Evil is Click Arbitrage is Evil Evil Evil Evil Evil


Catherine Seda recently wrote an article about click arbitrage, which tended not to favor the practice. Shoemoney recently called her out on it.

Is arbitrage a bad thing? If so, why?


There is Good Arbitrage and then there is Bad Arbitrage..

I dont understand why the search engines bundle both types as unwanted...

TrueLocal - Catherine Seda

I work with numerous ecom sites and I see a good amount of solid conversions from TrueLocal.

Catherine Seda seems to be another relative new comer looking to make a living off the longtail of seasoned seo/sem professionals.

not quite

Catherine Seda seems to be another relative new comer looking to make a living off the longtail of seasoned seo/sem professionals.

Newcomer? I don't think so.

Arbitrage is Good

Arbitrage helps markets become more efficient. Consider:

* Yahoo's cost per click is low relative to Google, so they exploit the difference. This means Yahoo advertisers may be paying a premium for Yahoo users and missing out on Google users. Arbitragers help them find them.

Advertisers, if you feel these outsiders are getting a cut of your action, you should look it at as an opportunity. These interloopers are pointing out a shortcoming in your marketing campaign. As an advertiser you can cut them out of the loop by getting a Yahoo account too. You'll always beat the arbitrager, because you don't have CTR leaks to worry about.

* Arbitragers give users more ads after clicking on ads. That's the whole point of the web: interacting with users, giving them options to get to what they want. That's the reason we don't have the whole internet on a single page. :).

Advertisers may feel they no longer own the whole procedure of getting a lead. But that's the direction this whole wacky cooperative integrated synergistic information age is heading.

Of course arbitragers can be deceptive about products but so can regular advertisers. The issue is not arbitrage.

Good and bad arbitrage

I tend to believe that almost every successful online business is trying to buy media for a bargain price. Much of the advertising wouldn't be bought if the ads found their fair level. Which means conceptually at least, we are all arbitragers. SEO's are the most un-self-conscious beneficiaries of this, as SEO referrals are free (far below market value). That means a lot of people created ecommerce businesses who otherwise probably couldn't be in business.

Anyway, a lot of the defenses of much of today's "bad arbitrage" don't hold water.

Orchy claims that "arbitragers give users more ads after clicking on ads," and that this is what users want. Evidently, that's not what Google's tests show as they are adamantly against this position. On balance users would rather minimize the number of clicks to get to the information they're looking for. Also, on balance, those selling contextual ads (Yahoo & Google) should not be benefiting unduly from user misdirection, publisher misrepresentation, etc.

This is about basic transparency to the consumer - about getting more or less what you expect.

Insofar as many arbitrage-fueled schemes are non-transparent in the extrem, somebody's going to disagree with them. Certainly a lot of consumers will dislike those sites, because they perceive them as "crap" and yes Virginia people really are in a hurry and they really are looking for respected sources of information they can trust, and vendors they can trust, etc.

Newcomer? I don't think so.

Ok Jill, perhaps I didn't do my due diligence.
Fill us in on her qualifications from your personal experiences.

I did read some posts she did on your forum starting in 2004.

weak article

I agree with Shoemoney that it was late.

First off she addresses YPN and AdSense users as the folks who are doing this... they are not the ones you need to worry about since both can be OPTED OUT of if you think it is BS. It is the direct feeds that you are automatically opted into as the problem. The sites mentioned in the article are not standard AdSense or YPN partners...her facts are off on this one.

Also I think it is arguable that Arbitrage is a not bad thing... I am good for all traffic as long as it converts... I think the bigger problem is when you are getting foreign traffic and bot / PTR (Paid To Read) traffic through shady networks. On Yahoo I get up to 35% non North American traffic through my US account. This is unacceptable. I complain and was told to put "US only" in my add. Worthless. How about they do not show my ads on shady partner sites?

Not quite

Hey I was on that panel and have nothing against arbitraged content sites. What I see as the killer is the 'Hall of Mirrors' - those sites that just give up another search page, sometimes relevant sometimes not - what they do is undermine PPC. If searchers keep running in to them they will stop using PPC and just click on the organic.
They slowly come to believe that the links on the right are spam and are conditioned to go to the organic results - which is not a good thing for anyone in the industry.

