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The line between subdomain leasing and alternative revenue strategy

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Sites operating under a subdomain or subfolder of another brand are attracting attention from SEOs as well as search engines. This trend has most recently involved coupon sites that use a subdomain of well-entrenched media outlets, but could potentially be applied to any number of industries.

nike_coupon_codes
Global Savings Group’s CNN and Business Insider coupon sites rank first and third organically for the query “nike coupon code” — above competitors RetailMeNot and Groupon.

Whether this practice is incentivized or discouraged by search engine algorithms has huge ramifications for the main site owner, third parties as well as their competitors that do business on their own domains.

Subdomain leasing

Third parties may publish content onto a subdomain that is owned by another brand, with an unclear amount of involvement from the main site owner. Take coupons.cnn.com, for example — there’s even a banner stating, “CNN Coupons is a destination that provides deals and discounts for online retailers. It is a collaboration between CNN Digital and Global Savings Group. CNN news staff is not involved. When you make a purchase, CNN earns a commission.”

Coupon sites operating under this model are very common. Global Savings Group, which also runs a coupon site using a subdomain of businessinsider.com as well as dozens of similar properties on subdomains and subfolders of European websites, is a major player in the online coupon arena.

“We work closely with all of our partners to connect their different offerings like news, tips, recommendations or coupons to ensure that their user experience remains top of mind,” Andreas Fruth, co-founder of Global Savings Group, explained in a statement to Search Engine Land. This may be the case with some of Global Savings Group’s media partners, but the banner on CNN Coupons is somewhat at odds with this statement — after all, how closely could you work with a news outlet if their news staff is not involved?

The main site owner’s level of involvement and the relevancy to the purpose of the main domain are key factors in determining whether such an arrangement is actually a partnership or just a ploy for third parties to gain an unfair search advantage and publishers to make a quick buck.

How does it work?

The third-party content operator (such as, but not limited to, coupon platforms) rents a subfolder or subdomain from a publisher (such as a reputable media outlet) in an attempt to piggyback off of the trust that search engines extend to the publisher’s content. 

This, in turn, gives the third-party content a questionable advantage over competitors in the search results, which may lead to more visitors and more revenue, which is then split with the main domain owner. This strategy has mainly been applied to coupon sites but could potentially be applied to any unrelated third-party content.

Third-party content operators may seek partnerships with media outlets, in particular, because of their credibility with search engines; however, Fruth cites the history of coupons in print media as part of the precedent for this relationship.

“Different types of commerce content (such as coupons) have always been part of newspapers’ offerings in the print world. As newspapers look to diversify their revenue streams, given the challenge of falling CPMs on online advertising and the subscription plateau, building a dedicated commerce content strategy is a fundamental pillar for most media companies out there.” 

The comparison isn’t quite apples-to-apples as traditional newspapers don’t rely on search engine algorithms to get their coupons in front of potential customers. And, as evidenced by Google’s many updates, algorithms can be manipulated.

Partners or domain landlords and subdomain tenants?

It is unlikely that these sites perform so well organically based on their own merit. They do not exactly offer unique content — many feature the same coupons and are even structured very similarly.

If SimilarWeb’s data on coupons.businessinsider.com is representative of subdomain coupon sites as a whole, then it’s also unlikely that backlinks play a major role as referrals account for less than 0.5% and 94% of traffic comes by way of search.

There are dozens of other factors at play, but the elephant in the room is the connection, if any, these sites have to the main site’s purpose.

“As they [publishers] are building up their portfolio of new content, some of that content they create and produce remains in-house (e.g., [Business Insider’s] Insider Picks, CNN Underscored), while other content is being amplified with the support of specialized 3rd parties, such as us,” Fruth explained, reiterating, “the core message: this is part of a dedicated strategy of the media company.”

If this is the case, we might expect to see more cohesion between the coupon site and the main site; however, coupons.cnn.com ditches the news category header navigation present on cnn.com and neither of Insider Picks or CNN Underscored’s editorial e-commerce content appears on their coupon subdomains.

“The success of partnerships between large media brands and specialized technology and content partners, like the Global Savings Group, is not based solely on the strength of associated domains,” Fruth said, keen to distinguish between his company’s business model and what is typically referred to as “subdomain leasing.” “Our team of around 400 employees worldwide, together with the editorial and commercial teams of each of our partners, works hard to negotiate exclusive, high-quality deals for our partner’s users and to create valuable content to improve the overall user experience.”

“It has been shown that consumers prefer to receive their commerce content (e.g., coupons) from brands they know and trust,” Fruth added. “This is easy to see if you compare CTRs on comparable positions between the coupon offerings of a large media brand, with higher brand equity, with the offerings of a standalone site without the same recognition.”

