Practical Ecommerce

Crash Course on Pay-Per-Click Arbitrage

If you’ve spent any time on pay-per-click (PPC) forums or in the blogosphere, you’ve probably heard about PPC arbitrage — the ill-reputed practice that drives bid prices up and makes life more difficult for advertisers. So, what exactly is it, and how can it affect you as an advertiser?

In a nutshell, pay-per-click arbitrage is the practice of bidding on low-cost keywords, purchasing clicks from Google, Yahoo! and other search engines and then redirecting the visitors to dummy, one-page websites created solely for the purpose of hosting expensive AdSense ads.

The arbitrageur makes money because he/she buys the first click at a cost much lower than the fee received as an affiliate when visitors click on the dummy site’s ads. Enough clicks through the affiliate ad and the arbitrageur collects plenty of money to offset the cost of the initial PPC ad.

Still, why is this even an issue for discussion when it could be argued that someone is simply taking advantage of market inefficiencies?

There are two major problems with this practice of PPC arbitrage.

First, it senselessly inflates click prices for legitimate advertisers. By adding an extra step to the process, it generates unnecessary clicks and higher bid prices for everybody else.

Secondly, and more important in the long run, PPC arbitrage has a highly negative effect on the user experience. Since arbitrage sites provide virtually nothing of value to users, arbitrageurs have to trick people into visiting and using the site. These dummy sites generally confuse users and coerce them into clicking more ads. This has the potential to scare a prospect away or just ruin the user’s confidence in the quality of the search results.

Taking a look at the whole picture, it’s bad for the advertiser, bad for the user, and bad for the search engine. In mid-2006 Google promised changes in algorithms to help deal with PPC arbitrage. Diatribes on quality content — or lack thereof — at Google, Yahoo!, MSN and other search engines are common. The effect so far has been less than optimal, but at least the problem has been acknowledged and efforts have begun to limit its spread.

As competition increases, search engines will need to find better ways to combat PPC arbitrage if they hope to compete more effectively for advertiser dollars and user visits. What can you do? If you want to fight the problem, and you’ve come across a “dummy” site, resist the impulse to click on an ad, which will only help the arbitrageur increase his hoard of ill-gotten gains. Vote with your mouse and insist on quality content.

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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  1. Legacy User April 12, 2007 Reply

    All you have to do is opt out of content sites in your ads. I never allow content advertising on any of my PPC ads and this takes care of the problem because the ads are not displayed on 3rd party advertisers who do this kind of thing.

    — *Matt*

  2. Legacy User April 12, 2007 Reply

    Good point Matt, I agree with you.

    — *Frank*

  3. Legacy User April 13, 2007 Reply

    The thing is that click payments vary from country to country. This is an important thing. When an Indian clicks an ad, the webmaster gets 1¢, but when someone from New York clicks an ad, the webmaster gets much more — can be a difference from 1¢ to $2. This is because some countries are more likely to buy something that advertiser advertised.

    — *Adrian*

  4. Legacy User April 23, 2007 Reply

    I would be ideal if the search engines could have a reporting site for these types of sites, it could be closed to only pay-per-click advertisers. The use of these sites has made my company further restrict the amount of paid-click advertising.

    — *Mark*

  5. Legacy User April 25, 2007 Reply

    Get real everyone – clicks are a commodity, too, and can be brokered just like loans, mortgages, futures etc etc.

    — *John*

  6. Legacy User May 8, 2007 Reply

    I agree. People will always find ways to make a buck. You have to adapt. Just run smart campaigns. Pay-per-click is not really the best way to go to begin with. Search-engine optimization is best for the long term.

    — *William*

  7. Legacy User May 19, 2007 Reply

    In reality, arbitrageurs make Google (and all PPC businesses) more money.
    A. They add volume to the PPC market
    B. They do keyword research for free … Google can then identfy more keywords for any given product.

    In the long run, arbitrageurs will eliminate themselves as competition becomes more fierce and returns cost go up.

    — *Wii J*

  8. Legacy User November 8, 2007 Reply

    I believe that arbitrage is completely unethical on the part of the search engines. Yahoo and MSN do not seem to be doing it anymore but i have seen lots of instances of pages with reams of expensive Google AdWords. Apart from driving up cost per click, this is very brand damaging to us. "Typosquatters" are buying up typos of our domain and then listing Google Ads for our competitiors on that website.

    — *Jude Murray*