Definitely Not a Newcomer

Cat Seda has been speaking at SES conferences and other niche industry conferences since at least 2002. (That's as far back as I go, so probably before that as well.) Her website states she's been in web marketing since 1995- I believe she started out working for Dana Todd before starting her own company.

From a quick glance at the article, I don't see much of her own opinion interjected- just an overview of who said what.

Ok Jill, perhaps I didn't do my due diligence.

That's probably the understatement of the week. Cat was around when you could count the number of women in the SEO/SEM industry on one hand. I have no idea about the specific issues Shoe brought up regarding what happen in the session because I missed it, but I'm having trouble finding what the big issue is with the main points of Cat's article is.

As a marketer, I think arbitrage is great. But I would never in a million years try and argue that it's a good thing from an end-user standpoint. As an end-user I think arbitrage is absolute crap. Just because a conversion may take place doesn't mean the person who had to jump through all the hoops to find what they were looking for enjoyed the experience.

Its no bad

There are always going to be a few dodgy ones in the bag in the same way that you get an advertiser producing bad landing pages. Arbitrage and affiliate marketing are mostly the same thing and unless your a cash rich retailer placing an ad feed onto your landing pages is also a form of arbitrage (if your buying in traffic). Of course the agencies dont like arbitrage but then the majority of them will end up doing a worse job and even costing the advertiser more in the long run. Bad arbitrage, the kind which is fraudulent or bot driven clearly is evil and needs to die.

Arbitrage killed my Overture campaign

Arbitrage killed my Overture campaign for one niche.

Since any of us can get an overture feed, in one way or another, and since they have a higher minimum bid than Google. A crop of arbitrage directories started targeting this niche, bidding very low on Google, and showing the OV feed as search results. The traffic from these was crap, completely failed to convert. If i could of lowered my bid on Overture below the current minimum, or opted out of the crappy feeds then the problem would of been solved. For some markets i’d be glad of any traffic, not having full control of where my ads are shown, and an artificial price was the real problem not arbitrage.

Case Studies that Count

Thanks Paul.

This is the kind of info that should be shared and discussed (and Minnapple, good to know that TrueLocal converts well for you). More conversion case studies are welcome!

She also has a book

Catherine has had a PPC book published as well: Search Engine Advertising.

Re: Catherine Seda.... just

Re: Catherine Seda.... just an outsider here, but I see plenty of mention of how old she is, but not one comment of her work / her articles / her talks / her book being any good (or bad). Maybe that's the problem.

Yes, good point, John

Cat wrote an article for my newsletter back in 2004 which was very good:

At the time, I had been browsing through her book and made the following comment:

[FYI, I've been reading Cat's "Search Engine Advertising" book over
the past few weeks and really like the chapter dedicated to improving
ad click-through rates. She also includes tons of paid-listing tools
and resources throughout.

I don't personally know her very well, although we have chit-chatted at conferences now and then. Never heard her talks as I tend not to go to the PPC ones, and I believe she usually speaks on that topic.

I imagine she must get high marks on the evaluation forms or Danny wouldn't keep inviting her back all these years.

Oh, and yes, she is a very beautiful woman!

well sorry

Jill - just because she is a hot babe and has written a book doesnt really mean that much to me.

I do search engine arbitrage every day. I do se to cpa arbitrage everyday. Am I the best? HELL NO. But I do know when someone who has no clue is writing a article that is crap im going to call it out.


Jill - just because she is a hot babe and has written a book doesnt really mean that much to me.

Nor me. I'm just sayin'

Poor User Experience

You can argue all day about whether click arbitrage is evil or not- the bottom line is that if it makes people money, they are going to do it.

As a searcher experience, it's crap. What searcher wants to click another PPC link after clicking through to a SERP? There's no good argument for seeing more ads when you thought you were reaching your final destination.

Evil is probably too strong- annoying for some, confusing for others (my mother hates those pages and will close her entire browser because she gets so confused) and they definitely create a poor user experience.

