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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.   

parked-domains-example

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.

Ian Harris

Published 6 September, 2010 by Ian Harris

Ian Harris is the CEO and founder of Search Laboratory, and a contributor to Econsultancy.

10 more posts from this author

Comments (13)

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ken

I take your point about parked domains delivering poor quality traffic. but what is the volume of traffic coming from all these sites? 34% of 5 users for example is arguably neglegable for a campaign with millions of keywords.

I agree with the principle of what you're getting to which is that this represents an inefficency within the campaign (read wasted budget).

almost 6 years ago

Ian Harris

Ian Harris, CEO at Search LaboratorySmall Business Multi-user

Ken, in this campaign parked domains spent over $10,000 before we trapped it. That's a lot of money that could have delivered a significant number of quality conversions. It is definitely a major spender because the parked domains pick on the expensive search terms.

almost 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Ian

Thanks for the post. I'd not heard before of the feature in Adwords to switch off parked domains via Exclude Placement, so that's good learning.

I've always used micro management to evaluate traffic on poor performing campaigns/ad groups etc down to keyword level so this will be a useful way to help screen low quality traffic.

cheers

james

almost 6 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

hi, Ian, how are you?

This is a great tip for people to dig into. I agree, it seems madness that Google would consider this 'search network' rather than 'display network' & makes it very hard to manage.

Have you checked to see whether these can be managed individually through placements? For example: what if I'm getting traffic from 10 of these sites that are performing really badly, but 2 that are performing great (eg. a brand domain squatter & someone with a great generic domain)? Do I have to switch these all off, or can I manage them individually through placements?

dan

almost 6 years ago

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Deke

Your domain example is bad.  Someone that owns that domain is abusing the keywords.  If the parking company finds this out the person parking this domain could be banned from parking with them.

I'll tell you the real reason that the option to turn off parking is hidden.  It's b/c parked domains convert to sales on average 3:1 over search engine search if the domains are optimized correctly and serving up targeted ads.  

Even Google did a study showing that parked domains convert better to sales.  This is why you are seeing more folks tap into this channel.

It is well known by those that have done extensive testing that "direct navigation", going directly to domain names for a search instead of the search engines, is the best quality traffic on the Net.

Of course, your example of Smszlk.com, is a trash domain, that is NOT targeted.  The owner is abusing the parking service, Google, and the advertisers by setting keywords in the parking interface that have nothing to do with the domain. 

This can easily happen with Google Adwords too whereby folks abuse the keywords to get higher cick prices, however they also can be kicked out of Google Adsense just like the guy parking Smszlk.com could be too.

If you cut out domain parking you are baby out with the bath water. 

I've been buying domains since 1995 and have seen many folks like you be mislead by an example like Smszlk.com, which does not paint the industry in a good light.....sadly.

almost 6 years ago

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Deke

I left out a major point.  

The reason the parking option is hidden so well is b/c if it is turned off then the advertisers will see the conversions drop drastically and then will realize that the parked domains are where the conversions are coming from and bypass Google to work directly with domain owners. 

This is the big, dirty secret of the engines.....they can't let this secret out of the bag.  It's too important.

almost 6 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

Deke - any idea how Google go about classifying which parked domains go under 'search partners' & which are content network?

I think the point of Ian's post was to say "it's sneaky that Google are lumping these into 'search partners', leaving you with no choice other than to throw the baby out with the bath water", but I could be wrong.

almost 6 years ago

Ian Harris

Ian Harris, CEO at Search LaboratorySmall Business Multi-user

Exactly the point. We saw bad quality traffic from these domains and turning them off did the campaign a lot of good in this case. Deke, Google did point us at a case study that showed good results that I mentioned in the article, however when analysing this campaign too much of the traffic came from low quality pointless domains. I think Google bring out this case study when anybody moans. The case study did not bear any resemblance to what we were seeing. It would be good if the interface gave some degree of control over the domains the campaign is to be exposed to.

almost 6 years ago

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Deke

Well....no doubt there is some serious abuse and downright fraud going on in the biz, but if anyone selling any product in the world begins to believe a domain like Smszlk.com would ever deliver a valuable surfer is foolish. I totally agree with you that getting rid of that kind of trash traffic is a good idea, and much of that is going on already. I have about 130 "banned" domains at Yahoo right now, shown in my parking interface, and this is because of low conversions for advertisers. Yahoo has been proactively getting rid of these types. They have banned .US and .BIZ 100% from parking with Yahoo already b/c they have shown conversion are so low that the market for those TLD's are not worth messing with. There are domains that should convert really well for advertisers in parking, such as Rugs.com, Computer.com, FishingLures.com, HouseBoatLoans.com, Sex.net, Italy.com, etc.... I guess my only real point is that real, legitimate generic domains and even some with expired traffic, can create sales at 3:1. This is old news in our industry and those advertisers that have been able to look at the traffic by disecting it and measuring it have found that much of the "gold" is in direct navigation traffic. I've done direct deals many times on domains and quite often advertisers will tell me it converts better than search engine search. They have cleaned up domain parking a lot, but there are traffic suppliers that are hidden from the advertisers still and this is where the really, really bad traffic comes from. :) What I'm saying is what makes search engine traffic so bad is that Google and Yahoo actually buy traffic from various suppliers such as ISPs and such, mixed in with arbitrage and garbitrage traffic. Quality suffers from this, but overall income goes WAY up for G and Y. Most people don't know this. When they mix that TOTAL trash traffic into the search mix and then bill the advertiser, the advertiser is clueless. When folks use direct navigation to search and arrive at a domain they are closer to the sale, whereas in a Google search many more surfers are still window shopping, so to speak. They are farther from the sale point. This obviously allows for higher conversions on "direct navigation" , as it is called, or sometimes "direct search". Then search engine search mixed in with all the trash traffic I mentioned above, is where the real dirty traffic comes from. I say "dirty" b/c they know darn well it does not convert for advertisers like stand-alone search or domain names do. @ Dan Barker......it's basically a case by case basis, meaning that Google will give the better ad feeds to those that can supply more/better traffic, the worse feeds to lower tier partners. Google is really the whore of the industry.....they'll do anything for a dollar mixing this and that traffic so that both the publishers make little and the advertisers get bilked. Sadly, parked domains have been associated with all this.. Yahoo did a bad job early on and have suffered for years for all the crap traffic they delivered. They burned some advertisers really bad in the old days. They have had a hard time shaking that, but they have much stricter quality controls these days.

almost 6 years ago

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Deke

Goodness......I'm not sure why my reply was condensed from paragraph form.....sorry!

almost 6 years ago

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Alan Sonjak

Ian, we are getting VERY good quality traffic from parked pages, However, this needs to be managed actively. You want parked traffic from brand typo domains, US or western europe. Super-generic domain in some cases. We sell goods to "unsophisticated" users, more likely to click on parking as well. If you start accepting traffic from Romania via parked pages, then you're in trouble (same for the content network anyway...)

almost 6 years ago

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stephen

hello to every body there,i just want to start this bussiness and i need guide and also responsible mentor for it and i will be very glad if i can see someone to enlight me and give me all i need to do it perfectly and also step by step guide to do it.................this my mail    omodarastephen@gmail.com or mygooglework@yahoo.com.......................thanks

almost 6 years ago

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Pon

Hello Ian, I have never gone in for PPC because if something can be abused it will be, you can't beat good old SEO. I dont mean adding a million links in social networking sites either, that will all end in tears. Why spend x amount of money on PPC when you could probably put the money to better use building targeted 5 or six page websites linked to your sales pages.

over 5 years ago

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