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Up Close On Google Affiliate Ad Changes

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What's been rumored over the past few weeks is now true. Google will be limiting the number of affiliate ads that show up in search results. Advertisers are now being notified of the change, and it will go into effect over the coming weeks, Google says.

With the change, Google will allow only one ad to lead to a particular web page per query, whether that ad be from an affiliate of the web site or the web site owner.

For example, consider a search for dvds on Google, which brings up ads like these at the time of this writing:

Buy DVDs at Amazon.com
Low prices and Free Shipping over
$25. Affiliate.
www.amazon.com

Buy DVDs on Sale
Free fast shipping! Huge selection.
Order now & save. Low prices. Aff
www.amazon.com

Amazon DVDs
Wide range of the Latest DVDs.
Spend $25 for Free Shipping. Affil
www.amazon.com

1000s of DVDs at Buy.Com
Huge selection - incl the classics!
Low prices - Fast & Secure Shipping
www.Buy.com

$5 Off Any $50 Purchase
DVDs / Movies, Books, Music, Games
New Buy.com Customers Only. Aff
www.buy.com

The first three ads all lead to Amazon.com, but none of them are from Amazon itself. Instead, these are all affiliates of Amazon, who make money from driving Amazon traffic. If you clicked on any of them, they would redirect you behind the scenes to the Amazon site. Amazon would know that an affiliate generated the traffic, and they would earn on sales.

The last two ads are for Buy.com. The first of these is from Buy.com itself, while the second one is from a Buy.com affiliate (the Aff notation in the ad copy tells you this).

From a searcher perspective, getting basically the same ad so many times isn't helpful, Google says -- thus the change.

"We've seen and heard from users that there are many cases where we are showing the same creative with the same visible URL linking to the same page, said Salar Kamangar, director of product management at Google, explaining users don't like this. "Just like with search where we have duplicate removal, we want to make sure we aren't showing duplicated ads."

I agree it's a good move for searchers. It will transform the listings above to instead be something this:

Buy DVDs at Amazon.com
Low prices and Free Shipping over
$25.
www.amazon.com

1000s of DVDs at Buy.Com
Huge selection - incl the classics!
Low prices - Fast & Secure Shipping
www.Buy.com

In this second example, you can see that the top ranked "amazon.com" ad gets shown, and the rest don't. The same is true for the Buy.com ad.

Which exact ad gets selected depends on which ad has the highest "Ad Rank" within Google's AdWords system. That is, the cost per click they are willing to pay multiplied by the clickthrough rate. If an official site has a higher Ad Rank than affiliates, then that will be the ad selected. If it is an affiliate with a higher Ad Rank, the affiliate ad will be shown.

In a change, affiliates will no longer have to show their affiliate status per the current Google editorial guidelines, such as by saying "aff" or "affiliate" in the creative. The reasoning Google said is that since only one ad per web site will be shown, there's no longer a reason to make this distinction.

Saying only one ad per web site will be shown isn't correct, however. It's really that only one ad per "display URL" will be shown. The display URL is the URL shown below each ad. Google will automatically check and deduplicate ads based on the display URL.

By the way, the display URL is deduplicated on a root domain basis. So consider these ads:

New: Rent DVDs for $7.99
Huge selection of movies
And a 10% surprise. Learn more.
www.amazon.com/dvdrental

Dvds at Amazon
Electronics, PCs, Laptops and more
Free Delivery on orders over $25
www.amazon.com/electronics

Even though they point at different pages -- and have what looks to be different display URLs -- they still wouldn't be allowed, Google said (FYI, they did review this example above when commenting). That's because they both have amazon.com as the root domain in the display.

In other words:

amazon.com
amazon.com/books
home.amazon.com
dvd.amazon.com

would all be considered as having the same display URL for deduplication purposes, because of the root domain of amazon.com that I've highlighted, Google said.

The program will not prevent multiple affiliates for the same company from bidding on a term, as long as they want to drive traffic to their own sites. For example, say you had three Amazon affiliates who operate sites that review books. They could all bid on something like "State Of Fear," the title of Michael Crichton's current best seller.

As long as they pointed at their own sites -- actually sending people to their sites and using the site name in their display URLs -- they would be OK. For example, these made up examples (also run past Google for review) would be fine:

State Of Fear
By Michael Crichton. Read more
about this best seller and buy
all-books-reviewed.com


State of Fear
By Michael Crichton
$16.77 w/Free Shipping
www.amazon.com

"If the content is unique and useful, we want them to do that," Kamangar said. But just linking to a page that has little content other than a link outbound to Amazon -- that isn't allowed, he explained.

How many advertisers are impacted by this? Google wouldn't give specific, but Kamangar did say generally:

"It's more that there's a small number of affiliates that want to drive traffic to everyone they can find. It's not like there's a large number of affiliates aligned with each site."

Want to discuss the changes or learn more from what others are discussing? Visit our forum thread: AdWords Restriction Of 1 Affiliate Per Merchant Announced. A copy of the letter Google sent out to advertisers is also posted in that thread.


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