OMG, Yahoo Search PPC is a rip-off


I don’t say this lightly: Yahoo Marketing Solutions’ search advertising is junk … a rip-off. It was an expensive and surprising lesson in online marketing.

(I don’t mean their content network, I knew that was worthless years ago, as is Google’s.)

I’ve been an advertiser with Yahoo since the GoTo.com days of 1996. Later, as Google gained prominence (and bidding on Yahoo got out of control), I effectively ignored Yahoo. I think most marketers have. Getting billed a hundred bucks by YMS every so often was tolerable, especially as AdWords started sucking in thousands.

Earlier this year, the frequency of billing notices from Yahoo was noticeably increasing. I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t figure it out, or prove it. Today I noticed something in my site analytics that clued me in! I’m shocked, and my YMS campaigns are now paused indefinately.

The short of it:

Yahoo has been adding ‘search partners’ indiscriminately. The partners remain largely invisible to us advertisers, but we are billed for the very low value clicks they generate. My investigation found that in the last twelve days,  just 2.5% of the 243 clicks I received via YMS have been from Yahoo.com, the site. The rest have been from 59 other ‘search partners’ which are junky, spammy websites.

Worse than that, looking at the data, I see sure signs of click-fraud from these partners.

The proof of it:

There is a ton I could say about what I saw when comparing data in my YMS reports and Google Analytics, but the amazing thing is how real the activity looks, and how well it is un-noticable. But when Yahoo reports the same amount of clicks as AdWords over the same time-frame, I knew something is up!

1. Over-extended search partners:

Once I figured out that most of my YMS traffic wasn’t being logged as coming from Yahoo, I knew why I’d been deceived: Lots of onesy-twosy clicks from sites that I don’t even see in the bottom of my Analytics referrer list. Someone got greedy and created enough traffic for me to notice (especially when their conversion rate was 29%). I went to their site and saw my Yahoo ad. Bingo!!

I found this very insightful post next: Improve your Yahoo Traffic Quality NOW with A New Ad Delivery Report by “Search Marketing Sage” Tad Miller, posted 9/11/09. He described a new report that Yahoo enabled so you could see where your search-ads were being shown. The rather tame title covered this scathing commentary:

After running my first Ad Delivery Report, all of what I believed about the quality of this traffic has been reconfirmed (a lot of this traffic is CRAP).  I would encourage All Yahoo Sponsored Search Advertisers to check out the Ad Delivery Report ASAP, and actually go the URLs that are delivering clicks and impressions.  I’m finding lots of questionable sites that look like they are designed more for getting revenues off of sponsored search than actually helping searchers find what they want.

It’s bordering on criminal where Yahoo as looked the other way for years on this revenue stream.  I’m seeing several foreign language websites that my clients would never want to have their ad show on.  I really wonder if they are cleaning up their act with this traffic as part of their future search deal with Bing.

Bordering on criminal? Yea, I’d agree to that. (Check out the links at the beginning of  Tad’s article for more on the subject.)

Oh, I guess I knew that Yahoo had ‘search partners’. So does Google. But I’ve never really thought about those filling up the long-tail of my website’s referrer report with junky clicks.

So, I ran the Ad Delivery Report … and instantly felt like a shmuck. Just 12 days worth of data, but Yahoo looks like they are running the mother of all click farms. In twelve days:

  • 417 different domains and sub-domains displaying our Yahoo PPC search ads, with a total of 6,095 impressions.
  • 59 of those domains showed click-thrus, with a total 235 clicks.
  • Six, just six, of those clicks came from search.yahoo.com.

This all comes from Yahoo’s own report. Here is the original CSV export of the list of websites, impressions, and clicks (less my company name and account number).

Side note: This report apparently only works if you have YSM’s analytics/conversion tracker set up properly. The report also only works … if you know it exists!

2. Sure signs of click-fraud

What got me looking at Yahoo this morning was Google Analytics showing ‘conversions’ that were hitting my thank-you ‘goal’ page first, the one that is supposed to show after a quote request is submitted. That page should not be an entrance page!

So I traced conversions on a Sunday when Yahoo’s and Google’s reports showed multiple conversions, yet I had only one email-submitted lead. After dropping the one AdWords-generated visitor (matched to the legitimate lead), I could focus on the activity of the other ‘conversions’. Two hit the goal page, then another random page and left … total time on-site? Five seconds!

