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Why web advertising is tricky and other dirty secrets - 2003 UPDATE or what a huge difference one year can make

It's been more than one year after our initial articles from January and March 2002 and the landscape of web advertising is now completely reversed!

In our opinion Overture is slowly but steady getting worse - the minimum bid (which was initially 1 cent) was increased first to 5 cents and now in 2003 to 10 cents - which might not seem much until you realize that 10 times the original level and twice more expensive than Google. However the worst part was that the amount of "small outside fraud" was always much bigger with Overture than with Google and recently we have also discovered another form of fraud (but this time it is one much closer linked to Overture itself).
Basically I was looking in our web logs for more details about a search term that was looking very good and I have found a small surprise - while in our log and on Overture own log the visitor was declared after that term - let's call it "expensive search term" the actual string from the browser was showing that the real search was actually for other terms - for which my bid was MUCH lower (5-10 times lower) - so actually I was billed (5-10 times) more money that I have agreed on!!!
The problem is not very easy to detect for a number of reasons:
- not all browsers will give that extra details and not all search engines use such URLs
- you need to use unique destinations for your search terms so that you can easily see how you were billed for a specific visitor.
Our log lines look something like:
xx.xx.xx.xx - - [xx/Feb/2003:02:56:54 -0500] "GET /from_goto.html?q=EXPENSIVE%20SEARCH%20TERM HTTP/1.0" 200 6871 "http://www.altavista.com/web/results?q=CHEAP+SEARCH&kgs=0&kls=1&avkw=xytx " "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.0; Windows 98; DigExt)"
On top of that, as far as I could see the problem is ONLY taking place when you have expensive search terms togeter with some other cheap ones - and it always happens in such a way that you are billed more money (and never in the reverse direction).

As a result of all those factors we decided in March 2003 to cease any bussiness relation with Overture.

Google on the other side was getting slightly better - now they are getting even more visitors and their service is still good - but of course that doesn't mean that you can't burn a large amount of money without any real results if you are not carefull :)

Still under construction...