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Conversion Tracking Kills Headlines

AdWords conversion tracking and Norton AdBlock interaction issues



6:57 am on Oct 4, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I have posted a summary of this on another thread, but believe this issue is important enough to open as a new topic for wider discussion.

Soon after I enabled AdWords conversion tracking, my conversion rates rapidly declined to 1/3 of pre-tracking days, with no changes to ad content, key words or per-click bids. I also noticed that the headlines of my ads were no longer appearing, thereby making them un-clickable. G's CS response was that it was caused by "unsafe" sites in the headline's HREF tag being blocked by my anti-virus software. Since my site is a very simple FP generated site, with no scripting or other potentially unsafe content, and I had never experienced any problems with links to my site except in the AW ads, I didn't buy it.

After reviewing G's generated page source for the differences between the HREF tags of the headlines of my ads and others that were being displayed, and those that were displayed properly, and turning conversion tracking off, which caused the headlines to magically re-appear, I dug into my N. firewall settings. There I found a particular character string in its ad blocking string list, that also occurred in the HREF block of my ads when conversion tracking was enabled.

A conversion tracking ad's headline href starts like this: href=/pagead/adclick?adurl=... The problem is "adclick", which occurs in the N. firewall ad blocker's list of strings that will cause an ad to be blocked. In fact, the ad blocker strips the entire offending href block from the page source before the page is displayed! A localized solution is to use the advanced configuration option in N. firewall or in any other ad blocking product that causes similar behavior, to remove the "adclick" entry from the list of ad blocking strings.

However, this problem will still occur on every search results page with conversion tracked ads, if the user has N. firewall's ad blocking enabled with its default settings. The effects on AW advertisers is profound: Those who start using G's conversion tracking will see their CTR and campaign effectiveness decline, even as impressions remain at normal levels. This will affect their ad's position and costs. AW advertisers using conversion tracking now may already be seeing high traffic key words marginalized and disabled for low CTR, and may not be getting the results they should.

I have reported my discoveries on the root causes of this behavior to CS in more detail this past weekend. My hope is that G will change the "adclick" string to something that will not trigger this behavior. I doubt hundreds of thousands of N. and other ad blocker software users will re-configure their software's parameters, or that every ad blocker software developer would remove the "adclick" string from their standard block lists, since there are probably good reasons for it being there to block other ads.

In the meantime, I have disabled conversion tracking, and my conversion rates are now back to pre-tracking levels.

running scared

12:24 pm on Oct 4, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This was an issue that was known to Google CS some months ago. We were told they were working on it but guess they still haven't resolved it.

Bit of an arms race thing though as Norton will probably change things as adwords evolves.


2:48 pm on Oct 4, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I don't see this as an "arms race" or any other problem between the companies. Just an unfortunately poor coding choice by the AW programmers, followed by inadequate QA and testing of AW generated pages in various A/V, firewall and ad blocker environments.


7:46 pm on Oct 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This is a good thing to find out. I killed the conversion tracking in AW. Do you know if the same problem is in Overture?

I had been thinking about switching to something a bit more integrated to handle AW, Overture, and other traffic anyway. Now I just need to come up with somethign else quick since I have made a number of changes and really don't want to have to try to track the buyers by hand through the logs.


8:12 pm on Oct 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I do not see the same problem with Overture.

I have been browsing the WebMaster World / Tracking and Logging forum (forum=38) this morning, and see lots of interesting discussion of integrated solutions there.


3:15 pm on Oct 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

It looks like Google Adwords has changed their
conversion tracking links from this type:
to this type:

Hopefully, this will stop Norton from blocking
the links.


2:21 am on Oct 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yep, looks good now. I have tested & verified no problems with NPF, and have re-enabled conversion tracking with no problems over last two days.

Amazing what a little research and persistance will accomplish. I even had a nice "Thank You" email from the Google folks!


7:06 am on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I stand corrected. The original problem I reported is fixed, which is good news for all conversion trackers, but there are still a small number of ads whose headlines are not visible or clickable. Since mine are no longer affected, I haven't really dug into it, but apparently Google still hasn't adequately tested for various ad sources, options and special coding that they insert to make sure it isn't being blocked.


1:43 pm on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I don't really know, but I am wondering if maybe it
could be something else besides Norton. There are
other products that are blocking ads also. Did you
try turning off Norton and seeing if the ads are
still blocked?

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