Online Marketing Blog

Google To Become The World’s Biggest Search Affiliate?

I am rarely one for conspiracy theories or donning tinfoil hats but a word of warning, a lot of this post is conjecture. With that disclaimer out of the way, I would like to discuss a trend that I have noticed with the paid side of Google AdWords. I wrote recently about Google flushing out affiliates that use AdWords. A lot of people didn’t agree with me yet Google published an update just days afterward to it’s “website types to avoid” document about the exact topic. A lot of commenters made the very valid point that Google owns and operates it’s very own affiliate network.

The biggest revelation that was drawn from this and the subsequent thread over on WebmasterWorld was that Google was flushing out even the “highest quality” affiliates. They were even flushing out direct linking affiliates that were advertising with the parent merchants consent. I wont go into the rights and wrongs of all this, it’s been done to death on the WMW thread already and I do not want to discuss the whole Google Vs Affiliates topic again either. What I do want to point out is what happened next.

On Wednesday, November 11th, the Inside AdWords blog announced Product Listing Ads. Product listing ads are image ads that appear along with the “normal” sponsored listings on a Google search result page except they have images, merchant name and prices associated with the ad.

google-affiliate-1

Pay only for results: Product Listing Ads are charged on a cost-per-action (CPA) basis, which means that you only pay when a user clicks on your ad and completes a purchase on your site. Because Product Listing Ads is charged on a CPA basis, it offers a risk-free way for you to reach a larger audience on Google.com.

While this is still in very limited beta it’s quite interesting. I was wondering how Google would go about charging merchants the CPA. I’m not sure how long this has been a feature in Google Merchant Center, but you can now link your AdWords account to your merchant center account.

google-affiliate-1

You can now specify your AdWords account information in your Google Merchant Center account. By doing this, you can surface your product information in your AdWords ads. AdWords campaigns that are linked to Google Merchant Center accounts will receive the benefit of richer, more specific product information in their creatives; including images and prices.

You can add multiple AdWords accounts to a single Google Merchant Center account. To do this, simply enter your AdWords Customer ID under Add an AdWords Customer ID: and click Add. Once you’ve entered your AdWords Customer ID in your Google Merchant Center account, you’ll need to create a Product Extension within the Campaign Settings section of your AdWords account and link it to your Google Merchant Center account.

So now Google is allowing merchants to link their product feeds to AdWords and set a price they want to pay for each sale? Isn’t that what a PPC affiliate does/Used to do? Only this time, Google being the owner of the search engine can offer what no other affiliate can, images and branding directly in the search results.

Could it be that Google flushed out all the affiliates to make room for the merchants that it is promoting on a CPA basis? What if Google were to allow it’s affiliate network merchants opt in to product listing ads? All their feeds, data, images and prices are already uploaded to the network. Couldn’t/Shouldn’t Google start displaying product listing ads in the search results for it’s own merchants and getting a nice juicy CPA for it? Doesn’t this make sense? Google has all the data it needs to display the most profitable product ads too. Affiliate marketing is a multi billion dollar industry. Why wouldn’t they get on board? Especially if it compliments their existing search results. It appears that others have come to the same conclusion. Google have since announced more AdWords bans and in typical Google fashion, refuse to communicate clearly.

Google has just announced a whole slew of new ad formats, is slowly making organic results less visible and now with product listing ads is monetizing the remaining space above the fold. It’s also worth noting that this month, Google also released DFA analytics. It’s all mounting up.

google-affiliate-1

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is great for merchants and I am a firm believer that Google can and should do what they want with their own search engine. I am also not sounding the death knell of affiliate PPC marketing. I do however believe that PPC affiliates are going to be up against a pretty powerful 800 Lb Gorilla in the very near future.

I’d like to end with a quote over on WMW by the very wise Netmeg (You should follow her on twitter too):

But nothing pisses me off more than seeing all the talk about how Google has destroyed your business. Google has NOT destroyed your business. If your business cannot survive without Google, then YOU have destroyed your business..

…Google is not responsible for the success or failure of your business. YOU are.

I was wondering why Google was flushing affiliates out of the AdWords system and not so much the organic results. This is, in my opinion, a possible reason why. Google is making room for itself. Time to focus a little more on paid search? What do you think?


  1. avatar
    Gab Goldenberg Says:
    November 26th, 2009 at 5:27 am

    I take it the title of this post is a rhetorical question :D.

    As to Google in the organic listings… they are pushing those too. Notice that Google Base and Books show up with increasing frequency?

