Thursday, May 16, 2002

AN IMPULSE BUY Wednesday night on the Web: I joined Google's new, improved AdWords advertising campaign.

I had spent a month in the original campaign: You paid Google to display your little ad a certain number of times when Web searchers were searching on keywords of your choice. So if you typed "ap style" into the search engine, you might have seen:

It was a little expensive to keep up, and the impact was hard to gauge, so I stopped paying for the service. But now Google is heavily promoting a new version of the service where you pay by the click-through: Only when someone actually clicks on your ad are you charged. And you set a monthly spending limit, so the displays of the ad are paced in such a way that you don't shoot your wad for the month in the first hour or two. (There's an additional mechanism whereby you specify what you're willing to pay per click, in which you're essentially bidding for space against other advertisers, but that's not important right now.) Sounds great! I joined.

Little more than 12 hours later, I logged in to check my click-through rate and found that my account was on a probation of sorts. Next to most of my keywords was a double asterisk, and at the bottom of the list was this message:

** Since the last 1,000 ad impressions served to your campaign(s) have received fewer than five clicks, we are showing ads only occasionally for keywords with recent clickthrough rates less than 0.5% like this one. Please follow the directions for improving keyword targeting, then press the "Restore Full Delivery" button above.

Sounds helpful, right? They don't want to waste my money. Oh, but they do. If Google forces me to restore delivery three times, Google will charge me a $5 restore-delivery fee.

And those instructions for improved keyword targeting? They're very big on using keywords that are as specific as possible. Trouble is, if you follow that advice you get the dreaded double asterisk. Nobody, for instance, searched for the term "copy editors" during the first half-day of my ad campaign. So the click-through rate was technically zero (a difficult mathematical concept, I know), and that produces the double asterisk that leads to the $5 fine.

But that's the point of using specific terms! There won't be as many chances to display the ad, but when the ad is displayed, its chances of success are likely to be very good. Google has stumbled upon a nice concept without fully understanding that concept.

I'm still in the program, but that's not likely to continue, barring the remote chance that my obscenity-laden reply to the "restore full delivery" nonsense generates something other than "It's in the fine print we told you to read."

Oh, and if you're in the habit of reading only the new stuff, keep reading. Two entries this morning. When I rain, I pour.

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