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Anonymous Placement Makes Display Look More Like Search Partners

Published: September 25, 2013

Author: Sean Marshall

Search is competitive and ever-changing. That’s part of the allure. There’s an edge to be gained if you stay on top of latest trends and can act decisively against your competitor. Search data is highly transparent and the AdWords system responsive.
Display on the other hand, is not.  It’s never been, really.  From unpredictable smart pricing dynamics to fluctuating inventory availability, display has never been as agile as its search counterpart.
url anonymous
While the phenomenon of anonymous placement URLs isn’t new, it seems to be getting worse.  Accounting for 10-20% of traffic in recently launched display campaigns, anonymous URLs are starting to make the display network look a lot more like search partners these days.
It’s not getting any easier, either.  Up until June, an AdWords account linked to GA could easily retrieve URL data (this post shows an example of eBay as an anonymous placement and this top result on the topic addresses the GA change in the comments section).
Just to make things more complicated, even AdWords resources on the subject have changed. As the Display ad planner is being retired, its documentation has been updated. The old help article that addresses anonymous placements now redirects to vanilla doc on planning display campaigns.
The only semi reliable documentation around the subject (outside of blogs and quotes from old help article in forum threads) is this.  Reassuring to know I need a DoubleClick support resource to get any instructions on handling these URLs.
At the end of the day, performance should dictate how you handle placements.  Luckily, these placements can still be excluded, but you potentially be shutting the door on good future placements? What if the New York Times suddenly decides to go anonymous (they have a love-hate relationship with AdWords advertisers as is) and you’ve excluded it outright? Should you only added detailed URLs vs. removing the entire anonymous domain outright?
There’s no real best practice here, and keeping advertisers in limbo is another step in a long series of changes that have taken away from SEMs’ ability to do their work effectively. It feels like I’m getting on my soap box every week nowadays, but how is this level of opaqueness even remotely acceptable? I wouldn’t run a traditional buy in a magazine or TV channel I didn’t know of, so why are websites any different?
I say strike.  Block all anonymous placements, and let’s see how Google and AdSense publishers feel without the revenue.

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