    Reply

  2. avatar
    searchbrat Says:
    November 26th, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Totally agree with you on this post (as my last ranting blog post will suggest). The first page of Google will become a pay per inclusion or advertisement for their own properties. If Google can increase their revenue by cutting out the middle man, then why not. The SERP’s are becoming so blended that a top spot on organic no longer gets you above the fold in some markets.
    As I said, for me it’s about traffic optimisation going forward. Making sure you squeeze every last conversion out of the traffic you generate, which is where analytics + GWO come into it.
    It will be interesting to see how Bing progresses. Google is no longer what it used to be (which I am not complaining about), Bing is a lot cleaner, keeping additional information in the side panels.

    Reply

  3. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    November 26th, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Yup :)

    Well, Google Base IS Google merchant center now. It’s never included AdWords integration before as it was always free.

    Your post is an excellent one showing the whole “You’re either with us, or against us” ideal Google is pushing.

    “If your lucky enough to be in the competitors position, you better believe you have to pay to be alongside them”. Fair enough I suppose.

    Aaron’s post is an interesting one too. Shows how Google is really getting it’s moneys worth in competitive areas.

    Reply

  4. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    November 26th, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Thanks for the comment Kieran.

    Your post is spot on. But it also goes to show that if you’re not satisfied with the volume of free/organic traffic, then you MUST start learning how to play efficiently in the paid game.

    Good point about Bing too. I think (but am probably wrong as Google have obviously tested this) that many users are uncomfortable with the complicated nature of some of Google’s latest SERPs. Bing has kept things simple, something Google was very good at. I’m sure a lot of folks who are used to, and simply prefer a list of ten simple links will begin to use Bing a little more.

    Finally, your right, optimizing traffic for conversions should now be a priority for most webmasters as the results of the effort are “source independent” (to a large extent). Where as specific SEO tactics are not. In a lot of cases, they work with one SE and not another.

    Reply

  5. avatar
    Katherine Says:
    November 27th, 2009 at 2:27 am

    I have seen that Product listing ads and so many merchants are now bypassing the affiliates and goes directly to Google.

    Reply

  6. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    November 27th, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Hi Katherine,
    That,s exactly it. Except Google is taking the cut now. Which is fair enough, they’re a smart company and not a charity.

    They’re also allowing publishers to use their network so they can pick up the crumbs. Oh, and because it’s Google’s network, they also get a cut of the crumbs.

    Reply

  7. avatar
    Leslie Says:
    November 29th, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Hi Dave,

    I have not been here for a while it seems as it is the first time I have seen the new design – it looks great.

    Even though most of my sites make their money from ads, I think the best way to be using the web just now is to sell own products and I have been looking for tie ups in that area.

    G were always heading in this direction, they tried it a year or so back inside adsense and that didn’t work for too long. It will be interesting to see how this goes.

    I don’t believe Google have the man power to completely domiate – I have seen too many adwords accounts set up by their internal experts that were not very good.

    As usual I think our space is alway interesting, with MS wooing news to them only, (great for me I think, getrid of all those strong sites), and Google playing with MS with its apps. The thing to remember is that both of them need content and publishers, if publishers stop making money what happens then – time will tell as usual.

    Reply

  8. avatar
    Dan Says:
    December 1st, 2009 at 4:52 am

    Great post, David. Talk about a “Google Slap”, this could be the knockout punch for PPC-CPA marketers; even for affiliate websites that used to rank high naturally.

    If Google wants to play the affiliate game and try to monopolize it, it will see reduced PPC revenues from AdWords affiliate marketers. The first shoe fell when it discouraged affiliate links in landing pages of PPC campaigns. That must have hit them in the pocketbook, but they must have done a cost-benefit analysis and decided that it was worth the lost AdWords revenue to try this venture. At this point, they can afford to experiment like this. Let’s see how this pans out.

    Reply

  9. avatar
    Wedding Photography Manchester Says:
    December 1st, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Google can make or break companies and no longer can hard work get you high on Google.

    The Google monopoly is in full force, milking everything even the bull!!!

    Reply

  10. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    December 2nd, 2009 at 1:00 am

    As much as it may seem so, Google is NOT a monopoly. Anyone is free to set up their own search engine. They are however in my opinion the best search engine which is proving to be very difficult to beat.

    Dumping affiliates and losing some babies in the bathwater is something they were willing and able to do.

    Reply

  11. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    December 2nd, 2009 at 1:04 am

    @Leslie: Thanks for the kind words.

    Yea, the writing is definitely on the wall. It’s difficult to move from the facilitator to the provider though in certain areas.

    I remember when AdSense had the CPA thing. It was a pain in the arse. I have not used AdSense in about 3 years now so I didn’t know it was gone.

