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|MFA warriorship 101|
How MFAs creep onto your site
| 5:03 pm on Jun 5, 2006 (gmt 0)|
As a follow up to another recent thread [webmasterworld.com] on the well known theme of "Help I'm drowning in MFAs", hereís how I believe Google decide what ads to place and how MFAs sneak onto a site in the first place. It covers ground Iíve sort-of covered before, and as ever it is only my theory. But it seems to work for me, and I hope will be useful to some.
The main factor used by the Google Algo is probably eCPM: ads are assigned in descending order by the eCPM achieved, historically, on your site. This is to give you, the publisher, Ďthe best overall returní.
Eg: suppose you have a single skyscraper on a page, with 4 ad slots. Starting with the the first (best) ad slot, the Googlebot gives it to the ad that, according to the ad history on your site, yields the highest eCPM (not the highest bid, note). Then it does the same for the 2nd slot, and ditto with the 3rd and 4th slots.
How an individual ad's eCPM is calculated
The adsí eCPMs can be calculated as the sum of all the click values, times 1000, divided by the number of impressions. But this can also be viewed, more usefully, as: $AverageEPC x CTR x 10
However, the CTR used is not the CTR you see on your report: you see the CTR for the 4 ad slots put together; but Google keeps and uses the CTR for each individual ad. Therefore, of those 4 ads, the top slot CTR is probably much higher than the bottom slot.
Eg: suppose you have 4 advertisers (competing for space in the single skyscraper), each bidding 50c, and your reports show a click through rate of 8% for that page. The four ads might have a CTR of 4%, 2%, 1% and 1% each, which means that the top ad achieves an eCPM of $20 (.5 x 4 x 10) and the bottom ad achieves an eCPM of $5 (.5 x 1 x 10).
How an MFA gets in with a high eCPM
Then, along comes an MFA with a low, discounted bid (say, 10c, discounted because of a low conversion rate). As it is a new ad (to you), without any track record on your site, the Googlebot takes the CTR from itsí search and other sites (say, 7%, because MFAs use clever, sometimes dishonest, wording to get high CTRs). This means it has an eCPM of $7 (.1 x 7 x 10).
Therefore, although the MFA is bidding much lower than your other advertisers, it wins the third slot because the adís individual eCPM is higher than two of your advertisers.
How MFAs spread
Once it is appearing on your site, and achieving a high CTR, it suppresses the smartprice on that page and your site (because it has low conversions) causing the value of your top advertisersí clicks to drop. Gradually the MFA creeps up the page and other MFAs start to invade the page as well.
The way to prevent this happening, in this example, is to reduce the number of ads on the page to two and price the MFA off your site. You could use, say, a vertical banner instead of the skyscraper and putting it in a hotspot to keep the CTR high.
Eg: if you maintain an overall 8% on the page, the top ad might have a CTR of 5% and the bottom one 3%, giving eCPMs of $25 and $15. This puts the price of the ad slots out of reach of the MFAs.
I think the calculations involved are actually much more complicated than I've explained. But hopefully it illustrates the general principle and the benefit of reducing the number of ad slots when the average EPC is low (by comparison with adwords rates).
I hope this is helpful. And in your battle against MFAs, may the force be with you
| 8:07 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
I think that I have a way of directly and objectively testing this theory of yours.
I can add to my ad rotation a format with fewer ad slots than my usual skyscraper format. It will automatically get tested in all the different layouts that I use, and on all pages, and I can see how well it performs *in terms of overall PAGE CTR* against the other formats.
If the ad quality improves then the page CTR should go up at least a little, which should be enough for me to see. At worst I add a little more variety to my ad layouts.
I'll work that in to the next round of changes for my site...
Thanks for the thought!
| 8:15 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
How do AdLinks figure in your calculations?
Should they be dropped at the same time that ad slots are being dropped, or do you think that they are to be treated independently?
| 8:23 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
Damon, interesting experiment. Though, if ad quality improves I would hope eCPM would improve, but CTR might stay the same or drop (because MFAs have a high CTR and low EPC).
Also, I suggest you only do it on pages that have a low average EPC (in comparison with Adwords rates). If your page is already performing well, reducing ad slots can probably only damage income (by offering less choice, you get less CTR).
