The Google Affiliate Takedown of 2009: is Direct Linking now too “parasitical” for Google, and is this resulting in banned AdWords accounts?
Warning and Disclaimer: the following is the thoughts and opinions of the author only.
In April 2009, Amazon.com in North America effectively “fired” part of their affiliate community by terminating commission payments resulting from direct linking campaigns in AdWords. Why?
They obviously had very good reasons for doing so, probably like
- channel competition
- inflated bid prices
- poor conversion
- unproductive traffic and unnecessary associated costs (bandwidth, hosting etc.)
Is Google now doing the same?
And is Google squaring up to Amazon with its own Affiliate network, and Commercial Search?
The Internet is currently awash with reports of cancelled AdWords accounts, and no one seems to know the true reason behind this.
Google is not talking.
In fact, they won’t. They are automated, and have their procedures.
The human operators behind Google have to obey the rules of their machine.
As a Google Agency Partner, I talk to their European HQ staff, and I have tried and failed to revive legitimate accounts advertising legitimate products and services that have fallen victim to the machine.
If the machine shuts you down, the humans cannot resurrect you. They serve IT – not you.
Many people are affected, some of them long time Google adwords account holders, some of them even doing nothing other than keyword research
Whilst I have no direct proof, other than what I can infer from what I read online and hear from colleagues, and based on my own five years experience in the industry, I have some ideas and thoughts that I think are relevant and may offer some explanation.
Anyone who has been managing AdWords campaigns for a number of years knows that Google has been forced to fundamentally change their system several times.
Usually because someone was “gaming the system”. And always in the interests of serving their users better.
The days of writing AFF in your ads are long over, yet the basic principle still applies. Although, perhaps now the clock is ticking …
Google seems to be unwilling to collaborate any longer with marketers who are using AdWords accounts without adding any value and relevance to their users. And even stealing from them…
In the past they would just take your money – but they no longer need to.
Now they have the knowledge and technology to know what doesn’t work, what does, and how to deploy it.
The problem I believe lies with reprehensible Affiliate practices over the years (the few affecting the many), and direct linking as of the present day (which implicitly embodies the latter). In other words, Direct Linking = Affiliate
By linking directly, you clearly demonstrate you do not own or control the contents of the landing page you are linking to. Because someone else owns it.
If you cannot control your landing page you cannot know its value, or improve your Landing Page Quality Score (LPQS). Neither (implicitly) do you care – or you would create your own.
Do you think Amazon knows the value of its own pages? You bet! But could you – ever?
If you run direct linking campaigns, you are a member of a community which I believe Google no longer wants (or can afford) to be in any way associated with. Witness the ruthlessness of their current clamp-down.
Direct Linking is the biggest give-away to everything Google hates (Note their carefully chosen banning terminology of “egregious” to describe these activities. The dictionary definition is “offensive”).
Don’t forget Google measures page load and abandonment times – so they know what their users consider “offensive”. None better.
Typical affiliate practices (you know who you are) can include:
- attempted multiple use of promotional vouchers
- repeated payment failures
- switching credit cards
- switching adwords accounts
- serial offenders and their locale (think IP)
- poor campaign construction
- poor campaign performance
- poor ads
- highly inflamatory ads
- bidding wars on the same url
- huge keyword lists
- “set it and forget it”, then move on, campaigns
- “bandwagon” campaigns
- ripping off other affiliate’s campaigns and hijacking their success
- bidding strategies designed to stonewall other competing affiliates and price them out
- not tracking results
- not testing improvements
and more …
Owning your Content
The members of this community promote offers they have no control over, and only believe they are – or could be – successful with because they are spying on all the other members of the community.
Another aspect of not “owning your page content” is that these pages will constantly change (think of an Amazon page and how it evolves) and can be taken down completely without you even knowing.
To quote Bud Fox’s father in the great movie Wall Street — “create something of value, instead of living off the buying and selling of others”
This results in huge duplication, artificial search spikes, channel conflict, artificially inflated bid prices, many unsuccessful advertisers, penalisation of legitimate advertisers, huge churn on AdWords accounts, and lots of unhappy and frustrated people — both advertisers and consumers.
So much so that the FTC is now involved. And that Google is suing a company in Utah for a series of bogus work-at-home schemes (finally)
With that much heat, something is having to give.
I believe there’s also an SEO dimension to this.
It’s been observed many times before that Google is constantly evolving Paid Search (AdWords PPC) to more closely follow their Organic, or Natural Ranking model. I remember years ago when I spotted by accident, for example, that keywords in urls had started to be bolded like in the Search results (they weren’t originally).
A direct linking ad has no content, it’s like an empty page. It has no value. So, why should it “rank”?
I recall my days many years ago of working as a support engineer for a UNIX computer systems manufacturer.
People we had sold these systems to would occasionally call us for help with a weird problem.
When I asked under what circumstances they saw the error condition, and what was happening, I sometimes felt like asking them: “you’re using it to do — what?”
Because the users of our systems would frequently be using them in a way we had never before seen. Or designed for.
Although frustrating, because there was a fault we had a responsibility to fix (and sometimes at our own cost), our benefit was that we were able to improve our level of support to our users. And improve our product. For our users benefit. Positive feedback …
Don’t forget that Google’s founders are engineers and mathematicians who have created the most sophisticated global advertising platform that the world has ever seen.
It’s hardly surprising then that such a powerful engine has over the years, and continues to be, used in ever more creative ways, and frequently not in the interests of Google’s users. And if not Google’s users, then certainly not Google themselves.
If you are direct linking, you could be considered a “speculator” or “opportunity-seeker”.
Worse, maybe even a “pimp” or “scammer”.
Worst of all, potentially a thief, or associated with them even if unwittingly. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, or tolerated.
These are not the sort of individuals that Google wants to be associated with.
A Real Business
Google is in business for the long term, and wants to work in partnership with “real businesses” who have solid, tangible commercial products, services and information that people want to buy, use and benefit from.
This is also probably informing Google’s recent roll out of their increasing number of display-based e-commerce product advertising solutions based on their Merchant Centre.
Real products, for real customers. You can’t use Merchant Centre if you don’t own or wholesale your products. Affiliates – keep out …
Also associated with direct linking campaigns, and the kinds of landing pages they typically use, is the requirement that the page visitor always has to surrender something of value first (namely their e-mail address) before they get to see what is actually on offer. A “squeeze page”.
Can you imagine Amazon asking you for your e-mail address before showing their store pages? At what part of the buying cycle should you expect to need to give away your e-mail address?
In my opinion – only when I have seen everything I need to see to allow me to make my informed decision to buy, and then only to facilitate essential communication for me to receive my order.
I should not have to give away something precious (and potentially open to misuse) just in order to see whether I might be interested in what you have.
Let me see your offer first in full, and if I want it I’ll buy it – and only then are you entitled to ask for my e-mail address, since it is now in my own interest to give it to you (not yours).
Perhaps Google is now really waking up to their wider responsibilities.
As a former corporate manager of suppliers and services, this is what makes most sense to me.
Disliked or mistrusted as they may be, Google is a servant of the Internet, and it’s users. And, as publishers, so are we …
So, to succeed on Google:
Give first, then you may receive – if what you freely give, truly has the value I need.
January 2010 update! Amazon.co.uk follows up and suspends paid search and PPC from February 2010.
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