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.

1 Comment

  1. ppcproz September 25th, 2013

    I remember hearing about a third party service that matches anonymous urls with the actual site. maybe just a myth. in any case I agree; reminds me of when way too many actual search queries were listed at “other”.

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Sean Marshall
Sean Marshall is the CEO of Intended, an SEM agency founded in 2013 to provide industry-best service for SMB clients. Before Intended, Sean was the VP of Business Development of PPC Associates (now 3Q Digital). He is a huge Cal fan and has been known to win a buck or two playing online poker.