At least that activity is traceable. The top three most expensive converting sites, yampot, thinktarget, and ecocho don’t even show up in Analytics as having any traffic on my site. Did Analytics miss 133 visitors and 24 conversions? Or did a click-bot do all the dirty work? Hmmm. One thing for sure, Yahoo got paid for those visitors. Damn!

Taking it in the shorts

My research showed that activity from Yahoo.com jumped up last November, and I suspect these partner sites might have gained prevalence around the same time. Here is my Analytics filtering just Yahoo cpc conversions (not including other possible spammy partner sources):

Conversions from Yahoo cpc

Unfortunately, ignoring what used to be ignorable has cost me a decent amount of my search budget. At first it looked productive, but now I see all the numbers and activity simply don’t add up. The Ad Delivery Report was there for me to use, if I had known it existed, and if I had an idea this was a problem.

I wouldn’t be posting this if I didn’t think that what Yahoo was doing to me and other marketers was deceitful and wrong. Loading up their search network with spammy sites (and with obvious click-fraud) is unconscionable. The Yahoo brand is morally bankrupt in my eyes now.

Sue them?

Well, Yahoo settled a class-action lawsuit for just such practices last fall. Did adding the new report and documentation required relieve them of liability for still using “spyware, domain name parking sites (bulk registration sites), pop-ups, pop-unders and typosquatting sites”? (The lawyers got $4M, the advertisers basically nothing, which is a whole ‘nother conversation about criminality.)

So the best I can do is drag the Yahoo name in the mud on my tiny little corner of the interwebs, which I set up long ago to write about just such experiences. Yahoo PPC may be old-school for discussion on blogs, but in this case, I think everyone needs to take a fresh look at what they are doing!

  • http://www.superiorpromos.com Pablo Edwards

    Agreed… Yahoo is not the way to go for affordable PPC! You'd expect more out of them!

  • Hans De Keulenaer

    Excellent post Dave on the pitfalls of web advertising. You state in the beginning that the same applies to Yahoo's and Google's content networks. Did you investigate this?

    I'm puzzled since Google's content network tends to produce relevant ads on blogs on websites, though the resulting visits and leads are rather low quality. This is not necessarily an issue as they're low cost too.

  • b2blog

    Hans, I called them 'worthless', but what you said is more exact … 'low quality'.

    I had decided years ago that I'd rather spend my money on higher quality sponsored search (and very low risk of click-fraud). That is part of the problem here… I let my guard down, assuming I was 'safe'.

  • sustenergy

    Makes sense Dave. So PPC shows its weakness in lead generation. It doesn't make sense to produce low-quality leads as most sales organisations struggle to follow-up on even highly qualified leads.

    On the other hand, PPC can make sense to build brands. The fact that one gets soft leads (for use in e-mail marketing) and 100s of impressions per lead at the cost of a click can make sense for branding purposes.

  • Pingback: Are B2B marketers so stupid they fall for this? |

  • honel

    yes

  • http://www.seop.com/ ppc management

    Thanks for your article. Its really makes sense yet at times we still need to be careful on where to put our marketing budget or get someone who can help you on that part

  • Grant Cloete

    Yahoo? Never liked them. But thanks for the heads up. I believe in doing research on everything you spend your money on, whenever you have time.

    One thing I like about the internet is that you can find tons of reviews on a product that seems just too good to be true. You’ll learn that if it’s too good to be true, most of the it’s a rip off.

  • Rosey123

    My credit card billing doubled this past month with not one additional phone call. These guys are the worst kind of criminals, they hide so you cant talk to them. Everyone should pause accounts. B2Blog thanks for the lesson

  • Knightschemdry

    either way google yahoo are getting paid way up front for guess work basically.. Wake the F up people these these business modules need to be flushed down the toilet…

  • Knightschemdry

    Guard up or down your taking it in the shorts…

  • AA

    Thanks Dave,
    I’ve just woken up to the same thing and when I printed the Ad Delivery Report, I received the same surprise you did. I had written to Yahoo several weeks ago to ask why my traffic was suddenly going through the roof, and they offered no suggestion – just the usual fob off.