There is probably an optimum no of ad slots for each page, and you don't want too many, nor too few, otherwise you may be losing potential income.
[edited by: 21_blue at 8:52 am (utc) on June 6, 2006]
| 8:30 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|How do AdLinks figure in your calculations? |
To be honest, they don't. I've never been able to make as much income from adlinks as direct ads.
Part of the problem is that adlinks show lots of ads, so surfers can see and choose low EPC ads. By only showing ads directly, and controlling the number of ad slots, users usually only see high EPC ads on my site, which I think contributes to keeping income high.
| 8:55 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|Once it is appearing on your site, and achieving a high CTR, it suppresses the smartprice on that page and your site (because it has low conversions) causing the value of your top advertisersí clicks to drop. |
Maybe I am missing something - could you elaborate on this a bit further, please? How can an MFA suppress a smartprice?
| 9:35 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|How can an MFA suppress a smartprice? |
MFAs rely on getting high volumes of low cost clicks. The best tactics to get them include (a) writing very appealing ad copy (eg: "click here to win a million pounds") which gets a high CTR and (b) manipulate the MFA site's own conversion statistics to get the maximum discount.
If an MFA appears on your site, therefore, it is likely to have a relatively high volume of clicks (compared to your other ads) which are associated with a low conversion rate. As Google probably take account of the percentage of clicks that convert, the clicks gained by the MFAs depress your page/account smartprice calculation.
It is only a theory, of course, and we are never going to get any confirmation or denial from Google because the more info they release the more ammunition it gives those who want to shoot the system down in their favour.
| 9:41 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
OK, well the only thing that I can easily measure that I normally auto-select ads with is site-wide mean page CTR for each layout combination, rather than eCPM (since G for some reason does not make that available to me in real-time! %^P), and my stats are site-wide and not really per page because the numbers would be too small to do useful stats otherwise.
So this is not quite a direct test of your theory, but at least at as close-ish tangent...
I shall not change the handing of AdLinks in this experiment to reduce the number of variables by one...
| 9:55 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|the only thing that I can easily measure that I normally auto-select ads with is site-wide mean page CTR for each layout combination |
Hmmm... I'm not sure about this. Sometimes a lower CTR can give you more income. The one really important metric is earnings - from which eCPM and EPC are calculated, but it is the one metric that non-Google reporting systems can't give you. Also, one of the reasons we haven't moved to a content management system is because we can easily tweak the design of each page.
If you do try this method site-wide, I suggest making a small change and seeing what impact it has on eCPM and EPC over the next few days. You may need to repeat the experiment with a few variations to find the optimum number of ad slots for your site.
| 9:58 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
Yes, I am making the smallest change possible to test this, and see if anything pops up above the normal noise levels. I won't even put it on all mirrors...
| 10:34 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|it suppresses the smartprice on that page and your site (because it has low conversions) |
Huh?! Why would an MFA have conversions enabled? And what's a (Google tracked) conversion on an MFA?
|Then, along comes an MFA with a low, discounted bid (say, 10c, discounted because of a low conversion rate) |
|The four ads might have a CTR of 4%, 2%, 1% and 1% each, which means that the top ad achieves an eCPM of $20 (.5 x 4 x 10) and the bottom ad achieves an eCPM of $5 (.5 x 1 x 10). |
Google doesn't pay out the whole bid of $0.50. They've got to make a profit. Then they've got to apply smartpricing. Also, they're doing a lot of testing in your adspace - testing of ads, testing what performs when, on different days of the week, hours of the day (compounded by advertisers turning campaigns off for the night), at different locations (IPs) and other factors. It could have been one ad with a 25% CTR most clicks of which were witheld for routine fraud checking.
All in all isn't it the case that the time for Adsense arbitration came and went and it's generally accepted that it's not worth the money anymore?
|say, 7%, because MFAs use clever, sometimes dishonest, wording to get high CTRs |
Are aware how seriously Google takes the quality of the landing page? You may get away with something for a day or two but not the long term. The way you describe the MFAs' Adwords campaigns it doesn't look like they are churn 'n burn. As you say: "the Googlebot takes the CTR from itsí search and other sites". If you've run some Adwords campaigns you'll know that a favourable rep (and associated lower prices) doesn't happen overnight and takes a while to build up.