It's up to Google and the other engines to get rid of them though. The bottom-line fact is that the engines make money as well as the arbitrager. The advertiser may actually get converting traffic from an arbitrage site (in a way, it's a second chance for them to get the visitor since the visitor obviously didn't click their ad from the search page.)

Google has ALL the tools and every bit of the capability to clean out the arbitrage sites if they want to. At this point, it appears they don't want to. They continue to allow the rankings and ads that bring the traffic to these sites and write the checks that make arbitrage profitable.

It's a monster they have created and continue to feed.

For the record...

The article probably wouldn't have gotten nearly this much attention without Shoe's personal attack on Cat and implications that she had something "going on" with one of the speakers. This simple recap of an SES session wouldn't have been read or noticed by many.

In other words, it's only as popular as you make it out to be...

On the lateness of the article- most official SES recaps are delayed, if you've noticed. It's not that the article is late being turned it, that's just when they get around to running them.

I know Anne Kennedy once turned in a recap of a session I spoke at before leaving SES at the end of the week and the article stll didn't run for a month and a half. So, you can't really dig on Cat about the publishing; that's not her call.

As a searcher experience,

As a searcher experience, it's crap. What searcher wants to click another PPC link after clicking through to a SERP?

But...do they even know it's an ad? I mean, does the average surfer even realize what they are doing? If it's an easy click for them to do, IS IT really that annoying? Do people even think twice about it?

I think maybe not. (Yes, it goes against all logic for US..but we work the internet. Many people still believe Yahoo is 'the internet'.

In Fairness to Seda

Obviously, this is a highly contentious issue. Like Seda and Shoemoney, I attended the session in question.

It's clear where the lines are drawn. Those who actively participate in and profit from arbitrage quite like it. Jake Baillie was chosen as their spokesman for this panel. Several others - including Kim from Google and three advocates from agencies - are pointing out what havoc this activity plays in terms of conversion rates and in attempting to help ADVERTISERS SPEND MONEY.

I work on the latter side too, and it is hard to escape my bias that says "here's the people who fund this whole damn thing with their ad dollars, and they are being ridiculed, ripped off, and resented." It's biting the hand that feeds. And a second hand - the user. Two hands ($$$ + consumer) vs. the one that makes a bit of money for a lot of little quick flips. Guess what side Google is going to favor?

As such I can't help but feel that Shoemoney allowed his position on the issue to color his treatment of Seda. The response was highly personal and seemed to have nothing to do with either the session or the article Cat wrote.

Reading the article I see an accurate overview of what happened in the session - nothing else.

At the session I recall people in the audience shouting at Baillie their displeasure with arbitrage, and a small few on his side.

Baillie's presentation was nothing if not belligerent in tone. And yes, in fact he was "outed" in the sense that one of the panelists showed a query that was an example of something Jake pretended TrueLocal did not do. He was outed with a live query doing something quite deceptive.

I didn't see anything inaccurate in Cat's article, and yes, Jeremy, the articles that pile up from SES are used by Searchday weeks after the fact depending on how much other material is scheduled.

So frankly to take what anyone would agree is simply a factual account of the session (did Cat write "EVIL EVIL EVIL" anywhere?) and attack her personally for writing about "old news" and implying some kind of personal relationship with one of the panelists... it has nothing to do with what's in the article and nothing to do with what was said in the session. Perhaps she touched a nerve but she didn't merit the ad hominem attack, so I would think a personal apology would be in order.

As an outsider, traffick I

As an outsider, traffick I disagree with you here. To me that means while you may have a very good case on the inside for an apology or whatever, on the outside I appreciate Shoemoney's discussion more than I appreciate the publication of Seda's article. She has some authority as does her publisher, and she wrote an article that is presented as fact and persists forever for searchers to find and read. It appears to be not unbiased, and not well rounded, and perhaps misrepresentative of a meeting that did indeed bring together two sides for debate and discussion.

While I can write an article that misleads yet doesn't lie, that doesn't make for good journalism. Maybe that should have been a personal blog post instead of an SEW article?

Hey, it's Cat Seda!

DANG! What a reaction.

Does my article over-simplify arbitrage by calling it “bad” or “good?” Yup. My goals were to 1) cover the highlights of this session and 2) make sure this topic could be understood by a newbie audience too.

