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Google's Profiteering   February 7, 2008

Most web users are familiar with Google's "sponsored listings" or paid advertisements sitting alongside standard search results. Called AdWords Campaigns, the "pay per click" model means advertisers only pay for the visitors who actually click on and visit the advertiser's page from Google's link. But in that very model, Google has managed to sneak in extra profits at the expense of small business.

We create AdWords Campaigns for clients by targeting ads by search phrase and market demographics. After first drawing a potential customer to a client's website, we then attempt to funnel visitors to take predefined actions. Were any items purchased? Did the customer click on a map showing our client's location? Perhaps they submitted a contact form requesting additional information. Tracking the movement of these potential clients provides a way to measure our success.

The setup of these campaigns requires quite a bit of knowledge from not only a market analysis perspective, but also from a programming perspective. Today, after the market segment was created by another staff member, I volunteered to handle the programming portion. Basically, this consists of attaching a little bit of JavaScript code onto an action we want to measure. When a potential customer finds and follows our ad from Google, and then takes a targeted action, the inserted code alerts our Google campaign with the "conversion" result.

When finished, I set out to check my results. I learned that Google, the king of kings on Internet search offering a slew of cutting edge services, chose not to offer programmers a simple method to test against code errors. Why? My guess centers around profiteering.

Google offers two test methods:

  • "Wait and See Approach"
  1. Wait until a customer finds your website via your advertisement.
  2. Once at your website, hope the new visitor takes the desired action.
  3. Login to Google's manager and see if the "conversion" took place.
  4. If not, make code changes, and wait again.
  • "Pay to Test Approach"
  1. Perform a search that displays your ad.
  2. Click on the link that costs you the click fee.
  3. Take the course of action being tested.
  4. Login to Google's manager to see if the "conversion" took place.
    • If properly coded, you can learn what the test cost you.
    • If the conversion doesn't happen, you'll need to test and pay the click fee again.

Google has poured significant resources into streamlining the advertising process. They have also been amply repaid for their efforts as confirmed by their skyrocketing stock price. With all the tools Google offers to build a campaign, it seems that the inability to test your programming was a deliberate move to add profits to their overflowing coffers.

I remember the pre-2000 days when the tech world became mistrustful of MicroSoft's dominance and profits. When profiteering exists at the expense of lay people, it simply accelerates the inevitable. People will grow to hate Google, too.

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