Analysing ebay’s claim that ppc advertising has “no measurable benefit”

A study was released this week which said there was “no measurable benefit” to pay-per-click, Google Adwords advertising. A bold and fascinating statement that flies in the face of the endless line of businesses cuing up to give Google and other similar search engines their money. So who was this little company looking to get attention with a wild and outlandish statement? Oh that’s right, it was eBay – the 24th biggest website in the world. And you certainly cannot argue with sample size either, eBay had bids going on over 100m (yes, 100,000,000) keywords and phrases.

But when you delve a bit deeper, the conclusion is actually quite comical; as eBay seem to fly in the face of many basic PPC rules. Firstly – when you’re operating over 100m keywords; there is some (how can I put this politely?) automation involved. Which is great, right? If I search for “Nike tennis shoes”, eBay will show me and advert liking to a page on their own search with “Nike tennis shoes” in it. But the problem is, eBay adverts didn’t end there. They were keyword matching everything; from things that no-one would possibly want to buy, to the downright outrageous. Search for “baby” on Google, and somewhere in amongst all of that you would find an eBay advert saying “Buy it Cheap on eBay”.

Now, the comedy aside, this isn’t the killer issue for eBay paid adverts. The issue mainly is that eBay, both through paid and organic search, eBay took you to search results pages that had no results. The system they were using dynamically could convince organic searchers that they had a page with actual results for what they were looking for – but there wasn’t anything there. People saw this and quickly went away.

It’s not to say that this in itself is a horrible idea, eBay auctions don’t usually last long, so being able to have Google drive people to result pages, rather than actual item listings which; while good, are hardly real time. But on this scale it simply causes too many errors. It’s not that eBay’s approach was necessarily bad, but on this scale there is such a vast wastage it becomes impossible to give any kind of analysis validity.

eBay is a giant anyway, maybe they don’t need Google to make money; not that they will have much choice – their research says they don’t, and they got hammered by one of Google’s recent updates too. But don’t be alarmed by their study findings – while we can learn a lot from their research the eBay approach goes against too many basic PPC guidelines and best practices it cannot be given a ton of validity.