What the hell are Wow.com up to?

At Greenlight Digital we produce quarterly reports that focus on particular verticals determining the best performing sites in organic and paid search. This quarter we discovered Wow.com being highly visible in Google’s paid search results.

 

What did we see?

Let’s take the Beauty vertical. When determining which brands perform best in the listings we found that Wow.com was the 8th most visible site in Google’s results, above John Lewis, L’Oreal, and House of Fraser. It’s position in our report is by virtue of it advertising in Google Adwords with a ‘reach’ of 23%. To put this into perspective, based on our analysis only Amazon is more visible in paid search results in the beauty vertical:

 

wow1

 

And not only in the Beauty vertical; we saw Wow.com in the top 20 most visible in our Retail Banking sector report, and once we’ve completed the full quota of reports for this quarter (20 reports) I fully expect to see Wow.com in some of those too.

 

So who or what is Wow.com?

Wikipedia gives us some history:

 

 

The wow.com domain name has been retained by AOL since it acquired CompuServe, though it was dormant from the online service’s shutdown to 2007.

 

In mid-2007, AOL had considered moving its Digg-style news aggregator, then hosted on the Netscape.com domain, to the wow.com domain;[1] AOL ultimately moved the service to Propeller.com. Towards the end of the year, AOL was reportedly working on using the domain for a social networking service focused on the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft,[2] and to that end began redirecting the domain to an existing AOL-hosted World of Warcraft blog, WoW Insider. The blog, now with various social enhancements, officially moved to WoW.com on May 20, 2009.[3]

 

Little more than a year after that relaunch, in October 2010, the blog resumed its previous name as WoW Insider and was moved to a subdomain of sister blog Joystiq. The wow.com domain was simultaneously relaunched as a deal of the day site similar to Groupon.[4] However, that site was also short-lived, shutting down in late 2011.[5] Throughout 2012, the domain redirected to another AOL site,Games.com. Since February 2013, the domain has served as a barebones alternate interface to AOL’s search engine, itself powered by Google Search.

 

 

Well, when you go to Wow.com you are met with a search engine so the above is true, but doesn’t help us answer our question:

 

wow2

In the footer we see that it is owned by AOL.com so no change there:wow3

 

Beyond the standard privacy, Ts&Cs and other furniture on the site, there’s no route into the site other than via the search box. So let’s do a search:

 

wow4

 

So a Google powered search results page and not much else. They are surely not undertaking CPC arbitrage from Google to Google?

 

Spyfu.com suggests so. For example, their systems picked up the following ad in Google’s listings when a search for ‘appliance repair’ was searched for:

 

wow6

 

 

Clicking on this takes you to a search engine results listing on Wow.com:

 

wow8

 

So CPC arbitrage it seems – but at what scale? Spyfu.com suggests that wow.com are bidding against 7,306,235 keywords, representing 22.5 million clicks per month, at a cost of $19 million per month (yes, $19,000,000 per month). And there has been a fairly steep acceleration to get to that assumed level:

 

wow5

 

What else?

A ‘site:wow.com‘ search in Google retrieves over 24 million pages indexed. These range in type.

 

Firstly, there’s a bunch of ‘Set your homepage to Wow.com’ pages, for example:

 

wow9

 

But the vast majority is rich content. Here are a few examples:

 

wow12

 

wow11

 

wow10

 

This content, and there appears to be millions of pages of it, is not unique content, but content taken from various sources around the web. Key sources appear to be from AOL owned properties such as The Huffington Post, Cambio.com, etc. They are all canonicalised to the source so at least there has been some SEO input into the process.

 

This all raises some interesting questions…

  • Does CPC arbitrage still work at this scale? The equivalent of $19m/month in spend is an awful lot.

 

  • Is this activity inflating CPCs for everyone else? Given the increase in breadth and scale I am assuming it must be.

 

  • Does this contravene Google’s guidelines? Or is it okay because it’s Google results going to Google results? Should that be okay?

 

  • Is there a broader intent for the wow.com domain given that it is pulling content from other AOL owned properties?

 

What do you think?

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