so I can’t speak from personal experience the way I do some of the other affiliate programs; however, this move could have a big impact.

Based on discussions I’ve had with folks who run the corporate LinkShare Referral Program for a certain large electronics retailer, nearly all of the company’s active LinkShare affiliates send traffic via PPC ads, not from the links that are provided for inclusion on web sites.

Furthermore, I just learned that Google is starting to bar affiliates from bidding on PPC ads also — this isn’t restricted to just eBay affiliates. I can only assume that they mean affiliates are not allowed to bid on keywords for which the parent company is also bidding. Surely they’d be allowed to pick up non-competitive phrases. Otherwise that would be even more ridiculous “punishment” for affiliate marketers who ought to have every right to advertise.

Ironically, while cutting affiliates out of the PPC game might somehow arguably improve the paid results (even though affiliates often have distinctive pricing from the parent, so I don’t buy that argument!), this move might actually lower the cost of keywords for those players who get to remain in the game — it’s economics: less competition equals lower prices. That and seeing as a lot of business comes from affiliates and resellers, it seems Google may be cutting off a finger of the hand that feeds its money-making AdWords machine.

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Category: Contextual Ads,Monetizing,search marketing

Google AdSense versus Text Link Ads

Posted by Melanie Phung on Monday, February 5, 2007 at 10:20 pm

Note: I wrote this post in 2007. Please be aware that selling text links is heavily frowned on by Google and may have consequences for your site.

For advertisers, there is a significant difference between contextual ads and (non-ad-served) text link ads. Contextual ads, like the Sponsored Results you see on the side of search engine results pages are all about ROI; whereas text link ads are primarily about (c’mon now let’s be honest) buying relevant inbound links that are intended to drive up rankings.

But for publishers, one concern looms larger than all others: show me the money!

After doing some investigating into the whole industry of purchasing text links (not to be confused with paid content or paid blog postings), I’m starting to come to the conclusion that I should migrate away from Google’s AdSense system in favor of a text link broker like Text Link Ads, or the equally creatively named Text Link Brokers (both terribly generic company names that serve as ultra-relevant anchor text anytime someone links to them).

So here’s the thing, it took me a whole year to get my first Google AdSense check. I look to be on track for another year of the same. Don’t get me wrong, I have no real complaints about the program. So why am I thinking of walking away with money left on the table?

Reasons Why Text Links Are Better Than AdSense

  1. Google’s minimum for actually cutting you a check is higher than most other services, but until the money is in your bank account you haven’t actually earned anything yet.
  2. With contextual ads you only get paid when someone clicks, while the simple act of publishing the text links is all it takes to earn money under the other model. And depending on the default level you set for editorial oversight, text link ads can run themselves as easily as the AdSense script.
  3. While one could argue that visitors to the site might actually be interested in contextual ads and that text links, by comparison, are simply link spam –i.e., that I’d be doing my readers a disservice by switching to text ads — the truth is that I don’t think any regular readers of this blog are too interested in the cheesy contextual ads that get displayed alongside my posts currently.
  4. Because text link ads don’t require anyone to actually click through, there’s less pressure to pimp out a site with ads in very prominent locations. (Google advises advertisers to pay attention to eye tracking and heat map studies to make decisions on where to place ads.)and finally…
  5. Even if I only sold 1 link a month with, I’d still be earning more money than I do with AdSense currently.

Whether you think text link ads are “black hat SEO” doesn’t really matter if you’re the publisher, not the advertiser. Even if there’s a possibility that the search engines start discounting your links by virtue of being lower quality, the only reason this should matter to you as a site owner is if the ability to pass PageRank is part of your sales proposition (which means, de facto, that you were already trying to pull one over on the algorithms).

If you’re a very large site, text link ads look pretty tacky, so I certainly don’t think revenue should be the only consideration when deciding between AdSense and paid links; but on the other hand, AdSense would detract from how seriously I would take a large, would-be authoritative site as well.