Tail wagging dog perhaps?
| 11:15 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
There are various ways to manipulate the amount the advertiser pays downwards.
For example, when you start to run an adwords campaign you have a minimum bid derived from a Quality Score which includes CTR. As you achieve a higher "quality" (actually, that means "higher CTR") the minimum bid drops, and you are then able to get ads placed for a lower amount. I believe manipulation of conversion tracking stats has a similar impact.
|Google doesn't pay out the whole bid of $0.50... |
Agreed. As I said, the actual calculation is much more complicated. But the explanation I gave was complicated enough in itself without throwing in other factors, so I simplified to illustrated the principle.
|All in all isn't it the case that the time for Adsense arbitration came and went and it's generally accepted that it's not worth the money anymore? |
If that were the case then we wouldn't be seeing any of the threads of the ilk "my site is overrun with MFAs". If my ideas are out of date then, hey, I'll party! And if you don't have any problem with MFAs, then you can simply ignore my theories. But the fact that MFAs still appear to be happening would suggest that there are some people still able to make money from it, and it still causes some webmasters a problem.
But perhaps to make money they have to be really clever about it, and I suspect a lot of MFA owners are pretty clever. A warrior shouldn't misunderestimate his enemy, as GW would say.
| 11:31 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
Good info, 21. I've been in the process of pushing MFA's out of banners and skyscraper slots and my EPC has definitely gone up.
I've noticed (for months now) that the top ad in my skyscrapers usually belongs to the same company. They have not moved from that spot in a while, but a few MFA's often pop up below them.
My goal is to try and clog up all five slots with more respectable businesses -- which usually means higher EPC.
| 11:46 am on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|My goal is to try and clog up all five slots with more respectable businesses |
For the graeter part I have mangaged to do this in for my US Australian and UK markets in the way 21_blue suggested. However when it comes to ads being displayed in Asia, S.America and some parts of Europe MFA's are remain plentiful.
| 12:25 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
Scurramunga, do you get many clicks from those other countries? We seem to get very few outside UK/North America/Australisia, and I wonder whether it is something to be concerned about, or not.
| 1:27 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|I believe manipulation of conversion tracking stats has a similar impact. |
Could you explain why you believe this? It would be a major discovery about the Adwords program (and a kick in the teeth for Google) if it's found that tracking is being used by Google to manipulate prices.
| 2:18 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|Could you explain why you believe this? |
Because in my Adwords campaign, when tracking conversion rates from different site entry points, I found that clicks from poorly converting entry points, after a while, cost me much less than those closer to the target page that had a higher conversion rate.
| 2:34 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|I found that clicks from poorly converting entry points, after a while, cost me much less than those closer to the target page that had a higher conversion rate. |
So you are saying that a poor converting entry point would have your CPC set at $0.10 while an excellent converting entry point would have your CPC set at $0.90 -- all based on manipulation by Google's Adword system?
| 4:09 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
21_blue, let me get this right. You're arguing that the system makes the MFAs' earnings keep dropping and dropping? That sounds like a good thing to me, I don't see the problem.
| 4:22 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
oddsod, I'm talking about Adwords, not Adsense - ie what is paid for each click drops, not the income.
| 4:32 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
If the price of a click keeps going down then the publisher's take keeps going down = MFA making less and less money. There's some logic here that I'm obviously missing.
| 4:44 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
21_blue, I disagree with a number of the things you've asserted. But my main question is, why do you do this? What possible good can come of airing these techniques? You're a publisher -- are you trying to cut your own throat?
| 6:08 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|If the price of a click keeps going down then the publisher's take keeps going down = MFA making less and less money. |
The MFA make more because they pay less for the clicks they buy... which they buy from the bona fide publisher who therefore gets less for the clicks they sell.
