Tuesday, January 30, 2007

When is a blog not a blog?

Tuesday afternoon
Development spend: £13,072
Greyness of sky on 1 (lightest) to 5 (darkest) scale: 3

That previous post about Google seems like a lifetime ago (actually most things seem like a lifetime ago now, every week takes me somewhere I've never been - like yesterday, filing in my first VAT return - never thought I'd be doing that this time last year.)

Anyhow, the Google wars post. I'm angry about adwords still, but too busy to carry on the war. We've exchanged emails, I mentioned competition law, then the Google emails went up a step. I chatted to like-minded folk on the Techcrunch.com lounge about it, followed a few links and have a better understanding of how the whole thing works (or in my case doesn't work).

Basically, if you sell widgets and want to encourage people searching for widgets to click on your ad for the lowest adword campaign cost, you need to write 'widgets' in your keywords, 'widgets' in your ad headline and 'widgets' on the landing page you're directing clickers to. And not have too many other businesses competing with you for widget as a keyword. And have a Google-secret-number percentage of widget-seekers clicking through from your ad.

That's a summary of my research/Google's explanations on adwords pricing. Didn't exactly work that way on my tests, but then I'm not trying to sell widgets and Google clearly have some other things they throw into the mix that they don't explain.

End result is I've spent £195 on adwords, got a total of 763 click throughs - 65% from the ads showing on Google's content network (ie everywhere there are google ads that aren't on Google's search pages) rather than through people putting in my keywords as a search term, and only a handful of conversions into people signing up to sweeble.

I've wasted hours of time trying to keep my ads active on the keywords I want for longer than a day, before Google bump up the rate by 1000% and switch me off, but in the end I've given up. It's a crap system for anyone not selling a specific product to specific audience. And it's too expensive.

Bored with it now and switched it off.


Notice I put a link in the rant above? That was deliberate (duh, yeh!). Last night, I was reading about the start of weblogging (Stuart Allan, Online News, Open University Press)and realised that I'm not writing a blog here. I thought I was, but it seems blogs share certain characteristics, including hyperlinks to other sites, other stories, relating to the issue being commented on.

I've not even got around to clicking the switch to turn this blog into the souped-up version Blogger's new owner Google is pushing (can't turn a bleedin' corner on the web nowadays without crashing into a Google offshoot or squashing a Google spider)- there was a form, questions, I wasn't ready. Sorry, maybe another day.

So... adding hyperlinks, surfing the net for cool new stories you might not have seen, showing off my knowledge of life, the universe and the web. I'm meant to be doing all of that, not just keeping this pseudo-diary of single-issue (sweeble) ramblings hidden in the atomic mushroom of 60 million blogs.

So this isn't a blog.

And I'm still not running the Starship Enterprise.

Oh well. What's next?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gearing up for Google wars

Thursday morning
Development spend: £12,837
Tunnocks Snowballs eaten in last five minutes: Two

So... I'm in a bit of a tug-of-war with Google at the moment over adwords. Only a bit of one, still not got beyond an exchange of emails yet, but I'm trying a bit of guerilla action too.

The full story is on sweeble (Google's sneaky business tricks) but to précis:

I tried Google adwords for the first time and set up five campaigns, each with three to six adgroups inside them. I successfully bid for a maximum cost per click price of between 0.05p and 0.20p for each search term (the cost per click (CPC) is the price Google works out that you need to bid in order to get your ad on the page) and the ads go live.

I go and have a look at how the campaigns did, 24 hours on, and bugger me - Google've switched me off and hiked the price on every single one mostly to £2.50 from original prices of 0.05p to 0.20p! Even though there was only bidding for those search terms.

I suggested the Google bots sniff out customers who put in new search terms and automatically bump up the price (to either 0.50p or £2.50) simply because someone asked for that term. Regardless. Are they automatically putting the price up, just because you're interested in that search term, to get every customer up the sales target CPC or daily total?

With all my campaigns switched off and being held to ransom unless I agree to massively inflated prices, I send a complaint to Google through the online forms. I also do a bit of research into the Competition Act 1998.

And I try undermining the Google bots with a few experiments (not saying what yet).

Anyway, two days on and I get a response from Google. Here it is (sorry, it's a bit long but didn't want to edit their explanation):

Thank you for your email. I am sorry that you are experiencing difficulty with your AdWords account. I understand that you are concerned about your keyword costs and performance. I am eager to explain the issue to you.

Firstly your I have reviewed your account and confirm that your campaigns are active and three of your campaigns have received clicks and impressions today.

I would like to explain how our systems evaluates keywords and I would also like to offer tips on how you can improve your keywords performance.

