John Linden, the CTO of Think Partnership, is introducing us to some of their new products. For anyone spending time in the pay per click market, you’ll find what they’re doing to be pretty interesting, there are some new methods coming where you can get additional PPC traffic.
Full Interview Audio and Transcript
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Adrian Bye: I’m here with John Linden, who is the CTO of Think Partnership. John was the founder of a company called ValidClick, which was then acquired by Think Partnership. John, tell us about yourself and what you do.
John Linden: We really had two products within the company, which was originally called Litmus Media. The flagship was the ValidClick property. At the time it was called the ValidClick Network. We also had a property called Second Bite, which is a shopping cart abandonment recovery technology. Think Partnership acquired our company in April of 2006, and we’ve integrated both products into the organization substantially. I joined Think Partnership as a CTO a few months after we were acquired and have been really working on product strategies.
My main role for the company is taking what was then 14 different acquisitions and putting them into one entity as well as making sure we have a good story and that all of our technology works together. I handle pretty much all the technology assets of most of the teams. We’re building what we consider super-applications at this point.
Adrian Bye: What are the main products you want to tell us about today?
John Linden: Two of the big products we’re pushing are centered on our performance-based advertising platform. We have a new product called the ValidClick Ad Exchange. It’s been a product long in the works that has really stemmed from an exclusive technology alliance with a company called Fair Isaac. Fair Isaac invented the FICO credit score, and they’re also responsible for fraud detection on about 65 percent of all credit card transactions in the entire world.
The MyApp platform, Kowa!Bunga, really sold a software platform that people could essentially license and use to run their own affiliate marketing instead of joining a network like CJ or LinkShare Performix. It was a self-service, self-maintained system.
We’ve actually seen a lot of interest recently with Kowa!Bunga’s MyApp platform. We’ve picked up a lot of very strong clients such as Microsoft and a division of Apple. Lenovus also has a program with us now. We’re doing all of CNET’s affiliate marketing. It turned into a very strong platform for us.
Adrian Bye: How is Microsoft doing affiliate marketing?
John Linden: They actually have a new program called the Microsoft Affiliate Network. It’s in MicrosoftAffiliates.net. You won’t see Kowa!Bunga or MyApp anywhere on the site, but we actually power the entire system. Right now, we have five or six of their deals, and they probably have 30 deals overall they’d like to eventually to get into this system.
Adrian Bye: How did this happen that you had something for small businesses and then you suddenly started selling it to big businesses? Did they come to you or did you go out to them?
John Linden: You know, actually, they’ve been coming to us. We don’t yet have a real formal sales team, honestly. We do a lot of referral business; we do a lot of word-of-mouth or inbound sales right now. We’re just now gearing up to start going after bigger companies ourselves. Our software’s been selling itself, and that’s a great position to be in from a company perspective.
Adrian Bye: Why don’t we move onto ValidClick?
John Linden: It’s a very exciting project for us. Previously, we had what was called the ValidClick Network. Basically, the way to think of it was a tier-two Pay-Per-Click network (like Miva or Kanoodle) with tier-one pricing. We have very high dollar pricing. Yahoo!’s syndicated their ads into the ValidClick Network as did Ask.com. We also had a lot of our own direct advertisers buy into the ValidClick Network on a Pay-Per-Click basis.
What we would do is syndicate those out to our partners. We had a one-on-one relationship with publishers. We would essentially click fraud protect their websites and then serve click ad protected ads on their site. As a result, we have very high quality conversions for our advertisers.
We were able to fill that gap for not only our own advertisers but also for companies like Yahoo!. We could click fraud protect that technology and lower the risk for Yahoo!. For example, if something went wrong with one of these sites, they’re big enough to cause some damage and make it really hurt numbers if they were fraudulent. In our case, we were able to protect Yahoo! and our advertisers from fraudulent traffic that might sometimes come from bigger sites.
Adrian Bye: You’re doing that protection using predictive analysis to figure out what is valid traffic and what is not, is that correct?
John Linden: Our network is a legacy product based on our patent-pending click fraud technology, which is called Feed Patrol. We’re actually working for their client server methodology. Basically what that means is a lot of people use server methodologies or server analysis, which is looking at patterns, looking at weblogs, and things like that.
We actually have a client script that runs as well; it collects additional use behaviors. Our technology can answer two questions better than anybody else from the industry. The first question is, “Is there a real user behind the click, or was it a bot, script or some form of automated clicking?” We could do that very well just because of the user behaviors that we have.
The second one, which I think a lot of people overlook, is, “Great, it was a real user behind that click, but did they intend to click on it?” Our technology can detect click fraud and detect that question better than anybody else. We can watch things with or without algorithms. We can watch mouse movement to see if (1) there is any mouse movement, and (2) does it look like a normal pattern, or does it look like it’s an automated form. If you’re just looking at weblogs, you can’t really collect that.
We actually had this concept of building an Ad Exchange. What we want to do is build the first open PPC ad exchange. We want to work not only with single publishers but with any network and be able to safely syndicate our ads or anybody that wants to provide ads through the exchange.
One of the keys to doing that was making sure we can use our click fraud technology to detect most of that traffic and use it as a pre-screen. Then we started finding that even if it follows all the rules and even if it’s good traffic, there’s a huge difference in quality of traffic.
So we formed this technology alliance with Fair Isaac. Basically, what we’ve built with them is called the Fair Isaac Click Conversion Score, which is a credit score for web publishers. What we’re able to do is look at every source of traffic that comes into the Ad Exchange, even sub sources of traffic, and score those appropriately.
It’s a nice system where we can throw out blatantly bad traffic and dynamically price the rest of the traffic based on the actual quality of that source. That’s what we’ve launched with the Ad Exchange. We’ve just announced that ABC Search, which is another PPC network, joined the Ad Exchange.
Our first goal of the Ad Exchange is to take all of these other sources out there, such as the LookSmarts, ABC Searches, and the Mivas of the world, and put them into one exchange to give people one way to advertise with a consistent set of rules.
We have about 600 million searches a month through the Ad Exchange. Our goal right now is to make sure the algorithms work. Our internal goal is to protect the advertisers at all cost. We would rather throw away 99.99 percent of the traffic than to have a bad ROI experience. Our second goal is to, obviously, pay the publisher as much as possible so they want the traffic.
Adrian Bye: How much of this bad traffic can actually be turned into equivalently good traffic?
John Linden: Our goal is not to necessarily replace Google and Yahoo!. Our goal is to really provide an open alternative form of traffic that really cleans up everybody else. It will give everybody else access to a lot more advertisers than they have access to now, and it gives advertisers one portal into a huge world of traffic, using one set of rules and using Fair Isaac as one of the policemen.
Adrian Bye: How long do you envision yourself doing what you’re doing right now?
John Linden: I’m actually having a great time. I started a couple of companies in the past. I’ll probably start another one some day. Right now, I’m having a good time and learning a lot. As long as we keep doing projects like the Ad Exchange and continue to grow our products here, I’m very content with what we’re doing.
We’re doing some really interesting opportunities. I’ve met several of your listeners in the past and would love to explore business relationships. There are a lot of ways we can work together.