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Pay Per Click vs Pay Per Action

Will Herman sent in a comment on my post bemoaning the end of the pay per click advertising (PPC) gold rush and asked if Pay per Action will replace Pay per Click. There’s been a lot of hype in the past couple of weeks and Google recently moved in that direction by allowing PPC in their content network as opposed to pay per thousand impressions (CPM).

My thoughts here are still evolving, but here’s the best I have so far:

Good question… my only answer so far is… maybe. It’s getting more complex across the board. On one hand you have the advertiser that would love pay-per-action, and on the other side the media property that would prefer to get paid per thousand impressions and leave the risk of ads being relevant or not to the advertiser. Clicks have been a happy medium, with click fraud only being a minor concern.

Paying for conversion shifts more of the risk to the media property – if my advertisers have terrible landing pages I’m not going to get anything – worse yet, they get the impact of their brand on my page for free. These types of affiliate deals are fairly common already, but because of the “free rider” branding most pubs have been very picky about who they will allow to ride side-by-side with their brand.

Most of the current deals like the one described above is a variation though – the affiliate is doing the advertising on behalf of the brand that is selling and the affiliate gets paid when they bring in deals – basically outsourcing a portion of the marketing function. I guess you could say the with a google pay-per-action campaign the marketing is now coming through the source rather than a contractor (rather than someone else coming up with a message for you, now your message goes out into uncharted waters).

I think the market will handle this – qualified leads are worth significantly more than clicks. To use the previous discussion, while I’m not willing to pay $5 for a click, I’d gladly pay $200 for a name that has been pre-qualified through 5 questions, is in the US, and is a confirmed identity with a corporate email address.

This shouldn’t be a tough sell to the media property – they can choose between getting paid a nickel for a click or $100 for a conversion. Publishers will eventually not have to sell advertising space, but rather manage it. They no longer have to worry about empty space, but rather non-performing ads. Sadly, I think this is beyond the core competence of most publishing organizations (think about this – that’s one of the benefits of AdSense now – the publisher does no work at all besides initial setup).

For the savvy publisher this would  just be a matter of testing, and now that I think about it Google could arbitrage that since they already have the stats (I don’t know? Is that evil? Gambling? Insurance? All of the above?). So the bottom line is I don’t see pay per action getting big until the tools to do it are as simple as adsense – which I think could happen in as fast as 1 year if Google decides to “work the float”.

This is yet another sign that the land grab is over. The days of farming out 20,0000 keywords at a nickel a pop are over. Just as in adwords the benefits now will be driven to those who can write relevant ads that get (what we consider now to be) exceptionally high click-through rates. The creepiest part of this is that it’s all driving users to increase the level of relevance of their ads – playing into Google’s hand and wallet at the same time.