The scale of the situation

Anonymous Twitter account @theloish first blogged about this phenomenon as it pertained to European publications in June, 2018. In their Medium post, they estimated that discountcode.dailymail.co.uk’s annual revenue was roughly £8 million (about $9.7 million) per year. Discountcode.dailymail.co.uk is a partnership between Global Savings Group and the Daily Mail; it is unclear what percentage of revenue each partner receives.

User @theloish has also compiled a Google Sheet of over 220 coupon-related subdomains and subfolders, along with their operators and traffic estimates. Discountcode.dailymail.co.uk receives more traffic than the vast majority of the sites listed, but it’s safe to assume that the revenue generated from these sites, for their operators and their media partners, is considerable. That also suggests that the potential loss of revenue for dedicated coupon sites that exist on their own domains is likely to be significant, although some dedicated coupon sites may not profit from coupons submitted by users.

The reaction

Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller fielded a question regarding this issue during the Google Webmaster Central office hours session held on June 28.

“Maybe the right approach is to find a way to figure out what is the primary topic of this website and focus more on that, and then kind of leave these other things on the side,” he said, elaborating, “When it comes to quality, we try to look at the quality of a website overall. So, if there are particular parts of a website that are really low quality …. then overall, that could be degrading the quality of that site a little bit.”

Google also addressed the practice via a three-part tweet from its Google Webmasters account on August 14. It stated: “We’ve been asked if third-parties can host content in subdomains or subfolders of another’s domain. It’s not against our guidelines. But as the practice has grown, our systems are being improved to better know when such content is independent of the main site & treat accordingly. Overall, we’d recommend against letting others use subdomains or subfolders with content presented as if it is part of the main site, without close supervision or the involvement of the primary site. Our guidance is if you want the best success with Search, provide value-added content from your own efforts that reflect your own brand.”

User @theloish and other members of the SEO community have noticed a substantial dip in traffic amongst some of these coupon sites, most notably coupons.businessinsider.com, which has seen its visits decrease by nearly a third between June and July 2019, and gutscheine.focus.de, which experienced a 30% decrease between March and July 2019. Not all coupon subdomains are experiencing traffic decreases and it is unclear whether they are a result of actions taken by Google or other search engines.

Members of the SEO community have also been monitoring these sites as they spring up, which has facilitated conversations about the relevance of such sites and the ethics surrounding how they operate.

Some agree with Global Savings Group’s position that coupons and news publications provide value for all parties involved. Others point to the nature and accessibility of coupons that make it ripe for this type of arrangement between third parties and publishers. The tweet below even attributes the traffic reduction to the aforementioned @theloish’s publicizing of the issue, and the link within it accuses @theloish of “denouncing competitors as a last resort to seek justice for failure in the market.”

The implications

Whether coupon sites are relevant to media publications and serve their audiences is just one scenario, and search engine algorithms will have to compare a countless number of match-ups across numerous industries.

For third-party content creators, where search engines draw the line may necessitate a new business model, or open the floodgates for a proliferation of subdomains with tenuous relationships to the main domain.

For site owners, renting out a subdomain to an unrelated, unsupervised third-party may have consequences on your own organic visibility, which may impact revenue. If it doesn’t, then we’re witnessing a new way for publishers to generate revenue — and, perhaps, a method for those publishers to use their influence in one sector to gain a questionable search advantage in other sectors.


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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How to tackle rising Facebook CPAs

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SAN JOSE – With more advertisers and bigger budgets crowding onto Facebook and Instagram, acquisition costs are climbing. Advertisers can make their social ad dollars go further by re-thinking campaign fundamentals.

“You need to make sure you’re scaling your available inventory for click-through rates, mirroring your audience, and being dynamic,” 3Q Digital’s Senior Strategy Development manager Madeline Fitzgerald said in sharing tips for lowering CPAs across Facebook at SMX West Thursday.

Deconstructing Facebook CPCs

Audience size: bigger is usually better. CPCs on Facebook are affected by audience size, account structure, and click-through rates (CTR). The narrower and smaller your target audience, the more competitive your bid will need to be, Fitzgerald explained. The competition in the auction will ultimately impact the CPC outcome.

“If you’re noticing that your CPCs are really high, one of the first things you should do is check your audience sizes. If you’re seeing that [it’s] getting too specific, see if there are any other interests, behaviors, demographics that we can add.” Doing so, she explained, will help to broaden the target pool and give the Facebook algorithm more options to show your ads.

If you’ve reached a ceiling, broad targeting might be the next step. “If you already have a mature account, don’t go straight to this if you’re still early on in your testing phases. But if you’re trying to get to that next level, broad targeting is great way to do so,” Fitzgerald explained.