Jomaxx, I think you raise a fair point, that I shouldn't go into any more detail on possible MFA tactics. But the reason for posting the earlier techniques for bona fide publishers is to help those sites that keep getting overrun by MFAs, by giving them an alternative way of dealing with MFAs than blocking. And the techniques will also increase their earnings and, if done on a wide scale, would help squeeze MFAs out of the market.
| 7:05 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
Well longterm something will have to be done about MFAs because they seem to be spreading like wildfire. When I first put AS on my site over a year ago, I would see 4 ads in a leaderboard for 4 bondafide advertisers. Now I get one real advertiser and 3 one page sites with a ton of sponsored links on them. It reminds me of the pop-up triggers a few years back when one pop-up trigger yet another and so on until your machine froze. I'm at the point of being embarrassed of the ads on my site. Google's initative to check landing pages is a start but it seems to me at least they must screen the ads more closely or become known for useless advertising that everyone will avoid like the plague.
| 7:48 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
Donster, have you tried the approach I've described? Eg: where MFAs are appearing, replace the leaderboard (4 ad slots) with a banner (2 ad slots)?
You may need to ban the MFAs temporarily so legit ads can get a foothold back on your site.
| 8:10 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|All in all isn't it the case that the time for Adsense arbitration came and went and it's generally accepted that it's not worth the money anymore? |
Nope. It's still alive and kicking. Just looked at my sector on Goole search, and the same ones I banned months back are still advertising. One of them is just a single ad on a plain white page that I'm sick of reporting to Google.
| 8:28 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
Yep, I've tried it all and sometimes the results are good, sometimes not. I predict Google will be forced to introduce a minimum price level for publishers like the CPM ad networks all have in place. This has become a problem that is not going away.
| 9:36 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
Donster, another thing to try is to look at the keywords the MFAs are focused on and edit your page to remove those words wherever possible. One of the extra complications in the actual formula Google use is relevancy (as previously stated, my eCPM calculation is a simplification - Google use an adrank score that also includes other factors). Therefore, if you can make your page content less relevant to MFAs and more relevant to genuine advertisers, it becomes more difficult for MFAs to displace the genuine ones.
| 10:05 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
There are two problems with going after keywords on my site; I have over 4k pages on hundreds of topics and I've seen MFAs target lots of keywords. As has been mentioned before on this board, you can only do so much against MFAs. If you think how many different regions of the world are seeing MFAs on your site in their specific languages/areas it becomes obvious they are impossible to effectively combat.
On a larger scale, I'm worried about how MFAs seem to have found the problem with Google's algo in deciding which ads to show. Google themselves state that the algo will pick the ad most likely to get a click, not the highest paying ad. If you're getting millions of page views a day, this is obviously not an issue, but I would rather have quality legitimate advertisers on my site with the small number of views I get and not feel I'm shortchanging the valuable traffic I do get.
The fact that Google is starting to review landing pages shows the concern is already there. My feeling is that more drastic measures are on the way since no company can afford to get a bad reputation especially on the net. The catch-22 for Google (don't forget) is that MFAs are paying clients. And I would wager some are very high paying clients as well. Not an easy dilemma.
| 11:35 pm on Jun 6, 2006 (gmt 0)|
|Scurramunga, do you get many clicks from those other countries? We seem to get very few outside UK/North America/Australisia, and I wonder whether it is something to be concerned about, or not. |
Until recently I would have responded by saying that clicks from those other countries we inconsequential to my earnings as the majority of my traffic is from the USA.
Since April however I have noticed changes in traffic patterns. For instance I notice now at the start of the new day that I am seeing more clicks originating from other countries before my U.S audience kicks in. Because it's Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, I am receiving slightly less traffic from the US and probably relying a little more from clicks in other countries. In this my first year of Adsense I have learnt that although the USA will always remain my largest audience, other countries outside the USA can (collectively) make make a difference also.
Another observation I have made is that many of the MFA advertisers in these non USA non UK countries are the same generic/global MFA's that were being displayed to my US and UK and Australian customers in months gone by (when my site was a little less optimised) Occasionally I do spot these MFA's trying to creep back into US and UK slots. This leads me to the conclusion that MFA's can eventually become outperformed and outranked in markerts where Adword inventory is solid, however even in these situations they are very quick to creep back in when there is a lull in ad inventory or an oversupply of ad blocks.
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