Column: Take a Look at Your Landing Pages (Before Google Does)
Several weeks ago, I wrote a column for DM News asking what could be done about the many Made for Adsense sites that have been gunking up the search engines SERPs. Well, Google seems to have read my column, because this week it made some major changes to the way it serves its PPC ads. This change is aimed at making it less profitable for MFA operators to run MFA sites, and it's a move that should be welcomed by searchers, publishers and marketers.
Just to reprise what this battle is all about, MFA sites, which rarely provide any useful content at all, are run by what are called "click arbitragers." Arbitragers buy Google ads with the sole purpose in mind being to lead hapless searchers to landing pages they control that are filled with other ads, placed through another ad network or Google's own Adsense platform. As long as the MFA site operator can buy clicks from Google for less than he can sell them on his site, he'll make money.
Click arbitrage isn't illegal, but it's a form of information pollution that makes it harder for searchers to find what they want and penalizes legitimate marketers with something real to sell by inflating keyword prices and crowding them off of SERPs. In fact, there's now a whole underground industry devoted to click arbitrage that can easily be seen by using the queries "Adsense Empire" or "Made for Adsense" in Google.
Obviously, it's in Google's interest to clean this problem up, so beginning next week, Google will begin to take the relevance of landing pages into account when it computes a given ad's quality score. Quality score is the number that multiplied by bid price determines a given ad's Adrank, which specifies the slot it will run on the Google SERP and its minimum bid price to enter rotation. If the change works as intended, MFA site operators, and others whose landing pages are judged by Google to be irrelevant, will see their minimum bids increase for many keywords, thus squeezing the profit out of the arbitrage process.
According to Google, most legitimate advertisers will feel no pain from this change. In fact, over time, they will benefit from a cleaned-up marketplace with more relevancy, lower (or at least uninflated) CPC prices, and less info-pollution. Still, it's prudent to take a quick look at your landing pages to ensure that they are as relevant as possible. For example, if you're buying the keywords "radar detector," make sure that the landing page you've chosen as a destination goes to a page with these same keywords appearing in the copy, not to a generic "electronics" page. If you're using your landing page for branding purposes, and you're employing multimedia presentation technologies such as Flash to get your message across, make sure that you replicate enough of this message in plain text so that Google can understand it.
As Search matures as an advertising channel, there remain many thorny issues ahead for Google to attack, including click fraud, and they will be tougher to resolve than the MFA site issue.
Invest some time and effort now in making sure your landing pages are as relevant as they can be, and you'll benefit from a better, more efficient, more business-like search marketplace in the weeks and months ahead.