If you’re interested in selling ad space on your site as well, visit

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Category: Contextual Ads,Link Building,Monetizing,Navel-Gazing

SEO Is Not Rocket Science

Posted by Melanie Phung on Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 8:02 pm

Things that are true:

  1. SEO is not rocket science
  2. SEO is not brain surgery
  3. Brain surgery is not rocket science
  4. Apples are not oranges
  5. Oranges have no need for SEO, rocket science OR brain surgery
  6. SEO cannot guarantee profit
  7. Excellent, “100% White Hat SEO” is no guarantee of profit either
  8. Black Hat SEO works sometimes, sometimes it doesn’t
  9. Hats can be stylish, with the right outfit
  10. Stirring up idiotic controversy about how SEO is irrelevant compared to paid search (or vice versa) is sure to generate heated conversations, publicity that can last weeks if not more, and links to your site.



Comments (2)

Category: Contextual Ads,Industry Buzz,search marketing

Typo-Squatting Comes with Money-Back Guarantee

Posted by Melanie Phung on Sunday, April 30, 2006 at 11:59 am

An article in today’s Washington Post business section, titled The Web’s Million-Dollar Typos, highlights the practice of domain parking by people counting on Internet users misspelling their destination URL. This tactic is known as typo squatting and can be a very lucrative business, because according to industry analysts approximately 15% of all web traffic comes from people typing a domain into the address bar — as opposed to search or bookmarks.

The Business of Typo-Squatting
Simply buy an unregistered domain that is similar in spelling of a major brand, put some Google AdSense or Yahoo ads on it, and share in all that “contextual” advertising revenue. This works because most web users will click on the ads to get to their intended destination, rather than retype the domain or do a search to locate the correct URL.

And there is very low risk for the ambitious typo-squatting entrepreneur, as the Washington Post explains:

Because purchasers can change their minds within five days and avoid paying the $6 registration fee for the name, many investors enter the names in Google’s ad program for a quick test and quickly drop those that don’t yield enough clicks to cover the domain registration fee.

But others, including those who speculate on potential traffic of a specific domain name, argue that the pages are helping people find information related to what they’re looking for. Typo-squatters and those who provide services to support them claim these pages benefit the customer by making unused pages “function as alternatives to search engines.”

The Losers and Winners
This is a huge problem for those of us who participate in paid search. Every one of those clicks costs the advertiser money. For small business owners who pay a couple of cents per click, as well as for larger businesses bidding one or two dollars for competitive brand terms, that adds up quickly. Basically you are forced to pay money for clicks you are almost guaranteed to get for free in organic search (a search on your brand name).

Result: higher ad budgets (and lower ROI) and brand dilution.

As search professionals, I suppose, we could try to educate consumers about this type of web spam, but there’s no incentive for them to refrain from clicking on those ads. After all, one click gets them where they wanted to go.

It works for the consumer, and it works for the search engine since they (as the owners of the ad network) get a cut of that ad spend. Because Google and Yahoo benefit from the advertising revenue there is a disincentive to pull the plug on this practice across the board. Even when they don their “what’s in the best interest of the user” hats, removing these pages is still not a pressing issue. Sure, they clutter up the Internet with low-quality content, but like I said before, the argument would go, if someone mistypes a URL and then is presented with a link to the site they actually wanted to get to… well, isn’t that better than just landing on a 404 error page?

But as the recent click fraud lawsuits against Yahoo and Google show, publishers are starting to get fed up with those companies turning a blind eye to practices that benefit the search engines at the expense of advertisers. It would be wise for owners of ad publishing networks, especially ones focused just on parked domains, to try to reestablish the goodwill of legitimate content publishers and help unclutter the World Wide Web by cracking down on typo-squatting. Not because it’s in their immediate financial interest, but because it’s the right thing to do.

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Category: Contextual Ads,Monetizing,Navel-Gazing,Spam