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Google has a flaw? Didn’t think it was possible.

By John Romano
Posted Tuesday, October 19, 2004

First off, Google is king. Yahoo buying Inktomi and Overture puts them back on top for now, but Google is clearly the Yahoo of the 00’s. However, we do have a few particular beefs with the mighty and mostly benevolent Google.

Google has a problem with one of their ad products, AdWords. AdWords is the revolutionary keyword buying tool that lets small, and now big, businesses buy keyword terms that show up in ads alongside Google’s organic search results. Studying and utilizing the Google system has reaped some interesting facts and a few flaws. Here are a few things we learned.

A.A technique for getting the most traffic and clicks (Sorry, not going to reveal that, as this isn’t a hack’em and rob’em article.) Oh, and: WARNING - NO KEYWORD CLICKS WERE HARMED OR STOLEN in the writing or researching of this article.
B.How to find amazingly robust and cost effective search terms (Again sorry, that technique separates a mediocre ad buy from a great one and everybody who finds good words should keep them as close to the vest as possible.)
C.A glitch in Google’s system that can unfairly penalize top performing search terms. That’s the focus of this piece.

Picture this: Johnny T-Shirt Co. spends time doing keyword research for terms suitable for marketing their business. JTCo is diligent and finds a few ripe terms that larger competitors missed, like let’s say “Gold T-shirts”. JTCo then sets up an AdWords campaign on Google with a budget at $175.00 a day with a cost per click of $0.25. The ad goes live. Customers see and click on JTCo’s ads at a 1.8% click rate. Pretty good. Business goes along for a few months, Google makes some nice money and JTCo grabs customers ahead of the competition. Now here is the glitch.

Google expects all ads within the AdWords system to garner 5 clicks per 1,000 impressions. Fair enough. JTCo’s ad for the term “Gold T-Shirts” is rolling along at a 1.8% click rate (18 clicks per 1,000) so not a problem. But, if JTCo fails to get 5 clicks per 1,000 ad views just once, Google’s default programming will trigger the disabling of the word and give JTCo no clear way of making a case for reinstating the word. It’s akin to a father being wonderful to his children then being late for dinner by ten minutes once and the community ostracizes him as a neglectful father - FOREVER. We studied a real world company, (www.threedayweekends.com), which had paid Google $1,092 over a month long period for a specific word. The word had received a large number of clicks and hundreds of thousands of impressions, yet when the term missed the five click threshold just once, late on a typical Thursday night, the term was shut down.

Contacting Google about this problem, sad to say, has been akin to dealing with the phone company before competition. Headache, heartache and misunderstandings. Calls to the Google AdWord call center were met with either sympathy or apathy. One Googler said they felt bad and that others had complained about the same problem but his proverbial hands were tied. Another just couldn’t get her head around the issue and kept telling us “you need to re-write the ad, re-write the ad” which was answered with “it has worked for months without a problem; the five missed clicks are clearly a fluke” the response “you need to re-write the, re-write the ad”. Lastly, a Google Phone Supervisor when asked out of frustration who her boss was replied “I’m not telling, find out for yourself if you can, but I’m not telling you”. What? Now we have the name and ID number of the said employees, but we won’t reveal them even if Google were to contact us. Why? Because, overall Google is a great company with good customer service and sharp products. Also, no reason to get involved with Google HR issues, the folks all seemed nice - just not helpful. Okay, the Phone Supervisor was a little craggy but no big deal.

Instead of waiting until Google solves this issue on their own, here is a simple solution that can satisfy all, further lining Google’s pockets while earning small and large businesses qualified clicks. Google should institute a system where ads that have performed well over time are given a little leeway in regards to the 5/1,000 rule. Much like a credit card, ads that have consistently performed well over a set period of time would be given a higher “line of credit” perhaps a minimum of 25 clicks over 5000 impressions. The click rate Google wants is the same but the buyer is given a little room when an anomaly occurs. Missing 5 clicks over a thousand impressions is a fluke, missing 25 over 5,000 could be deemed more of a pattern. Also, 1,000 impressions on a high volume search term on Google can literally happen in four or five minutes. So even if you’ve had months of success with “Gold T-Shirts”, five minutes can change everything. The weird part in the (www.threedayweekends.com) case - the real example we studied – is that Google is turning down literally $75-125 a day in business. Now we all know that the brains behind Google could solve a math and programming issue like this quite quickly. In the meantime, smart marketers like (www.threedayweekends.com) will have to search for other terms and other places to spend the money Google doesn’t want.

About the author:
John Romano is a former Analysis and Optimization expert for i-traffic and SFInteractive. He now runs a company that manages keyword ad buys. Please contact him at westplants@yahoo.com or 310-281-1199.