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Overture Overages?

  |  September 13, 2002   |  Comments

Fact or fiction? There are rumblings on message boards that pay-per-click numbers might be artificially inflated. What's your experience?

If you are like me and are serious about affiliate marketing, you're heavily involved with search engine marketing tactics and pay-per-click (PPC) management. You're also most likely a frequent lurker or poster on your favorite message board, where you learn, and help others learn, about the business.

Occasionally, I come across a discussion that makes me wonder. "Hmm, is that theory true? I should find out." Today, I'll tell you a story and let you decide for yourselves.

The Theory

In a nutshell, there's a theory going around the affiliate/search engine marketing (SEM) community that claims results (count) that appear in the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool are inflated.

"So what?" you're thinking. Ahh, but that's not all. The theory goes on to assume the results aren't accurate because of third-party bid/rank-checking tools that autoquery search engines, thus inflating the numbers.

But wait, there's more. The theory also assumes that, since those numbers aren't accurate, marketers can consider a more frequently searched-for word or phrase more valuable than a lower-count phrase. This results in a feeding frenzy. Marketers continue to bid higher and higher because they think they can expect a certain amount of impressions.

Still Not Clear? A Sample Scenario

Let's say you've built a site that refers basketballs. You go to Overture and use the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool and search for the word "basketball." Let's say the tool tells you "basketball" was searched for 10,000 times last month.

"Wow," you think. "That's a word I need to own the first position on. It's searched a lot." You proceed to bid for the word. Once you're in the system, it turns out nine other people are in a bidding war for that word as well.

"Wow," you think again. "Other people think it's valuable, too. It's obviously a highly searched-for word. I must bid higher to get it!"

You bid, they counter, you bid again, they counter -- and so on. The bid keeps getting higher because you think "basketball" is a highly searched-for term. So do your competitors, in theory.

End sample scenario.

If this theory is true, there could be some angry marketers with empty wallets out there.

Is This True?

Let's go straight to the source and hear from Overture.

I asked Todd Daum, Overture's VP of marketing, what he thought of the theory. "This is the first time we've ever heard about anything like this," he replied. "In fact, I haven't seen any evidence at all that can support this theory. We've never had an advertiser complain to us about anything like this."

"We stand by the numbers [count] from our search term suggestion tool. They [the count] are taken from our network partners' statistics, and we believe them to be highly accurate," Daum continued.

Daum said Overture has received hundreds, if not thousands, of compliments on its suggestion tool.

Let's Hear From the Bid/Rank Checkers

Overture has a network of third-party "licensed bid/rank checkers." They have the ability to automatically log in to Overture accounts (with consent) to manage and update your PPC listings for you, for a fee.

Remember, the theory suggests auto-bid-/rank-checking systems constantly autoquery search engines by searching for your key phrase, thereby inflating the numbers fed back to the search suggestion tool.

One such company, also an Overture licensed bid checker, is GoToast. I spoke with account manager Stephen Bauer. Here's his take on the matter:

"We do not query the search engines outside of Overture with our proprietary software," he said. "Anyone who says we do is telling lies about us."

Fair enough. Bauer said he could not comment on what his competitors might be doing.

Deep Throat Weighs In

A well-known key-phrase-based research company that asked not to be named had this to say about the theory:

"We have a feeling that the figures from Overture are slightly inflated. We have achieved high rankings on Overture and have not received the traffic expected. We have also contacted a number of others who have said the same thing," said my anonymous source.

"There are many ranking checkers and auto-bid tools out there that use the Overture engine, so this may have an effect on the number of queries."

This person did not want to be named because "these are assumptions we are making and are not based on hard facts."

Who's Right? Who's Wrong?

You be the judge. What do your experiences tell you? Are your PPC results consistent with your expectations? Whom do you believe? I encourage you to let me know what you think (and I know you will).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Kukral Jim Kukral is the chief design officer for AffiliateMakeover.com, a Web site design company focused on professional Web design for affiliate marketers. He has been designing, building and marketing Web sites since 1996. During that time, he has written no books, nor spoken at any conferences. He has instead spent all his time working in the field and learning by trial and error what does and doesn't work.

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