What's Going On With PPC? - Part 2

What's Going On With PPC? - Part 2

This is the second part in a series in understanding what is going on with Pay Per Click (PPC) revenue.

We can see the overall impact of the CTR and EPC graphs (see the previous article) by examining the RPM trend chart. The shape of the chart really highlights the rush of advertisers and consumers pushing up the value of traffic in May and then a decline into the norhern hemisphere summer period.

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The seasonal summer downturn can be clearly seen and the rise through September is encouraging. It’s clear that in both cases the rise back up to the previous May values are not being reached so something else must have occurred to disrupt the normal cycle.

RPM chart

RPM Chart

It just so happens that in the first half of June, the worlds second largest economy, China, experienced the beginning of a huge downturn in their economy. The Shanghai Index fell from a high of 5,166 and by the end of September it was resting at 3,053. In addition, to help forestall a total crash of their economy, on the 12th Aug the Chinese authorities devalued the RMB from 16.1 to 15.6 to the $US.

Shanghai Index

US to RMB exchange rate

When we examine the RPM trend we can see that it started entering a slump earlier than normal for the seasonal summer period. It is now lagging behind the typical summer rebound in much the same manner as the Shanghai Index is still languishing in the 3000's.

Domain investors would have to be completely naïve to think that such a massive decline in China would not have some impact on advertising earnings.

The question that needs to be asked is, “Will the RPM rebound?”

Although it’s early days yet, the RPM is clearly rising. The bend downwards in the trendline at the end of October is more of a function of a level 4 polynomial trend function rather than sudden depressing numbers. Traditionally, the lead up to Christmas is always a good time for traffic monetisers as advertisers flood into the Google auction system and bid prices up. Eager consumers also enter the market in droves to snap up an online bargain.

What is clear is that there is some manipulation of both the EPC and CTR numbers being reported back by Google. According to Google, if the domain channel is on now on the high value feed (due to CAF) then domain investors are receiving 90% of the advertising revenue or 68% if they are on the lower quality Adsense like feed.....not sure where we actually are in this spectrum.

Google TAC

What is suprising is that Google’s quarterly earnings report their Traffic Acquisition Costs (TAC) are currently sitting at 21.3%. It seems logical to me that even at 68% of the advertising revenue someone else must be paid a fraction for their traffic if the total TAC is to reach 21.3%. Either that or the domain channel (and other channels) are actually aggressively smart priced downwards.

Due to the lack of transparency it’s more likely this is the case and that no one is actually getting paid anything like the stated high values. Given the inverted shapes of the CTR and EPC graphs this is entirely more likely.

It’s all very easy to get angry at Google and demand our “fair share” but let’s face it…..they are actually obligated by their shareholders to maximise shareholder value. So don’t be surprised by this type of activity. The bottom line is that Google has been constantly reducing their TAC so that they ca be more profitable. They have also been buying domain traffic at massively reduced rates….

There is very little that we can do about macro-economic impacts to the domain industry like the one from China. Sadly, we just need to ride these out. However, as an industry we need to be constantly looking for solutions that pay more for our valuable traffic.....more on this later.

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Michael Gilmour has been in business for over 32 years and has both a BSC in Electronics and Computer Science and an MBA. He was the former vice-chairman of the Internet Industry Association in Australia and is in demand as a speaker at Internet conferences the world over. He has also recently published his first science fiction book, Battleframe.

Michael is passionate about working with online entrepreneurs to help them navigate their new ventures around the many pitfalls that all businesses face. Due to demands on his time, Michael may be contacted by clicking here for limited consulting assignments.

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Critical Insights Into the Domain Industry - Part 2

Critical Insights Into the Domain Industry - Part 2

This article continues directly from Part 1 in the series "Critical Insights Into the Domain Industry"

Google’s response to the aggregation of traffic by parking companies was to instantly grant a number of additional domain feeds to new parking companies. Some of these feeds had a honeymoon clause that allowed them to have a competitive advantage versus the larger incumbents. Many domain investors flocked to these new companies as they were seen as their salvation to paying renewal fees. This instantly re-fragmented the marketplace.

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Now that the market was split up again, Google instituted DRID’s (Domain Registrant ID) to reduce fraud (this was a good move IMHO) and CAF (Custom Ad Frame). CAF is where Google controls everything on the lander for a parked page.

Personally, I think that this overall strategy was a really clever part on Google. It allowed them to decrease PPC rates and completely control the entire domain channel without the threat of a wounded Yahoo stepping up to the plate. Some people get really upset by Google’s behaviour. What domain investors need to understand is that Google is obligated to behave in such a fashion on behalf of their shareholders.

In fact, if you look at the Google TAC (Traffic Acquisition Costs) graph over the last years you can see the TAC in a constant decline as Google buys traffic at cheaper and cheaper rates. The domain channel is but one part of the overall TAC number....sadly, this is not broken out as a separate number. It would appear that the TAC is now at the point where tier 2 players are a serious contender for the traffic. This has really made zero click a feasible option for domain traffic. The challenge for individual domain investors is to actually take advantage of this...

TAC

 

So let’s get back to the story. So who bought the domains being sold by investors and how did they buy them? Many of the buyers of the traffic domains did so with debt or investor backed money raised just before the financial crash. Post the GFC this became problematic as:

1.            Promised investor returns weren’t realised.
2.            Debt payments couldn’t be funded.

A number of funds that raised a lot of money found themselves in the awkward situation of dealing with boards that were screaming for results. Here’s what’s interesting. In the past it was good enough to buy a domain and get phenomenal returns from the traffic but now things were different. A different set of skills were required to extract every bit of value from the domain traffic.