Account structure and segmentation. Account structure and the way we segment our ad sets can also determine the available ad inventory. Ads can run across a range of Facebook properties – from News Feed and Messenger to Stories and Instagram feeds. When we add segmentations like placements or geographies, the audience pool becomes restricted and advertisers might miss out on more efficient inventory.

“The algorithms are smarter than we are,” she reasoned. “Let the robots have it on factors like devices and placements. A couple of years ago, we laughed at everyone who did that. But we’re actually seeing a 13% lower CPA with some of our clients who [no longer segment those].”

Segmentation can be valuable when focusing on the funnel stage – i.e. audience personas, creative, and destination pages. But Fitzgerald recommends skipping demographics, geographies, devices, and placements — any of the factors you can’t edit after you set them up.

Campaign budget optimization. Soon, ad set budgets will be going away, in favor of campaign budget optimization (CBO), which uses machine learning to automatically serve ads to the target audience based on predictive analysis.

“I think the biggest way to figure out how to work this into our strategy is to think about the language Facebook is using to tell us about how the algorithm operates. Facebook tells us that CBO looks at the available opportunities – which is a combination of audience size and the audience’s propensity to actually convert into billable opportunities.”

Facebook’s algorithm prioritizes volume over potential for conversion,
which is why CBO works, she explained. Marketers can group together audiences with
similar potential reach or size and the budget optimization tool will see more
conversion potential for larger audience within the budget.  

Conversions are in the creative

Mirror your audience. “As advertisers, it’s our job to help users see themselves
and their goals – what they want to accomplish – in our creative. We need to
make sure we’re making it very obvious for them,” said Fitzgerald.

Compelling ad creative should be able to clearly visualize
the value proposition of what’s being promoted. And it’s not just about getting
more users in the door, it’s about getting the right users in the door
because they were drawn to your creative.

Engage audiences with video. Facebook has been pushing advertisers
to use animation and video for some time now, but Fitzgerald argues advertisers
still aren’t doing enough with it.

“A lot of advertisers take existing creative and put a slow
zoom on it, or pull a three-minute explainer video and think that counts as an
ad. But that’s not really what we’re being called to as advertisers here,” she said.
“It’s our job to figure out how to leverage movement in a more disruptive way,
and think about new original ways to talk to people.”

Highlight clear value in the copy.  Effective copy isn’t about being brand heavy. It’s about
making users comfortable with clicking on an ad. Fitzgerald explained that advertisers
can build that trust and comfort by keeping ad copy directly tied to the value of
what you’re selling.

“We want to make sure users don’t need to go through any guesswork to figure out what’s going to happen next,” Fitzgerald said. “People don’t want to have to read through your whole website to understand why they should engage with your brand.”

This story first appeared on Marketing Land. For more on digital marketing, click here.

Original URL:https://marketingland.com/how-to-tackle-rising-facebook-cpas-276352


About The Author

Taylor Peterson is Third Door Media’s Deputy Editor, managing industry-leading coverage that informs and inspires marketers. Based in New York, Taylor brings marketing expertise grounded in creative production and agency advertising for global brands. Taylor’s editorial focus blends digital marketing and creative strategy with topics like campaign management, emerging formats, and display advertising.



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New local SERP live in Europe

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In April 2019, Google was experimenting with a new local SERP that highlighted alternative directory sources for the same query. At the time, we saw an example in the wild for Germany. Now, an updated version of the SERP featuring branded directory buttons appears to be live in the UK, Belgium, Spain, Greece, and France – if not already throughout Europe.

A more prominent directory box. Below is an example screenshot from a UK search, showing directory links above the map and local pack.

SERP showing results for ‘asbestos removal Halifax UK

This change in the SERP grows out of Google’s continuing effort to comply with the European Commission’s antitrust decision in shopping search. It’s also an attempt by the company to preempt a separate antitrust action in local search.

Yelp previously criticized these types of screens as a return to Google’s “rival links” remedy, which was originally proposed in 2013 and ultimately rejected by the European Commission.

UK SERP showing a local carousel above the map

How are the directories selected? One obvious and immediate question is how are the displayed directories chosen? This isn’t an ad unit, in contrast to the solution implemented in shopping search. In the latter context, comparison shopping engines and Google Shopping bid against one another for placement in PLAs. However, there’s no comparable “sponsored” or “ad” label in the directory box or carousel above.

We must assume that Google is algorithmically choosing the directories to display. In the UK example above, clicking on the directory box links takes users to a category page in the case of Yell but a business profile page in the case of Cylex. Other searches (e.g., “dentists, London”) show a carousel with multiple, alternative directories.

In some cases, the directories appear on the first page of the organic results, below the map. In other cases, they do not.

Why we care. It remains to be seen whether this approach is acceptable to the European Commission. Part of that will depend on whether the buttons drive meaningful traffic to these publishers. If so it could revive the fortunes of at least some of them (think “barnacle SEO”), which have continued to see declining traffic as Google My Business and zero-click search grab more user focus and engagement.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.



