Posted January 12, 2011 10:14 am by with 14 comments

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It appears there’s some unrest among Google’s AdWords users–or at least a small, vocal fraction of them.

Google’s little-known “session-based clicks” algorithm is starting to get noticed by advertisers who are seeing their ads displayed alongside seemingly unrelated search queries. Case in point

…Mr. Dorfman, the New York dentist, said he wanted to show his ads when people searched for things like “cosmetic dentist nyc” or “orthodontist.” But last August, after downloading a comprehensive report of AdWords charges, he saw there were session-based charges for unrelated searches.

For example, Mr. Dorfman said he was charged between $5.36 and $7.26 per click when Google users clicked on his dental ad after searching for “penis enlargement” and “[Chinese characters] in nyc Chinatown,” respectively.

After an email tussle, Google refunded $300 in clicks but claimed that this was “expected, normal behavior” because the user had first searched for “dental implants” before searching for “penis enlargement” – I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a dude planning some major renovations! 😉

Google argues that the ads should be displayed because the user had expressed an interest during the same search session. The advertiser argues that the user had clearly moved on and is no longer a targeted customer.

I’d argue that both sides need to take a long hard look at what they are saying. Guys searching “penis enlargement” don’t click on “dental implants” ads by mistake. Clearly there was intent there.

And Google? Either you stand by this program or you don’t. You can’t on one hand say, this is expected, normal behavior, and then turn around and refund the guy $300. Either you have confidence in your algorithm, or you don’t.

Anyway, what do you think? No, I don’t need explanations of how dentures & apertures are connected. What do you think about Google’s session-based click algo?

Update: We received this from an official Google spokesperson:

This feature is available for advertisers who use the broad match option for a keyword, and only the broad match option, and represents a single digit percentage of impressions system-wide. There are several match type options available for advertisers which gives them the choice to decide which type performs best for them.  An explanation of our keyword matching types is available here. We’ve been consistent in highlighting the Search Query Performance report as the way to see which queries trigger these ads, and advise advertisers to review these reports to determine keyword performance and adjust their keywords accordingly with broad match modifier. The performance of session-based broad match ads has no effect on quality score, and – as with all Google search ads – there is only a charge if a user clicks on an ad.

  • Wow. Maybe the algorithm needs an anatomy lesson.

    • Honestly, it sounds to me like the searcher was probably an SEO doing some competitive research.

  • Ian

    I think the key is less whether session based clicks work or not and more that this guy wasn’t aware that he was going to get them.

    Only testing can tell if and how much they work. And it may well vary significantly by click.

    But the point is that when this guy signed up he was wxpecting only to get his ads shown when users had searched his keywords then and there. I suspect the majority of adwords customer think the same and are completely unaware of session based clicks.

    It’s a trivial matter for google to make this much more visible and to give the option to turn it off/on just like the content network.

    But that might not makexas much money for them as imementing by stealth in the expectation that most people won’t notice.


  • IMHO, If the first click advertisment is relevant (dental implants), I DO want session based clicks even if there are irrelevant queries showing my advertisement. If the searcher’s original query matches your ad copy, keywords you are buying, landing page keywords and message, I would want subsequent session based clicks, because the original searcher has already found your site and has been doing research.

  • Looks like a hit piece to me, looks like G needs to make nice with the WSJ.

    I am ok with session based ad serving, though I wonder if Google Instant is pulling in inaccurate queries more often for the slow typers. If so this could be a downside of Instant.

  • I could describe how searches for “dental implants” and “penis enlargement” could be related but I know Andy wants to keep this website family-friendly… :.)

  • I’ve seen lots of ads pop up on unrelated websites or subsequent searches based upon Google searches I performed earlier in the day. It’s part of how they target via cookies and beacons.

  • Ann Williams

    Funniest article title ever! Thought provoking discourse following. My view of it: I wouldn’t want to pay for unrelated keywords but more to the point, my CLIENTS wouldn’t want to pay for unrelated keywords and I would be in serious client-losing mode if I let them. You go to Adwords, write your ad and choose the keywords for your campaign… Does Google give you unrelated keywords suggestions that might happen during a same session? No. Is there any value in unrelated keywords to the campaign? No. If the searcher moves on from dental implants to penis enlargement in the same session, the advertiser has no control, yet, in a very real sense, he’s paying for control, which is the whole idea behind AdWORDS in the first place. Google needs to fix it.

  • This seems right up there with AdWords displaying content ads on parked domains when you’ve selected search network and hiding that it’s happening.

  • The Hatred of Expanded Broad Match – Is an old story. I agree with Ian, let us decide whether we want session based impressions or not.. Google just announced they are going to Lowercase all Adwords display URL’s carte blanche! Its the same story..please give us an opt out!


    You tell me if looks as good as
    you no longer have choice. as of next week.


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