    You make a good point, I have seen some internal AdWords “specialists” do some really damaging things to clients accounts. Every account/business is different. We’ll see how they get on.

    Reply

  12. avatar
    keith Says:
    December 16th, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    I would like to see google offer a CPM advertising program to the public, I know they recently bought Doubleclick but apparently they bought it and now aren’t taking new publishers. Adsense just doesn’t do it for me anymore, please correct me if I’m wrong!

    Reply

  13. avatar
    Adam Says:
    December 17th, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    I can understand why but what I think this will come down to after awhile is a loss of trust.

    Example….Google banks big time off of affiliates for years. Some guys spend a few 100k per day (or spent). Suddenly they have to compete directly with Google.

    Google promoted Firefox against IE for browser. Suddenly Firefox has to compete with chrome.

    Google offers Android as an alternative phone OS. Phone makers now have to compete with the upcoming Google phone.

    I could go on but, to me, the pattern is already pretty obvious. Google gets way more latitude on this than MS got because they are smarter about how they work things…I believe dangerously so. Almost looks as if we’ve built a monster.

    Reply

  14. avatar
    Lisa Says:
    December 20th, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    I agree Google dominating and dictating all the time.

    Reply

  15. avatar
    Tim Lowe Says:
    December 21st, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Great post. It seems to me that Google are moving further and further away from their original aims of “do no evil” and accurate unbiased serps. If they continue in this vain there will be a backlash and searchers will take their custom elsewhere.

    Or maybe that’s all wishful thinking!

    Reply

  16. avatar
    digidde Says:
    January 12th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Google is once again taking over an industry segment… their methods are questionable to say the least and their power and influence unmatched. It is not fair to say that bad business management alone leads to Google killing businesses… no one else has such positioning or a war chest (not only money but developers).

    Whilst I completely understand their aims of making people find the things they are looking for as effectively as possible, even if its paid for, it concerns me that this is slowly being degraded by a mission to own EVERYTHING digital, including sales.

    Even the role of a PPC campaign manager will one day be obsolete!

    Microsoft is beginning to look like a saint compared to this gruesome machine!

    Reply

  17. avatar
    thread gauge Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 5:36 am

    The gossip that Google is becoming like a corporate tyrant is increasing day by day.

    Reply

  18. avatar
    Thermal Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Just found this post… and I have to agree sadly, that Google is becoming too powerful. The number of people growing disgruntled with Google is rising. I just wish someone would build a proper search engine! I hate to admit that I love Google so much… *sigh* the parallels with MS that Adam pointed out are just scary. :(

    Reply

  19. avatar
    james Says:
    January 24th, 2010 at 3:42 am

    Definitely food for thought.
    It’s amazing how people can get so outraged at Google, we must
    remember that they are a company trying to increase profit and
    expansion in their field…

    Reply

  20. avatar
    Steve Irwin Says:
    January 25th, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    At the moment its apparent that google can do pretty much what it wants as there no search engine that can compare to it and I cant see it going anywhere…

    Reply

  21. avatar
    Colt McCoy Says:
    January 26th, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    I’m starting to get creeped out by google lately.
    There reach is unmatched and they seem to have a big brother like mentality with apps like google latitude

    Reply

  22. avatar
    RussR Says:
    March 4th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    yes, this was but obvious. The number of hits or the amount to of traffic what Google can handle is amazing. As well as it helps a great deal to all the visitors who come to Google.

    Reply

  23. avatar
    Web Marketing Company Says:
    April 2nd, 2010 at 7:46 am

    No doubt Google is so far the biggest world paid search affiliate around the globe.

    Reply

  24. avatar
    Fintan Says:
    April 5th, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    It was bound to happen, searchs for “Credit Cards” having been showing an extended google comparison ad in number 1 position for a long time.

    Reply

  25. avatar
    Mike Says:
    April 29th, 2010 at 8:04 am

    That’s interesting, I guess my only concern is if organic search listings become obsolete, not that you’re suggesting that, but if pay per click becomes the sole contender then a lot of businesses would be struggling, including businesses that provide organic SEO services.

    Reply

  26. avatar
    series Says:
    May 9th, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    I’m a little bit scared about the power of google is too much for only one company and they don’t have a rival

    Reply

  27. avatar
    Liverpool Builders Says:
    July 20th, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    I agree with the title of your post, google always growing and growing

    Reply

  28. avatar
    rob Says:
    October 2nd, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    read “website types to avoid” as well
    always good to read this stuff & keep informed
    Thanks
    Rob

    Reply