The Last Days of the PPC Brand Bidding Affiliate Cowboys

November 11, 2009

At the end of September, Google decided to take decisive measure to crack-down on poor quality score landing pages. This had a major impact on PPC affiliates in general and brand bidding search affiliates in particular.

The reason for ppc brand affiliates being hit harder is because, in my view, they are the ones whose web sites have typically evolved the least over the years. While many niche, content and seo affiliates have had a need or genuine interest in building larger and better sites over time that slowly becomes destinations and brands in their own right, many brand bidding affiliates have simply pushed on with padded out bridge pages. These are relatively weak sites that adds little or no more value to the consumer buying cycle other than simply making sure the consumer reach the final destination of the merchant.

It’s not about the sale but the value

As discussed in a previous post, my experience from trial-and-analysis in various verticals is that ppc brand bidding many times is a valuable service to the merchant in driving incremental revenue and blocking out competitors. From Google’s perspective however, these sites are typically just bridge pages with duplicate content that detracts from its search result quality.

As Google Adwords Quality Score has evolved over time and infamously “slapped” poor affiliate sites with unsustainable high minimum bids across their whole domain, one trick that affiliates have been pulling one too many times is to simply switch to a new domain. This have typically bought them a few weeks or months of further AdWords PPC activity using exactly the same bridge pages. This is of course an unsustainable strategy as anyone looking to plan their long-term future around out-smarting an army of Google engineers have chosen a game with incredibly unfavourably odds (albeit one with the possibility of great rewards in the short-term).

Instead of keeping content with playing this cat-and-mouse game Google decided around September 25th to simply ban AdWords accounts that had been violating their terms of service, referring to landing page abuse.

Google’s not the bad guy here

Here’s my view – I think Google did the right thing in banning accounts and switching off affiliates. Google have for years to no avail tried to tell ppc affiliates to improve their sites in order to improve the search experience for its end-users. The past quality score “slaps” wasn’t just annoying speed bumps that could be outmanoeuvred, but road signs pointing at the future of the industry. Some chose to follow the signs and evolved their businesses by reinvesting profits into new exciting opportunities for the future, while others kept playing the game until they woke up finding their revenue streams switched off.

And let’s not forget – since Google is dominating the search space in most markets, you’re either going where it’s going or you’re gone.

Today the brand bidding opportunities are few and far in between and the old formula of setting up thin merchant specific landing pages and scale it across the globe is no longer sustainable.

The super affiliates of today that half a decade ago just like cowboys were pioneers in exploring the brave new world of ppc and grabbing brand bidding rights were very clever in spotting and maximizing an opportunity. The burning question is whether or not they have already entered the milking stage of their companies or are planning and committing to the next big thing.

As I attended the brilliant affiliate event Tradedoubler Summit yesterday and chatted to many experienced affiliate marketeers, the consensus was clear – this is the end of the wild-west style quick ppc affiliate buck.

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Dave November 11, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Hang on. “many brand bidding affiliates have simply pushed on with padded out bridge pages”. Weren’t these bridge pages designed and built by you? ;o)

Magnus November 11, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Sure, I’ve done a few in previous roles, and it brought great value to clients at the time. But I wouldn’t call it a long-term strategy.

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