Personal attacks against me and the speakers aren’t cool. Debating someone’s opinion, however, is all good. Just so you know, I allow speakers to approve their comments before I submit my articles to the editor (I don’t want to risk misrepresenting their viewpoints – I know I hate being misquoted!). Love, or loathe, what they said? Then let’s debate the content.

Thanks Jill, Scottie and Greg for the intro. I’ve been doing PPC since 1999 and spoke at the first Search Engine Strategies show (and several since then). I know, I know. I’ve been MIA lately. In addition to consulting, I’ve been speaking for eBay University, writing for Entrepreneur and my second book. Sigh…and it’s time to update my first book too.

Traffick (Andrew? Cory? Adam?), thanks for your take on the SES session. It seems participants have wildly different versions of the audience’s response, which of course makes for delicious link bait.



Just so you know, I allow speakers to approve their comments before I submit my articles to the editor (I don’t want to risk misrepresenting their viewpoints – I know I hate being misquoted!).

Which is a lot more than most who cover those sessions do. Can't count the number of misquotes we usually see in those types of articles...arghh!

Indeed, Frank

That's what I remember you saying in the session. Cat, it's Andrew, BTW.

John Andrews, your disingenuous use of the insider-outsider distinction has a certain "Beltway Insider pretending to be otherwise" quality to it at this point. As soon as you begin posting repeatedly on Threadwatch, I assure you, you're an insider.

Pretty much all of us - Danny included - have styled ourselves as crusaders or outsiders when wanting "delicious link bait" or just to be seen as standing up for principles. I get that part of it.

However, there is a point at which you are in fact starting to be an insider (owner of this forum in a great example). What that tends to mean is that you disagree on principles but don't attack the person, which you and Shoemoney have done to Cat in a couple of ways.

Again, no problem debating arbitrage and such, but saying (a) Cat's article is stale, when she probably submitted it right after the session following checking with the speakers to confirm quotes; (b) she knows one of the panelists and it affected her article (we all know someone, right?); (c) some other stuff that implies you don't care about someone's credentials but only the "substance" -- that's a backhanded way of saying they have no substance... these are ad hominem attacks and where I come from the issues to dispute should be found right in the article, nowhere else.

How about a simple "I disagree with how the session was portrayed, and here's how it looked like to me... with the disclaimer that my income is earned from one side of this debate so I cannot be totally objective"?

Sorry. I don't buy the insider-outsider stuff. If outsider means common courtesy is a quaint custom reserved for people that know one another and attend secret drum-banging sessions to plan the future of the world as we know it, then I vote for a world where everyone is invited to the insider meetings.

The Search Engines' Role in Arbitrage

Thanks Jill & Andrew! Oh, and the first time I spoke to Tim Daly was after the show, to confirm his quotes. So, no personal agenda there either.

Back to the session--I’m surprised that Jake Baillie’s comment from my SEW article hasn’t gotten more press (maybe it has; I haven’t surfed around looking for it):

Then Baillie said, "If you're using their tracking products, I suppose Google could look at your conversion data and evaluate landing page quality based upon conversion metrics, but do you really want to share your conversion data with the folks who can increase your ad fees?"

What about the search engines’ role in arbitrage? And yikes! Does anyone actually think giving Google your conversion data to determine landing page quality is a good thing?

P.S. Andrew, I’d like to go to the drum-banging sessions to plan the future of the world! I’m voting for company naptime.

No. That's not it,

No. That's not it, Traffick.

I don't see where I participated in a personal attack, either. I limited myself to what was presented here, and commented on that alone. Re-read my posts if you're not sure. I don't know Shoemoney either, so no collusion going on if that's your next supposition.

Are you tilting at windmills, Traffick? You should be careful, or Shoemoney might suspect you have a relationship with Catherine Seda (?)


>Does anyone actually think giving Google your conversion data to determine landing page quality is a good thing?

it can if done properly and with your goals in mind not google's

nothing like giving them

nothing like giving them even more insight on how to squeeze more....

also they then end up sharing grouped info to your competitors - after you do all the costly work they get the benefits.....

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