(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):
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.
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!