I thought this was supposed to avoid click fraud? Our Google AdWords PPA experiment
Like many online businesses, we use Google's AdWords service to reach new customers. We've been pretty happy with it, but we're always trying new ways to get our traffic up and our costs down, and we were intrigued by Google's new Pay Per Action beta.
We tried it in December. Wow, what a difference. We got twice as many trial signups as we'd ever gotten from a single campaign, and at half the price per signup we'd been paying with Pay Per Click.
Only, the demographic we were reaching was a little unusual. For example:
- About 85% of our PPA signups came from India and Pakistan, with almost all of the remainder coming from Southeast Asia. None of them were from North America or Europe. For reference, India normally provides about 10% of our traffic. That didn't change in December, it's just the trial signups that went through the roof.
- Nearly everyone (90%+) that was signing up from PPA seemed to use a free email service - mostly Yahoo, sometimes GMail or Hotmail. A large percentage had emails of the form firstname.lastname@example.org. Invariably, they would also use jon123.dabbledb.com as their subdomain on our service, rather than a company or organization name. That's highly unusual for us, since most of our customers are using Dabble DB for work.
- As far as I know, none of these users logged in a second time, and none have become paying customers. Many of them still have time left on their free trials, but I have to confess that I'm not exactly optimistic this will change.
So, what's going on here? I'm not worried about the money we spent on this campaign, we run adwords experiments all the time and many of them fail. None of them have failed this spectacularly, however. I'm also not worried if a small percentage of our adwords clicks are fraudulent, because I believe that market forces will just drive the price of a click down to balance things out. But Google might have a problem if, as I believe is the case here, none of the clicks are legitimate. Maybe we just had bad luck, and of course the service is still in beta, but it made me think about the whole PPA model and whether it might be easier, not harder, to game than PPC. On the one hand, PPA is difficult/impossible to game with bots; these were real people sitting down and filling out forms to try out our service. On the other hand, we're paying enough per signup that if someone is getting a significant cut of that, it's economically worthwhile to use real people - and on our end, it's much more difficult to detect these people than it would be to detect bots. At least, it would be if they put just a little bit more effort in than they already are.
We're suspending our PPA use for now, obviously. We'll probably try the experiment again later this year, and see if we get different results. Has anyone else given it a try?