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November 20, 2005

eMiniMalls ad unit redesign sparks controversy

Since I was away at PubCon, I didn't get a chance to talk about this until now. eMiniMalls blogged about a change made to their ad units to remove the hyperlinks on product names, to combat what they refer to as "curiosity clicks".

To help filter out so-called “curiosity clicks” that typically do not lead to conversions on the merchants’ side, we updated the eMiniMalls units to drive qualified clicks. Hence, eMiniMalls users will notice a dip in the overall click through rate (and hence the overall revenue).

While we do strongly believe that in the long run everyone will benefit from our efforts to optimize this eMiniMalls (beta) service, we do recognize that in the short term this might lead to potential drops in revenue for some of our publishers. To best compensate for any potential revenue loss, we are issuing a network-wide 10% bonus through the end of November.

When I think of curiosity clicks, I think of clicks made of the "hmmm, what kind of advertising is this?" variety. I generally do not think of curiosity clicks as clicks made by someone who is genuinely interested in the product but who may lack the intention of buying at the exact moment. Those kinds of clicks are completely legitimate in my eyes.

A high percentage of clicks do not convert, regardless of the ad unit style or ad network - and some of those reasons have absolutely nothing to do with the publisher, traffic quality or the person who clicked an ad, such as a poorly converting landing page or other problems with the end advertiser's website. But when an ad network deliberately attempts to change an ad unit to reduce the ability for a publisher to earn income, it is a dangerous line to walk.

And the ad unit redesign means it makes it more difficult for a potential conversion to convert, because the link is not in the obvious place. The natural surfer habit would be to click the product name or product image, but neither are now linked. Instead, one must click on the store name to get to the product landing page.

Many will be watching to see how this is all going to spin out, especially since many publishers are talking about removing eMiniMalls completely, or not giving it the prominent placement they once were. My best advice? Compare earnings before the change and after the change, and see if the ad space still monetizes well enough to remain with eMiniMalls or if the ad space could make more money with another ad program. It is unfortunate that the change comes right before the Thanksgiving long weekend in the US, though.

Plenty of forum discussion on this one at WebmasterWorld and DigitalPoint.

Posted by Jenstar at November 20, 2005 10:37 AM

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I am taking a wait and see attitude with this too. Although CTR is down I am still making more with Chitika then with Adsense in the same ad spots.

I believe Chitika will eventually have everything tweaked to make both the publishers and the advertisers happy.

Posted by: UsedMac at November 20, 2005 03:45 PM

I switched (back) to google image ad's with the same dimensions and am now using the Chitika ad's as alternate ad's there. After the link change revenues were down bij > 70%.

Posted by: Jeans at November 20, 2005 07:23 PM

I personally don't see why so many people were putting the minimalls up in the first place. They are SO hideous! But to each his own, I suppose.

Posted by: Scott Johnson at November 20, 2005 11:16 PM

I completely agree with you, Jen. It's great that Chitika started with so many positive notes from it early users. Hence, those initial publishers got a deluge of new affiliates, which brought them a lot of commission. Unfortunately, at a still very premature stage, Chitika is already making drastic changes, and not so good ones at that. It seems that the people in Chitika have grown so over-confident of their early success they thought they could just re-invent the wheel anytime. I really think they should take a lesson from YPN. If the Google ads format is already successful, such that it is also used by Yahoo, why change it?

Posted by: Philo at November 21, 2005 06:40 AM

"If the Google ads format is already successful, such that it is also used by Yahoo, why change it?".

Check out: http://chitika.com/blog/?p=24

"If the service is based on a cost-per-click model why are “tweaking” the system to increase the “sales” on the merchants’ side?"

Posted by: My Atlanta at November 21, 2005 09:15 AM

Yes, there seem to be a lot of upset webmasters. And, it may be that some of them have misunderstood the original change. They've added some more detail on their blog now.

Posted by: Mark at November 21, 2005 12:16 PM

Did anyone think this was going to be any different then what has already been done? Has anyone shared their actual earnings publicly in a forum like this? I'd be interested to learn the actual payouts people are earning and why they find Chitka valuable.

As a product, it's nothing special and is a bit confusing for the average user to differntiate from the content of the site. This confusion ultimately led to higher than expected CTR's and lower than expect conversions. This equals Chitka was losing money on a CPC basis and needed to correct the problem.

Posted by: Fortino at November 21, 2005 01:16 PM

After some serious tweaking between Google and Chitika ads, I'm doing okay (unaudited returns). However, I've seen a lot of concern expressed wondering if we'll even get paid. Does anyone here share that concern? Chitka appears to be somewhat of a new company but is it a solid company? I guess I just don't understand why so many are bailing out from the program.

Posted by: gail at November 25, 2005 05:49 AM

Actually Chitka ads are just rebranded from the shopping.com XML feed. I have a shopping.com XML feed and make several times what I make with Adsense. I am pretty sure that Shopping.com (now owned by Ebay) put their foot down. Shopping has always prided itself on the quality of the click from Shopping. The idea is a that you are getting a shopper that is interested in making a purchase. The contract with shopping is pretty explicit about what you can and can't do with the feed. The Chitka ads were pushing it and I suppose the sudden onslaught of poorly converting clicks was making their merchants upset. Hence the change.

I think they are pretty ugly anyway and I would imagine almost all the clicks were curiosity clicks and pretty useless to merchants.

Payment - Shopping.com is very prompt about payment so I wouldn't worry about that. I would worry about ebay/shopping.com reducing what they pay Chitka on per click basis as they convert so poorly.


Posted by: Brian DeSpain at November 27, 2005 01:35 PM

I'm not familiar with Shopping.com.

Chitika ads are working okay on my site. They don't receive anywhere the amount of clicks I get from AdSense, but I do get more per click. However, it does seem that their Avg Cpc has been dropping too the last day or so, and I'm very uncomfortable not knowing how their audited returns will fare. This is the most lucrative time of the year for a site like mine, so I'm wondering if I should even stay part of this beta program.

Besides all the folks wondering how much the audits will negatively impact returns, I don't like to see a good number of website owners bailing out and/or wondering if they'll even get paid.

Has anyone gotten paid yet?

Posted by: gail at November 29, 2005 01:39 PM