A good way of thinking about the problem is like this. Previously you could bend down and pick up a nugget of gold while now you need to drill three miles deep and run a shaft two miles horizontally to find the seams of gold in the traffic. The gold is still there but it just takes more effort to get it out.

The individuals and companies that raised cash to acquire domains now needed a different set of skills to extract the value. For most companies the individuals have skills to find domains, do deals and do basic monetisation. Very few, to none of them had the skills necessary to extract every dollar out of the traffic.

The problem then became one of ego. For the years before the GFC many of the individuals that had established these domain funds had been lauded as geniuses. They were partying like there was no tomorrow and almost overnight they were completely out of their depth. Picking gold up off the ground is very different from driving shafts into the bedrock.

I remember being in a meeting with one such fund where my company, ParkLogic, had increased the revenue by 32% (versus a direct Google feed). The company refused to admit that this was possible and turned their back on the additional revenue. It turned out that there was massive political infighting and egos were being threatened because they didn’t have the skills to produce the same results. Lesson learned, it’s always easier to deny the facts then to admit you’re wrong.

These same portfolios are now being broken up into pieces as investors (and debtors) endeavour to get some of their money back. Domains that were purchased for 40+ months revenue are now being sold for 12-18 months.

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Michael Gilmour has been in business for over 32 years and has both a BSC in Electronics and Computer Science and an MBA. He was the former vice-chairman of the Internet Industry Association in Australia and is in demand as a speaker at Internet conferences the world over. He has also recently published his first science fiction book, Battleframe.

Michael is passionate about working with online entrepreneurs to help them navigate their new ventures around the many pitfalls that all businesses face. Due to demands on his time, Michael may be contacted by clicking here for limited consulting assignments.

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Critical Insights Into the Domain Industry - Part 1

Critical Insights Into the Domain Industry - Part 1

I’ve spoken and attended a lot of conferences over the years….and clocked up quite a few airline miles in the process! During this time I’ve seen so many people come and go, businesses launched only to vanish and domain investments completely mismanaged.

So why am I reflecting on these things? I was speaking with a client this morning and the conversation caused me to journey down memory lane and review a few of my old presentations that I’ve shared at conferences.

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I had a bit of a laugh when I looked at a presentation that I did at TRAFFIC Vegas 2008. One of the slides predicted the recession and the collapse of domain valuations and PPC revenue. Guess what….it happened.

Am I a living genius? My wife would be the first to say, not at all! What I try and do is take in what is happening in the complete industry and then ask the reason “Why?” This is quickly followed up by, “So what does this mean?”

So let’s take a look at the state of the domain industry with these two questions in mind.

Why do many people think that domain parking is dead? Back when the revenue squeeze came on many domainers were left holding two types of domains, traffic and brandable domains. At the time brandable domains weren’t in fashion because there was a global recession. Despite this everyone believed that they knew their domains would be worth a fortune (wink, wink).

Many investors convinced themselves that PPC rates were declining and that soon all of their traffic domains would be worthless. So they sold them off at discount prices to help fund the registrations of the brandable domains.

You see, brandable domains are like a ticket in the lottery. You have to have a ticket if you will have any chance of winning….the only problem is that the domain lottery ticket has to be paid each year. When you don’t have the funds to finance registrations you have no choice but to look at selling the one thing that does have value now……that’s traffic domains.

As PPC rates decreased there was pressure to sell while you still could. Very few people thought about how to increase PPC rates and maintain their revenue lines. A herd mentality developed and traffic domains began flying out the door while at the same time domainers dropped more speculative domains.

I want to say upfront that although PPC rates did decrease they have not decreased as much as many domain investors have experienced. Here’s some data that I think you’ll find interesting. The most that ANY parking company wins is 25% of the traffic. This means that in the absolute best case scenario, if you left all of your domains with one parking provider then 75% of the time the domains can perform better elsewhere!

Some domain investors caught onto this and began manually moving their domains around to find the best monetisation solution. Here’s another stat that most people aren’t going to like. After nearly nine years of running what I believe is one of the most sophisticated optimisation system in the world I have found that around 33% of domains move providers every 3 months. The problem is that it’s a different set of solutions and a different set of domains!

So why did PPC rates decrease? It was really simple, because they could. Google is the dominant provider of PPC revenue to the entire domain channel and to maintain its position in the industry it logically did two things. To fully understand this we need to first understand the industry at the time.

Traffic had begun consolidating around several large hubs of monetisation providers, the largest two of which were Domain Sponsor and Sedo. The problem with a consolidating market is that the tail could end up wagging the “Google dog”.

While traffic was spread throughout the industry Google could play one player off against another. The problem became when Domain Sponsor raised a lot of capital via Oakhill Capital Partners and Sedo became part of United Internet and developed a domain sales revenue stream that was not dependent upon Google. Both these actions meant that the companies could now buy vast amounts of traffic and potentially break the Google exclusivity stranglehold.

The next article will continue the story of the domain industry and how Google responded to this threat.

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Michael Gilmour has been in business for over 32 years and has both a BSC in Electronics and Computer Science and an MBA. He was the former vice-chairman of the Internet Industry Association in Australia and is in demand as a speaker at Internet conferences the world over. He has also recently published his first science fiction book, Battleframe.

Michael is passionate about working with online entrepreneurs to help them navigate their new ventures around the many pitfalls that all businesses face. Due to demands on his time, Michael may be contacted by clicking here for limited consulting assignments.

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