Parked domains are generally low quality resources, housing value-less directories or pages of AdSense ads. Why then is the proportion of AdWords spend that is going to these parked domains on the rise?
Turning off this source of traffic in AdWords is possible, but hidden away. Therefore Google, as well as the domain owner, is using increasing amounts of your campaign budget on what appears to be low value traffic.
You have probably come across sites such as the one in the image, a defunct domain allowed to lapse by its owner that has now been taken over by a pointless directory that nobody would ever use to real purpose.
It invariably contains a lists of paid links categorised into groups of expensive search terms. You would never buy links on such a site, and you definitely would not pay for clicks from ads on parked domains. Or would you?
Right now, it is my bet that if you are running PPC campaigns of a reasonable size, you are indeed paying significant amounts of money for clicks on these sites. It is also my bet that these clicks are delivering next to nothing in terms of value for you.
I regularly perform landing page tuning and for one major client, the Website Optimiser tests showed significant conversion rate increases. Why then, was the overall conversion rate on the biggest and best performing search campaign falling?
On investigation, the Google search traffic was performing as expected, with increasing conversion rates, but it was the search partner network that was getting worse and spending more.
My top-level impression of search partners was that they are basically other search engines that are powered by Google’s search results. These smaller ‘search engines’ can choose to show Google ads. What I didn’t realise, and what our investigation showed, was that parked domains are included in Google’s search partners.
I also noted that the appearance of parked domain traffic in the campaigns under investigation had increased massively since last year. In one campaign it had increased by 900% in one year!
If you navigate to the site in the image above and see any of the ‘related searches’ categories, you will see that these are all premium search terms i.e. they carry high click prices.
I doubt that any of the advertisers on those sites are aware of their placement. At the time of writing, I doubt that confused.com, Saga, GoCompare, USwitch and MoneySupermarket are aware they are paying for clicks in the ‘Auto Insurance’ category of this domain.
To turn this off in your AdWords account is easy when you know where to look, but the setting is buried in a place that I think is misleading.
I have a few problems with Google’s view of parked domains:
- This is not ‘search’ traffic. If you stumble upon one of these domains like the one above, you are not searching for these terms; the site is simply displaying expensive categories for the purpose of making money.
Who is clicking and why? This is extremely low quality traffic, despite getting a 34% click through rate,we received no value from this traffic in the campaign under investigation despite getting lots of expensive clicks.
Is this not Google turning a blind eye to a similar type of click fraud to that which occurred widely on early AdSense accounts? Google and the site host are making money from this.
- Turning off parked domains involves going in to a section of AdWords called 'Exclude Placement'. However, this is not display network traffic, which this setting suggests. The setting seems to have been buried so that most people will not find it and therefore will not turn it off.
When we complained to Google they came back very quickly with a case study highlighting a business case for using parked domains. Google seemed prepared for the question.
Please, analyse the traffic you are getting from parked domains and assess its quality. You may want to turn them off while you investigate. This post shows how to turn off parked domains.