For a couple of years now, there has been a definite trend of publishers – often ones booted out of the AdSense network – to use Ask.com branded Google ads to display ads on their website. While publishers running Google AdSense ads have to follow strict polices and terms, those running Google Ads through the Ask.com can pretty much break all the rules… and because the ads are run through a Google search partner, advertisers cannot opt out of these ads simply by not running ads through the content network, it falls under “search partners”, leaving many advertisers wondering why their ads are showing up on these kinds of sites.
One example is the search function for BearShare, which Jeremy has brought up on many of our contextual ad sessions at conferences (view one of the presentations from SES New York). Bearshare works by downloading “music download software” and they display their search page within their software… obviously a major violation of the AdSense policies, both by displaying ads from within a software program and for illegally downloaded content. They were running AdSense ads (originally at google.bearshare.com) through AdSense for Search, but when they were removed from that program, they simply forwarded the google.bearshare.com traffic to search.bearshare.com and moved their search over to the Ask.com branded Google ads. And if you notice the search results, most people would not even be aware that they are clicking on paid search results, except for the light grey “Sponsored Links” over on the far right side.
So, if you are booted from AdSense, go to Ask!
Now some advertisers are up in arms about the popular BitTorrent website isoHunt also displaying Ask branded ads on all the searches performed on the site… again, against the terms of AdSense (for illegal downloads) but seemingly fine to display through Ask.com. The Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv first reported this case, and Pandia followed up on it.
Norwegian companies have found their Google ads presented at the dubious file sharing search engine Isohunt. It looks like Ask.com is involved.
The newspaper Dagens Næringsliv reports that several Norwegian companies have found their Google Adwords/AdSense text ads on the notorious Canadian file sharing site Isohunt — a BitTorrent search engine.
Given that some of the companies belong to the record business — among them Sony BMG and the Norwegian media store Platekompaniet — the industry has reacted strongly.
Interestingly enough, Google has already excluded Isohunt as a Google Adwords partner, exactly because it helps users find illegal downloads.
Pandia continues to say that they are not aware of other ad networks displaying Google ads, but this is definitely a case of Ask.com distributing the ads as backfill. Now, if you are Sony BMG and find your ads appearing on a site that is not only clearly infringing on your copyright, but is earning money off you by doing i, they do what most advertisers would do… shut off the ads through the Search network. And unfortunately this decision means a lot less money for AdSense publishers, since all the advertisers opting out of content and the search network due to sites like isoHunt.
isoHunt is definitely using the Ask.com version of the ads (complete with AdWords tracking codes), and is also running ads through DSNR Media Group. And a quick check shows that isoHunt has clearly been previously suspended from using Google AdSense.
Google Norway’s response:
In any case, Google has reacted promptly. The company says it is sorry about what has happened and is now trying to stop further Google Ads from being displayed at the Isohunt site.
TorrentFreak also has more on the story, including other advertiser’s reactions:
Several companies whose ads appeared on IsoHunt, including online bookseller Bokkilden and search engines Sesam and Kvasir don’t have that much to complain about. However, there are others who are less happy.
Media giant Sony BMG and Norwegian online music store Platekompaniet have both reacted strongly to the news that their ads have appeared on IsoHunt. Artist sponsor StatoilHydro called the situation “regrettable”, adding “We would certainly prefer not contribute to the financing of sites like this.”
In a statement, Jan-Henrik Ohme, head of digital marketing at Sony BMG said “We have stopped the section of the campaign that goes to the third party until Google cleans up the issues. We have contacted Google, and they took immediate action.”
It is also interesting to note that Ask.com recently came under fire for doing arbitrage… namely advertising longtail on Google AdWords, then directing those ads to their own search page displaying… you guessed it… primarily Google ads. Although Ask.com later emailed Danny Sullivan to state that the incident was isolated due to incorrect management by an SEM agency.
You have to wonder how long Ask.com will be allowed to do both arbitrage and allow third parties to run their ads. But, as it should be noted, the ad deal between Google and Ask was signed in November 2007, and the deal was a five year deal worth $3.5 billion dollars. So this could mean that there could be another nearly 4 years of these kinds of incidents.
What I do find surprising is that it seems that Google’s hands are tied with the way Ask is distributing the ads. Jeremy has been talking about the BearShare case at our AdSense sessions for years, and other than the initial slap on the hand which saw BearShare remove the Google ads and replace them with the Ask.com branded Google ads, nothing has been done. isoHunt is still running their ads, even though it is clear they had been suspended from AdSense prior to this.
Something else that is worth noting is the way Ask.com handles the ads versus AdSense. Publishers who run AdSense very likely remember the change that AdSense made to the “clickable ad area” a year ago:
But on the Ask.com ads, the entire area is clickable, including the text surrounding the “Sponsored Links” area. Only the areas INSIDE the red lines below would NOT result in the advertiser being charged for the ad click… as you can see, a ton of whitespace that wouldn’t clearly be considered part of the ad would result in the advertiser paying for the click (click on the image to see it full sized).
If you think it is a case of “premium publishers” getting special perks, think again. Premium publishers, who often run fancy and unique ad unit sizes and styles, also adhere to the new clickable areas of AdSense… yes, even premium publishers only have the titles and URLs as clickable for earning money from a click. A click made anywhere else, even on the description of the ad, would not result in a click being earned by the publisher, or the advertiser being charged for one, since a click is not possible. So one needs to ask, why is Ask.com getting away with it?
So, what does this all mean? If you are an AdSense policy abiding publisher, if this becomes known widely by advertisers, you will see EPCs and eCPMs drop, since less advertisers will be advertising through the content network. And if you are a site using Ask.com to get around the AdSense rules, it will be interesting to watch and see how Google decides to handle this situation, both to honor the Ask.com contract but more importantly, on how to keep the advertisers happy without losing a lot of money that would be spent in the content and search networks.