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Today’s release of Google’s Cost-Per-Action (CPA) beta has generated a lot of attention. Most are focusing on the impact on affiliate networks such as Commission Junction or Link Share as the test is currently confined to Adsense ads that show up on the Google Publisher Network.

I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. The next logical step is to have these CPA ads show up as Adwords next to Google’s search results.

This presents a direct and present threat to many lead gen businesses, especially those that rely on CPC to CPA arbitrage as their business. I posted on the future of lead gen in January, where I noted that, simplifying substantially, lead gen comprises three processes:

1. Acquiring traffic (e.g. from paid search, organic search, brand advertising, banner advertising, distribution deals etc).
2. Converting traffic to leads through a form-fill process
3. Finding the highest value for a lead among multiple buyers (ie having a network of advertisers and knowing who placed what value on each lead)

Google’s current beta will essentially eliminate the arbitrage opportunities in part one of this value chain. Companies driving the majority of their traffic from organic search and (long term) distribution deals will be less affected, as will those who add value to the process by qualifying users and directing them to the best matched vendors as leads. But those whose core competencies are in clever media buying will be pressured because a CPA model shifts the risk out of buying CPC and CPM media and converting to lead forms.

There are a large number of lead gen companies that have grown to over $100m in revenue. These have grown to their current size by being well managed, and building multiple sources of traffic and an efficient mechanism for matching leads to their highest value.

Smaller “mom and pop” lead gen shops that depending on buying traffic through banner advertising and CPC advertising to landing pages and selling these leads to a small network of buyers will find their margins under increasing pressure if their clients can disintermediate them through Google’s new products.

UPDATE: Some very insightful responses posted in comments that I will attempt to summarize as “you’re assuming more efficiency exists than actually does, thats why this will still create a lot of value”. Its a fair point. If you read this in RSS, its worth reading the comments.

19 Responses to Google CPA will crunch lead gen arbitrageurs margins further

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