Google AdWords, Affiliates, and Relevancy - A Change on the Horizon

This past week, Google made a change to its AdWords policy limiting the number of ads published by affiliates and parent companies that drive traffic to the same Web site. This policy shift has caused a lot of ripples in the online advertising industry since its release, but the question still remains, "Will this new policy have any real effect on the relevancy and value of the AdWords results?" The answer will depend on where Google goes from here.

There were two statements in the e-mail release regarding the new policy from Google that were particularly telling: The new policy will permit display of only one ad per query for "affiliates and parent companies sharing the same URL" and "Affiliates or advertisers using unique URLs in their ads will not be affected by the change."

These two statements indicate that the policy will only affect affiliates that don't build and manage their own Web sites, but instead simply direct traffic to the parent site via an affiliate code appended to the URL string for identification purposes.



In my opinion, this will be a welcome change to Google's policy as users will no longer be directed to the same destination page when clicking on different AdWords displayed for the same query. This doesn't mean that you won't be sent to a page that will then ultimately direct you to the same place - now you just may have to stop at an interim page somewhere in the middle.

Obviously, I don't feel that this policy will bring an end to affiliate marketing as it is known today. However, I do anticipate that it will be more difficult for affiliates to purchase AdWords ads. I haven't spoken with anyone at this point that feels affiliates will be put out of business because they will now have to create their own Web site to support their ads, but the hope is that this policy will help to create more relevant paid results.

What follows are some additional suggestions for Google's consideration that will further enhance the relevancy and accuracy of their paid results and may solve some other problems as well:

1) Allow only one affiliate ad to be placed within a single result set, no matter the destination URL. For example, we have several clients in the education industry, and it's virtually impossible to search for a brand-oriented term without seeing 15 ads from various pay-per-lead (PPL) affiliates in Google's search results. Many of these affiliates have even been able to break through on the organic results as well. If the term is brand oriented, why not just allow one ad to represent the brand. If comparable ads exist, use those to provide a searcher with options as to where to click. Believe it or not, many people search for brand-oriented names in order to find potential competitors, not just affiliates.

2) Always place the parent company's AdWords ad ahead of the affiliate's ad. Let's face it - if someone clicks on one of these ads and is sent to a page that simply leads them to the same final destination, why can't Google just cut out the middleman and only display an ad for the parent site. If that site won't participate in AdWords, fine - display the top-ranked affiliate. However, when the parent site and the affiliate sites are competing on the same terms, the parent should always take precedence regardless of the AdRank for other ads. Ultimately, if people are not clicking on the ad for the parent destination, it is likely because they don't want to go there.

3) Set up a process to iteratively review ads after they start running to ensure that pages and destinations do not change. It is commonly known that affiliates frequently change the content/look of their pages to increase the likelihood of conversion. If Google is not consistently checking these pages, how would they ever know if you were to put a redirect on your landing page after it had been running for a week?

Although this is just a starting point, hopefully the fact that Google has initiated a policy means that they're finally addressing the relevancy and value of the paid results, much in the same manner as they would the value of organic results. Perhaps a change is on the horizon- it looks as if someone at Google has figured out that all of the results need to be valuable, not just the organic.

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