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Eeek! PPC ad safety questioned

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Monday May 15, 2006 )

Just what the PPC (Pay Per Click) industry needed – first it was incensed advertisers suing over click fraud rates, now it’s a well known security firm stating that sponsored results (PPC ads) contained *more* dangerous sites than organic results.

That should build the confidence of Joe Surfer.. not. I’m sure it will give many companies who take out PPC ads pause for thought, and a few “please explain” emails to the engines.

The report from Site Advisor (recently acquired by McAfee, Inc.), entitled “The Safety of Internet Search Engines” may send the PPC networks into a damage control frenzy if mainstream media starts giving it serious coverage.

The report claims that of the big 5 engines – Google, AOL, Yahoo, MSN and Ask, anywhere from 2.6% to 4.5% of organic listings are “red” flagged – but with PPC ads containing a far higher level of “dangerous” sites at an average of 6.5%.

Sure, the organic results being peppered by shady sites is quite understandable – but the paid results? Let’s take a look at what Site Advisor classes as dangerous.

The red rating is applied to sites that failed their SiteAdvisor battery of tests. According to the company, these are sites that distribute adware, send a high volume of spam, or make changes to a user’s computer without their authorization.

Of the nearly 1400 keyword set McAffee used to generate the search results, the most dangerous terms were ones related to screensavers, some file sharing applications and music downloads.

McAffee points out that there are two reasons shady sites are so prevalent in PPC ads:

a) reviewing each advertiser to the degree required to properly filter out dangerous sites would be a huge task

b) these advertisers spend millions of dollars each year.

In regards to point a), I’m not privvy to all the screening processes used by the engines, although with most networks there’s definitely some sort of manual/automated review and guidelines in place that advertisers are expected to adhere to. Perhaps the engines should engage the services of SiteAdvisor …. or perhaps that’s what Site Advisor hopes they will do ;)

Regarding point b).. well… I have nothing. Everything is about profit and shareholders, and shareholders is just another term for greed; get used to it, it’s just the way things are :).

Still, I do think that the Big 5 are going to need to tackle this report head on and provide some answers to the Joe Surfers out there about what they are doing to ensure “safe” ads – otherwise if enough panic is stirred up, it will become apparent in a downturn in clicks.

Less PPC clicks = less profit for the engines = cranky shareholders = negative impact on share values = advertisers scrambling for other options to make up for the loss in traffic flow = even more intense battling for top organic positions =, =, =, etc. I’m sure you get the idea.

For those of us who run contextual advertising supplied by these engines on our sites, I guess it’s a cause for concern for us as well.

Hmmm.. what to do eh? Seems to me that making an honest, clean dollar these days is becoming and increasingly difficult proposition in this nasty, nasty world.

Of course, I haven’t discounted the possibility that McAffee may have sexed this up a bit :).

.. or perhaps this potential storm may turn into just a drizzle and Joe Surfer will continue clicking away totally oblivious to the reported threats to his security?

What are your thoughts?


Pay Per Click – a primer

Minimizing PPC costs

PPC Fraud – detection and prevention strategies


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