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E-commerce category pages outperform product detail pages in SERPs

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E-commerce category pages represent a larger opportunity for ranking and driving organic search traffic than product detail pages, according to research unveiled at SMX West 2020 on Thursday. 

Across nearly 30 top U.S., e-commerce sites ranking for more than 25 billion keywords, category pages outperformed product detail pages, driving more keyword rankings and estimated traffic, as well as showing higher potential to capture additional traffic with optimization.

The data – culled by JumpFly and seoClarity from Google’s rankings in the U.S. – highlight the outsized role that category pages play in upper-funnel marketing efforts to drive brand awareness and interest.

Specifically, e-commerce category pages – which include parent category, subcategory and product grid pages with faceted navigation – ranked for 19% more keywords on average than product detail pages ranked for. The additional keywords they ranked for drove an estimated 413% more traffic, based on the keywords’ search demand and the pages’ ranking position. With optimization, those ranking category pages also showed the potential to drive 32% more traffic.

Even though category pages drove strong traffic, there’s a significant amount of room to improve ranking performance. On average, each captured an estimated 9% of the share of voice in its search results page. That means that the other ranking pages captured an estimated 91% of the clicks. Product detail pages, by contrast, captured just 2% of the share of voice.

E-commerce sector trends

The strong-category-page trend was most apparent across sectors that naturally target more generic head and torso keywords. For example, sites that sold cordless hammer drills, table lamps and cowboy boots drove stronger performance with category pages, including fashion, home goods and home improvement, as well as department store sites.

Interestingly, the results varied for one sector tested: electronics. One likely reason that product detail pages perform more strongly in this sector could be that electronics keyword themes tend to contain more concrete product attributes than those in other e-commerce sectors. For example, common TV searches include specifics like the size, display technology, resolution, brand and whether it’s “smart” or not. Product names for electronics also tend to contain some of those attributes to differentiate the many similar products available. Therefore, the relevance between a detailed search query and the details in the product name is higher than it would be for other sectors.

Regardless of sector, however, the direct-to-consumer space drove the strongest category-page results, with category pages ranking for 356% more keywords than product detail pages. These brand manufacturers selling their own products on their sites – like Apple, IKEA, The Gap and Nike – drove an estimated 202% more traffic with category pages, and had the potential to drive 233% more traffic.

Marketplaces and auctions

No e-commerce story is complete without a look at marketplaces and auctions. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a strong consensus among the sites in either group.

Behemoth Amazon bucks the trend with product detail pages ranking for an incredible 21,847% more keywords: 34 million keywords compared to the meager 155,000 keywords that its category pages ranked for. Amazon’s product detail pages also drove an estimated 57.5 times more traffic, and had the potential to drive 275.7 times more traffic. 

This makes a certain amount of sense based on Amazon’s strength in media and electronics sales. Both sectors are more focused on the types of keywords that product detail pages would naturally win – book and movie titles, and product attributes. In fact, one of Amazon’s best practices for product detail pages involves placing as many product attributes as possible into its 50- to 250-character product names. 

Conversely, the product names, and consequently the title tags that are typically based on them, tend to be very short and vague on most e-commerce sites. One luxury jewelry site, for example, has more than 10 products named simply “Ball Ring.”

Walmart’s smaller marketplace system acted more like Amazon with product detail pages that ranked more strongly. Though technically classified as a marketplace since its Target+ expansion to include third-party sellers last year, Target’s much smaller network acted more like a department store with stronger category pages. 

On the auction side, eBay acted more like a department store with slightly stronger category pages, while Etsy drove more rankings with its product detail pages.

Why it matters

This research suggests that category page optimization is a valuable area to prioritize to boost your organic search rankings and traffic.

Category pages form the backbone of an e-commerce site as the clickable representation of the site’s taxonomy. Every category page naturally targets a series of keyword themes that form a path through the funnel. The head keyword sits at the mouth of the funnel, while the related, more detailed themes step lower to form the torso and long tail that move toward the tip of the funnel. Traditionally, the product keywords sit at the very tip of the funnel, converting the customer to a sale.

For example, an e-commerce site that sells clothing could have the following click path through a series of five category pages: women’s clothing > dresses > maxi dresses > black maxi dresses > XL black maxi dresses. Each of those five pages targets a unique keyword theme with a place in the sales funnel. Optimizing category pages enables you to capture those searching customers as they explore their purchase options.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Jill Kocher Brown is a 14-year SEO consultant, author, speaker, and editor. She loves data-driven decisions, scalable SEO strategies, e-commerce and technical SEO. A veteran of five agencies and in-house twice, Jill can be found these days at digital marketing agency JumpFly, Inc., where she’s pioneering the SEO practice.



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