Our automatic performance monitor evaluates each keyword within your account when submitted and periodically throughout each day. When a keyword does not have a high enough Quality Score and maximum cost-per-click (CPC) to show ads, that keyword may become inactive for search. If you use that inactive keyword again, or enter it again in another keyword matching format, you may notice that it is inactive for search again. This is because our system recognises that this word has not performed well for you in the past and so is more rigorous in its evaluation of the word.

Your keywords may be marked inactive for search and stop showing ads if they do not have a high enough Quality Score and maximum cost-per-click (CPC). This is another way of saying that your keyword or Ad Group's maximum CPC does not meet the minimum bid required to trigger ads on Google or the search network. This typically occurs when keywords are not as targeted as they could be and the ads they deliver are not relevant enough to what a user is searching for.

To reactivate your keywords:

1. Increase your keywords' Quality Score by optimising for relevancy:

Optimisation, which is a technique for improving the quality of your keyword, ad and campaign, is the best way to increase your keyword performance without raising costs. Try to combine your keyword with two to three other words to create a more specific keyword phrase. This will result in better targeting and potentially, better performance. For example, make single keywords more targeted by turning them into descriptive phrases ('car' to 'car buying service'). You can also narrow your targeting options (such as to regional targeting). We also suggest adding your keyword to your ad text. Visit our Optimisation Tips page for more suggestions at https://adwords.google.co.uk/select/tips.html.

2. Increase your keyword or Ad Group's maximum CPC to the recommended minimum bid:

Your keyword's minimum bid is the amount required to trigger ads on Google and is determined by your keyword's Quality Score. When your maximum CPC falls below this amount, your keyword will be inactive. For this reason, you can simply increase your maximum CPC to the minimum bid to reactivate your keywords. To learn about the different ways to increase your maximum CPC to the minimum bid, visit https://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=21382&hl=en_GB.

If optimisation has not reactivated your inactive keywords and you are not comfortable meeting their minimum bids, you may want to delete them.
Poor-performing keywords bring down the overall performance level of a campaign, which in turn reduces the Quality Scores of other keywords in that campaign. Please note that if you delete a keyword and add it back to any Ad Group in your account, the system will remember its Quality Score.
An inactive keyword, therefore, will still be inactive if you delete and re-add it.

Note: There is a small chance that an inactive keyword may become active without optimisation or an increased maximum CPC. If search behaviour works in your favour, such as if more users search for your keyword, thus increasing its relevancy, your keyword might be reactivated. However, we recommend that you either reactivate or delete your keywords to ensure your active keywords maintain high Quality Scores.

If you have additional questions, please visit AdWords Support at https://adwords.google.co.uk/support, where you will find answers to many frequently asked questions.

I hope you have found this information helpful.

We look forward to providing you with the most effective advertising available.

Kindest Regards,

The Google AdWords UK and Ireland team

So, I write back:

Thank you for the response, Kevin.

However, I'm not convinced by the explanation you give in relation to Quality Score linked to CPC. Why, for instance, should poorly performing keywords (ie low Quality Score) result in the highest increase in CPC?

If I am looking to advertise in niche markets it is inevitable that these will have a limited search response. And I don't believe that you are suggesting that the most popular search terms have the cheapest CPC?

If I'm not worried about a search term performing badly over a single day, why should Google be worried on my behalf - unless it's important to you that I spend a specific amount, ie by having a target number of CPCs on each campaign?

In anycase, switching off adwords unless I agree to change CPCs from my average actual cost of 0.17p to £2.50 isn't the way to encourage me to spend more.

The ones you refer to as getting clicks today are either the new ones I set up last night or the adwords I increased the CPC on to the new minimum you had set.

I made the changes so that I could monitor:
a) whether the CPC actual cost was anywhere near the minimum you'd forced me to agree to;
b) whether, despite the Quality Score, you automatically hike the CPC to the same levels (50p or £2.50) on the adword test that is getting very high responses;
c) whether your suggestion that good search returns will mean the price isn't increased, is correct.

Neither of us really has the time for email ping-pong on this subject but if I remain unhappy about my adwords experience following these tests, I will let you know.


Will let you know too. Although I can see already I risk turning into one of those single issue obsessives that used to bombard the newsroom with emails.

It's the authority figure thing, I can't help throwing pebbles.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Thank God for the Atlantic

Wednesday afternoon
Development spend: Same, but need to crank things up again
Number of MySpace profiles viewed: 264

Not to sound racist in any way but, there really are some weird Americans out there. And a hell of lot of them seem to be on MySpace.

Okay, more than enough thoughtful, witty and okay ones to keep the balance (I hope) but when Americans take the Mad Pill they really go for it.

I've spent nine hours searching MySpace for people to introduce to sweeble - people who seem like they might have a story to tell or interesting opinions to share - and sending individual emails to complete strangers who seem to fit the sweebler profile based on reading their MySpace page (not exactly text-book marketing techniques, I know, but there's just me here and I'm doing my best).

