Google gives its employees $1/day of free adwords advertising. Beyond an employee perk, this gives Google’s employees the experience of being an Internet advertiser, i.e. experiencing the point of view of Google’s paying customers. I have been using my $1/day account to advertise the divorce-consulting business of my sister in law (In Hebrew) and did indeed find this experience to be quite illuminating.
The first thing I learned is that the ad auction itself is just a small part of the whole thing. Choosing the right text for the ads (all ten words of it), choosing the right keywords to target, etc, is much more prominent than setting the right bids. “Tiny” issues come up everywhere, e.g. when I needed to choose keywords to target, it turns out that there are four ways to write divorce in Hebrew: גירושים, גירושין, גרושין, גרושים. I’m not really sure whether these are all “kosher” spellings, but they are all searched for an do need to be taken into account. Even more, the whole advertising campaign is peripheral, in principle, to the business itself, and frankly the auction logic is not the first concern of the advertiser. This is obvious, of course, but is easy to forget for one whose work focuses on the auction logic.
Now for the auction itself: all together I spent several hours setting up the campaign, making up the ads, choosing keywords, looking at reports, and trying a bit of optimization. The adwords user interface was very easy and convenient to start with, but it didn’t take long until I was attempting things that confused me (e.g. splitting my single campaign into two different ones), at which point I gave up, and stayed with what I achieved, which is quite fine actually. I was especially impressed with Google’s automatic suggestions of keywords which were cleverer than what I came up with (I know that not really, just some learning algorithm, but they were eerily good.)
I was surprised and disappointed (as an advertiser, but frankly delighted as a Google employee) by the pretty high prices on the keywords that I targeted: my average cost per click is 88 cents, and this is for pretty low slots, on the average. (Divorce is expensive, it seems, also on the Internet.) This means that my $1 per day suffices for a single click per day, and no more. I do get this single click almost every day, but have so far been unable to ever get two clicks in one day: neither optimizing by hand, nor letting Google’s automatic bidder do it. I was professionally insulted by not being able to beat the automatic bidder, but have still not given up on getting an average of more than one click per day for my $1. My click through rate is pretty high (compared to my expectations): 0.79%, so I usually get about 150 impressions every day of which one is clicked and results in a visit to the website. Now these visitors are probably really good leads: not only have they searched for relevant keywords, but they also clicked on a pretty specific ad. I suppose that if even 1% of them become clients (this is not so little: we are not talking about buying a sweatshirt; this is about handling divorce), then the advertising would be considered quite profitable even had my sister in law paid for it. Unfortunately, it is quite hard to gauge whether this is the case: getting and keeping the required statistics is easier to imagine theoretically than to do when you have to handle a small business. In other words, I haven’t a clue what my valuation of a click is. (The lack of knowledge of one own’s valuation has been discussed in AGT, but frankly I have not seen really convincing treatment of this issue.)
The set of reports about the performance of the campaign that adwords makes available is quite impressive, and they are really nicely and simply done, but somehow I still don’t really know how how to optimize my campaign as to get the most and the best customers to the site. I’m sure that more time on my part, as well as a more data-centric handling of my sister-in-law’s business would improve things, but the difficulty of getting and handling the right data is another lesson that I got from this exercise (again, I knew this theoretically, but now I feel it too).