Google AdSense For Domains Program Overdue For Reform -- And Yahoo & Microsoft Should Also Take Note

MS Research: Typo-Squatters Are Gaming Google from eWeek covers Microsoft researchers discovering Google's long-standing DomainPark program (AKA AdSense For Domains), where if you have a popular domain name with lots of traffic but no content, Google will kindly hand you some AdSense ads to turn it into an earner. While it is long-standing, I'd say it's also generally little known and definitely upsetting to people who come across it for various reasons.

In Google AdSense For Domains Program Overdue For Reform -- And Yahoo & Microsoft Should Also Take Note for Search Engine Watch members, I do a detailed look at the history of Google's program plus issues it and Yahoo's similar program raise for the search industry in general. Below is a summary for everyone.

  • Google Buys Applied Semantics from Search Engine Watch covers how Google inherited the lucrative DomainPark program when it purchased Applied Semantics back in 2003. Google later changed the name of DomainPark to Google AdSense For Domains.
  • Tapping into typo traffic was happening even back then. The site (as opposed to IRS.govo) I wrote about as an example in 2003 still runs with paid links today.
  • Complaint On Yahoo PPC On Placeholder Sites and NonConverting Traffic Coming From Google's DomainPark Program are forum threads that show how advertisers question how relevant traffic can be from sites that someone never intended to go to in the first place.
  • Far from being gamed, as the eWeek article suggests, anyone in the Google domain program should have been reviewed or approved by Google itself.
  • Antivirus vendor F-Secure gives a good example on its blog today of how typo traffic helps tap into those probably trying to reach F-Secure. It goes further and shows how this also costs F-Secure money in that Google puts F-Secure's own ads on the typo site.
  • Advertisers who opt out of contextual are NOT opted out of Google AdSense For Domains, as Strange Log Referrer - Advice Please? explains.
  • From first hand experience, Google doesn't seem to worry that typo domains violates its own rules against trademark violations, since when I queried why serachenginewatch .com, a misspelling of our own domain, was allowed to carry ads, Google flagged no issues with it.
  • Google's in the mixed message situation of saying that contextual ads can't be on parked domains yet completely allowing the minute someone's accepted into the domain program.

Overall, I don't have an issue with non-typo domains being in these type of programs, since it's hard to say they really harm another site or the surfer coming to them.

In contrast, for the person who is running a misspelling of our site -- or the same for the person doing the misspelling of the F-Secure site, there's little doubt they're hoping to benefit off the brand traffic these two sites have helped.

Navigation is a big part of search, and you'd think the search engines would want to ensure people were navigating to the right site. Instead, Google and Yahoo both seem happy to benefit by making money off these misspellings. That should change. Forget whether there's a trademark violation. Just outright ban the use of domains where it's obvious the site owner is hoping to tap into typo traffic.

At the very least, Google should make AdSense For Domains a program that really is independent of AdSense For Search and allow people to opt-out. It certainly should be pondering the mixed message of telling AdSense For Content people that they can't put ads on parked domains on the one hand yet running a massive program that does exactly that on the other.

And lest the Microsoft researchers feel to happy, they'd better understand that Microsoft fully intends to have its own contextual program in the future. That program almost certainly will face a decision on whether to provide paid links to parked domains. If Microsoft's not careful, its own researchers might end up reporting on typo domains that make Microsoft money.

FYI, I am following up with Google and Yahoo on the issues raised in the story and will post a follow up article in the near future.

Want to comment or discuss? Visit our SEW Forums thread, AdSense For Domains Garbage Traffic.

About the author

Danny Sullivan was the founder and editor of Search Engine Watch from June 1997 until November 2006.

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