And by 'eck there are some scary people out there! Almost all American (probably just the MySpace makeup, or maybe because Brits stay away from the forums?). Needless to say, I didn't send an email to the woman who runs a pro-death penalty site (up-to-the-minute zap counts), to the pro-life, pro-military, pro-gun Republican who likes "leading Liberals into the light", or the guy pretending to be South Asian whose hobby is "eating babies and raping hookers". Oh, and the several guys who couldn't spell 'enormous' in 'enormous cock'.

I shouldn't be surprised by any of this. Five years on newsdesks answering the phone to the daily nutcase has left me pretty thick-skinned. And it is what I want the Net to be - an open space regulated by its users, not corporate parental locums.

All part of humanity's rich seam, really. But right now I'm feeling glad there's an ocean, or a lot of anonymous links and cables, between some of us.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Real news, please!

Tuesday morning
Development spend: Same

Not-news of the day: Ruth Kelly sending her kid to private school.

And it's the second day - it was just as much a not-news story yesterday when Radio Four first got excited about it. Despite the struggle to find anyone who thought it was A BAD THING. Despite the struggle to find real parents in similar situations to humanise the story. Despite No10's story flattening moves.

It's interesting if you like seeing Labour bigwigs wriggle. It's interesting if you're a parent with your own child's battle to get special support to fight. But beyond that it isn't a story. It isn't news. It's editorial muscle-flexing - showing off the ability of the media to make a story out of fluff and sticky-back plastic.

And Radio Four seems to be getting especially bad (or good) at it. Seems anytime they've run out of ideas for a splash they bring in a cabinet minister and try to knock them over. Like the Prescott not-news story a few days ago. Am I bothered that Prescott thinks Saddam's execution was not quite cricket? Let me think about that for a millisecond. Nope. Not at all.

I'm bothered about all kinds of things that are real stories - like what's happening on the ground in Iraq, like who is running Iraq, like why British troops in Afghanistan are so under-equipped for the war they've been thrown into - and why Britain went back to Afghanistan. And dozens and dozens and dozens of things that really are news stories.

Sean Langan's Dispatches piece last night on Channel 4 was a great example of how a story doesn't have to have happened that day to make it newsworthy. Great journalism, bit confusing as an exposition, but compelling, strong story-telling.

We need to break away from the straight-jacket of form and style we've built for news journalism - and we need to bring back a bit of humility to the way we see ourselves as journalists and editors in defining and delivering the news.

Rant over.

So, Sweeble V.2 is still live. First batch of emails have gone out to journalists I've worked with in the past. Next two batches being worked on and I'm waiting for the promo pub cards to arrive.

In the meantime I've finished assessing two boxes (out of six) of first semester journalism student work and almost finished off the Christmas chocolates along the way.

And I'm still getting a kick out of getting up in the morning, excited about what I've got to do that day, shoving on yesterday's jeans and walking 20yds across crunchy gravel to the shed/office to work. This morning, the wind is throwing itself around the garden, flattening bushes and scattering the bird food I put out, and there are the deepest, darkest clouds building over the hills in the distant. Yummy.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

2007 here we come!

Thursday morning
Development spend: £12,800
Number of Christmases since started working on sweeble: One

It's been a while since the last post, so will rush through summary of the intervening month.

Spent whole days feeling pissed off over last few weeks because the new version of the site missed deadline of Dec 15 by a mile. And it was hard to stay interested in old version when I'm itching to get the new one out there and noticed.

However, yesterday we took down the site while we transferred the new version across - yippee! Except the new version still has glitches that are being worked on. Hopefully we'll have it up by end of today, but I've become less anxious about these things - too many deadlines missed already and too many glitches slowing things down. It'll just happen when it happens.

Setting up the video player has proved difficult across different ISPs and developer Neil has had to go back to the code designer. What we've got is now looking good and working okay but still not ready for sweeblers to upload their own videos to site. Nearly there, I hope.

Innovation grant claim went in just before Xmas after me spending a week drowning in Excel spreadsheets, and bank balance is above waterline again. For now.

Same week I finished my first semester teaching journo students, brought home six boxes of files to grade and agreed to set up and run online journalism Yr 2 and 3 courses next term.

Got first stage sweeble marketing plan poised for off when new site goes live (sounds impressive but really it's a series of emails to different groupings plus some card flyers all drafted and ready to go).

Crowded Christmas - two sets of kids around too small a table. We drilled slices of plywood into table top to make it temporarily bigger. The holes are a nice reminder of several days of forgetting about work for a while and remembering the equally important bits in our lives. Thinking about getting a dog.

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