    After seeing the above report, I responded to their response advising that I had suspended all my campaigns until they could advise why my ads were appearing on these content sites. Then I went looking through the google search and found your article.

  • Anonymous
  • Savage

    Totally Agree – DONT USE YAHOO – Unless you want to waste your time and money and support what in my humble opinion is a totally criminal operation – at least with google adwords you can turn off the partner network and when you use google, the partner sites do resemble usefull sites. But yahoo is just full of spammy sites that no real person would use or even atempt to look for our kind of service, and you cant just tuen it off. Yahoo tell you to use a domain the domain blocker feature to filter unwanted sites, so basically I have to predict what spammy web site they are going to allow next. Oh and they limit that to 500 domains, Its such a clear con that yahoo is letting happen. Its just bad business from yahoo – I would expect better from such a company – clearly they do not have the ethics, as such they need regulating and big fines. In the mean time, vote with your feet – don’t use them let them die like the dinosaur they are!

  • http://www.dehumidifiers-direct.co.uk Rich

    Hello,

    Friday, 20
    May 2011

    As a company adverting on Yahoo UK PPC we have just found out that the three campaigns
    we had with them are being shown on 3712 websites. The vast amount of clicks
    were from these thousands of obscure websites that bring nothing to us but plenty
    to Yahoo. 

     

    When people
    are searching for a product they either use Google, Yahoo or Bing. The chances
    of someone going to some oddball site, seeing a search box and then typing in a
    product totally irrelevant to the site they are and then coming across our PPC
    link, clicking on that link and then buying is possibly nil.

     

    You can of
    course block a particualr domain from displaying your advert but the blocking
    limit is 500 so what about the remaining thousands.

     

    Yahoo has
    been contacted today in Dublin
    and I have yet to receive a reply. I was told that Elsa Stuart a Manager at Yahoo
    Search Marketing would call me but so far nothing.

     

    I advise anyone
    advertising or contemplating advertising on Yahoo to think very carefully as I can
    tell you that you will waste a lot of money. Yahoo SM is, to a great extent a
    con. They have these so-called thousands of “Partner” websites that are simply
    out there to make themselves and Yahoo money. In my view it’s almost tantamount
    to legal theft.

     

    I would be
    please to tell the whole story if anyone is interested so you may email me at sales@aircontrol-systems.co.uk

     

    Richard
    Coombe

  • http://www.elementary-agency.com/ London Marketing Agency

    Good post on the pitfalls of web advertising.

  • http://twitter.com/wine90 Italian Wine Fan

    Absolutely and totally, you spend more time adding sites to the block list than you do adding keywords, the ctr with yahoo is what you would expect thru positions 1-8 but the partner shites, shockingly, have 33% CTR or higher, not surprising as its the owner and his monkeys generating what is, of course, click fraud.

    It is a shame, because actually Yahoo was for many years the better converting site for our product, yes the hits were less but so were the bid amounts and you could make some nice product (which we can’t anymore on google as the behemoths own all positions now).

    Its a shame they went down this route to generate more traffic, however, it can not be sustainable, everyone will simply abandon yahoo or bid far far less and work in click fraud. Kinda sad for a company like Yahoo to stoop so low.

  • Chris

    We are currently trying to get an explanation out of Yahoo as to why they are showing our ads on a lot of irrelevant sites. We also noticed on reports that at one point our clicks started decreasing, the few days after there was a approx 400% increase in impressions and clicks, and the same with our monthly spend.

    Something tells me Yahoo weren’t happy that income from our campaign had declined.

    Neither us, and definitely not Yahoo become 400% more popular over night, and it doesn’t matter what I say to them, all I get is copy and paste responses, I received the same response 3 times in a row.

    I also don’t have time to go through filtering the thousands of irrelevant sites out which they recommended ( or rather just copied it from a document they had ) a few times.

    Were in the process of working out how we can get this money back…… I feel it could prove fruitless.

  • Chris

    Update: After months of chasing, then finally threatening them with legal action, we got some kind of resolution…. they offered us a token gesture in to our YMS account, but as of now it still hasn’t arrived.

    Looks like more chasing may need to be done.

    Never using them again.