Why Click Guarantees Suck

Filed in PPC Advertising, SEM by Matt McGee on August 17, 2006 4 Comments

ClickZ.com re-ran an article by Justin Sanger today that I missed the first time around. He takes a well-deserved shot at the click guarantees offered to small business owners by Internet yellow pages acting as resellers for AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing.

Not familiar with the concept? Here’s a quick overview:

Guaranteed click packages enable businesses to purchase a predefined number of clicks at a predetermined price, creating a straightforward product that’s easy for customers to comprehend and thereby more easily sold. Today, all major IYPs and most of the larger aggregators of small business accounts sell guaranteed click advertising on Yahoo and Google.

(emphasis added by me)

So you have a small business that wants to use the web to get traffic, but maybe doesn’t have a good enough web site to rank organically — so, enter PPC. But that’s too complicated for many small biz owners to understand, and too time-consuming to track. So their yellow pages rep, or someone similar, sells them a PPC campaign with a guaranteed amount of clicks. The PPC campaign runs on 2nd- and 3rd-tier search sites/networks that no one uses — and, as the story below illustrates, often don’t even have a public web page. Says Justin:

Many of these networks serve millions upon millions of clicks per month. Never mind that these networks are loose configurations of obscure search properties, numbering in the hundreds. In other words, never mind the quality of the clicks generated behind the veil of simplified Google and Yahoo products.

Yep. Click guarantees suck. Here’s the story I mentioned earlier:

A couple months ago I took a call from a small business owner in our area. I’ll call her Amy. Amy had paid for a listing in the phone company’s online yellow pages. The one-year package she bought included a guarantee of XX amount of traffic.

Problem was, Amy never saw an increase in traffic to her site, never saw an increase in phone calls, customers, anything. With about two months left in the contract, she called to cancel after the year was up. She explained that the package she bought hadn’t worked – aside from an expected seasonal jump, the traffic hadn’t increased, etc.

What happened?

For the final two months of the contract, traffic to her site spiked. Unique users were up almost 100%. Page views were up about 75%. Here’s what Amy’s stats looked like:

stats chart

When we dug deeper into the stats, we discovered some strange things:

  • none of the new traffic came from the phone company’s online yellow pages; instead, it came from oddly-named search engines and other domains
  • many of these referring sites didn’t actually have an active web site
  • many of these referring domains had private registrations so you couldn’t see who owns the domain
  • more than 90% of the traffic hit the home page and left immediately — a percentage far too high to be human traffic

The only conclusion we could draw was that automated bots / scripts were hitting the home page to make it look like traffic had increased. Technically speaking, traffic did increase. Just not human traffic. And that’s why click guarantees suck.

Comments (4)

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  1. John Alexander says:

    If you are considering buying yellow page advertising, reconsider quickly.

    It is a massive waste of money!!!

  2. Ed says:

    I advertised on yellowpages.com and for 10 months the site generated 24 visitors to my website. This ended up costing about $17 per click, so I of course did not renew the contract.

    When I canceled I sent them a registered letter–this is because The Att Yellowpages & yellowpages.com advertising contract states that their contracts will automatically renew unless you provide them written notice before your renewal date.

  3. @John Alexander: You are only partially right. Internet directories can still provide the narrow market for local / national businesses. It does become a rip off, when they oversell, sell “add on” products, such as guarantee click packages or sell products and packages that the business does not need. And yes, guarantee clicks are pretty much a guarantee failure.

    @Ed: Since seniority does play a part in internet directory ranking, it is important to have an auto renew to prevent a lapse.

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