Pay per click advertising – A Waste of Time and Money?

It would appear that after getting a slap on the wrist, following some expensive lawsuits, Google and Yahoo are now finally doing something to try and combat click fraud. Whether these efforts will have any success, or be pursued with any conviction, remains to be seen.

With estimates of fraud accounting for between 14% and 30% many businesses should stop and think whether investing in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is really worth it? PPC is, after all, only a short term solution to a long-term objective, and can be an expensive one at that.



Last year Yahoo paid $5mill to disgruntled PPC advertisers and last week Google handed over $90mill. This was the culmination of a number of years’ complaints and law suits because they were viewed to not be doing enough to tackle the problem. A study, called “Click Fraud Reaches $1.3 billion, Dictates End of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Era” released by research firm Outsell, claimed that “Google, Yahoo and MSN…are stonewalling on click fraud, to their own and others’ detriment.” They were seen to be dragging their heels to plug a hole that was pouring money into their own coffers.

The search engines have now clubbed together to form the ‘Click Measurement Working Group’ to work alongside the new ‘Interactive Advertising Bureau’ (IAB) and ‘Media Rating Council’ to establish guidelines on what classifies as a fraudulent click.

The jury is still out on how effective they will be in first identifying and then proving cases. A lot of the automated click through programs use false IP addresses or are installed via a Trojan Horse. They will also have to establish who was actually using the PC at the time, if at all.

Proving cases will not be an easy process and will have to be pursued with some vigour for it to be effective. When it isn’t in their interest to limit the problem you shouldn’t expect to see any vast improvement in your bills anytime soon. As Clarence Briggs, chief executive of Web hosting company AIT (which has sued Google over click fraud) put it, “Do I think the fox should guard the hen house?”

With SEO now moving from a technical method to an ongoing ‘organic’ strategy the question has to be asked whether PPC is an efficient use of time and money? How much of a window can you afford to give your companies website before your ad budget runs out and it gets lost from view? Wouldn’t your investment be better spent producing content to market your business and create a sustainable long-term presence?

Pay per click advertising can gain you visibility in minutes but has a limited shelf life due to the ever increasing price of keywords. Standard SEO techniques are now also inadequate. Fiddling with meta-tags and carefully crafted page titles might get your site indexed, but wont satisfy Google and Yahoo’s desire for the most up-to-date, relevant info.

You now need to think about ‘organic’ optimisation to be on the first page of search results. Studies by Jupiter Research also suggest that 6 out of 7 people will click on the search results rather than the PPC ad – even more reason to invest your budget in evolving your site’s content.

In a previous post I discussed how I have been able to achieve top rankings in Google and Yahoo after 51 days simply by posting to my blog every week. My daily hits are now approaching 250 and still rising.  The current price for the top ad for ‘copywriter’ is £1. To receive the same daily traffic, relying purely on PPC advertising, could cost me £250 per day = £1750 per week! If I’d exhausted my marketing budget on PPC my site would simply slip back into obscurity never to be seen again. 

PPC is only viable as a short term tool for selling products of significant enough value and conversion ratio to ensure a good ROI. Using a PPC ROI calculator you can gauge whether a paid ad campaign would be appropriate for your business. Your campaign will also need to be monitored on a daily basis to ensure you are using the most profitable keywords and hitting your conversion target. If the results aren’t as hoped you can always pull the plug. One of the advantages of PPC is its campaign visibility.

As more businesses join the rush to advertise online prices will inevitably rise. PPC may eventually only be feasible for businesses able to budget for thousands of clicks at £5 a pop. PPC might gain short term visibility. But is not an adequate long-term strategy and certainly not for small businesses.

The resonance of the phrase ‘content is King’ is gaining strength as search marketing evolves towards long-term, cost effective organic optimisation. The words on your website will not only sell your business. They are now needed to tell Google you are offering the most updated, relevant info. Organic SEO can build targeted traffic to your site and more clicks still means more sales. But unlike PPC, each click isn’t going to eat into your profit or cost you extra because of fraud.

4 thoughts on “Pay per click advertising – A Waste of Time and Money?

  1. There are always going to be get rich quick merchants who try and make money using the least possible effort – usually by only having minimal content and spending most of their time trying to improve page ranking. This can bring a quick result, but not large scale lasting results. I agree that quality content is the best way to build enduring success and good search engine rankings. You’ve made a very valid point.

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