Category Archives: Technology

Googles Relentless Profit Motive

It’s getting harder and harder to ignore Google’s profit motive in paid search. And the constant harassment from Google’s offshore enforcers of “automatically generated opportunities” (AGOs) is becoming tiresome. Let me explain.

If you’ve been doing search marketing as long as I have, you’ve been called and emailed at least a dozen times by an “AdWords expert”. Let’s call them the AGO enforcers. AGO enforcers operate in an environment devoid of real world marketplace competition, competitive nuance, business client interaction and unique value proposition.

From this vacuum, thousands of miles away from both you and your clients (and the competitive landscape) they relentlessly attempt to convince you to conform to the best practice standards of Google’s artificial intelligence. It seems their sole purpose is to enforce the application of Google’s automatically generated opportunities.

The problem with this, is that these automatically generated opportunities (like their human enforcers) DO NOT guarantee better campaign performance (as clearly stated at the bottom of every AdWords web page).

AGOs are proof positive of Googles profit motive
Google’s Profit Motive: The A.G.O. and its Paid Enforcers

And they always seem to come with increased budget recommendations. In the rare cases in which I agree to apply them, they never work as expected.

How could they, when you consider the lack of human interaction and understanding of an effective paid search analyst? After all, AGO’s use the same “machine intelligence” that pushes horribly irrelevant keyword recommendations almost non-stop. Keywords that will get more clicks, but not more conversions – because they are all wrong for the client’s particular competitive situation.

If, as the disclaimer states, WEare always responsible for the changes” we make, then:

1) Why is Google hiring AGO enforcers to push higher spend so hard upon us?
2) Why is Google’s AGO using automated reminder terms like “Last Chance” to keep up with the competition?
3) Why is Google constantly pushing CPA bidding, which ALWAYS includes an increased budget as part of the process?
4) Why is Google’s system trying to incite bidding wars at the keyword bid level?

It would take far too long to explain in detail the evidence that Googles profit motive is dangerously close to overshadowing the golden goose of SEARCH RELEVANCE, but … we are headed in that direction.

Googles Profit Motive – Search Relevance or Search Revenue?

The role that HUMANS play in a search marketing landscape where SEARCH RELEVANCE is the core value of search – is vital. It’s why we take the certification tests, and it’s why “search relevance” is the key take away from professional certification (or at least it was).

Human search marketing strategists meet with clients to discuss unique value propositions and competitive nuance in relevant, real world markets where humans buy and sell products and services. Conversely artificial intelligence operates within marketplace models that are theoretical and behave according to the logic of completely level and artificial playing fields.

Artificial intelligence works perfectly well in a theoretical construct where intelligent machines produce goods and services to be consumed by other intelligent machines. I’m here to tell you what should be obvious – we’re not there yet.

Case in point. We had a client whose conversions suddenly flat-lined. Suspecting this was systemic, we began troubleshooting possible causes. But at the very same time, Google had  implemented one of it’s infamous bi-weekly changes – we’ll call them “improved  visual bid estimates“. This is where one of our client’s top keywords rose from $3.27 per click to over $71.00 (estimated) per click for the same relative ad-serving-position in the span of a week.

Frankly, we’ve been getting good position for ALL of our clients at well below “first page bid” estimates for many months, but the new visual bid estimates, with recommended “first page” and “above all organic results” bid estimates have clearly convinced competing businesses to bid higher. So … as we’re troubleshooting the abrupt decline in conversions, amidst these automated suggestions to bid massively higher, here  comes the call from Google’s AGO enforcer of the week for this account.

I managed to “stall the call” long enough to establish the systemic cause for the drop-off in conversions: broken linkage between Google Analytics and Adwords (where Analytics conversions were being imported into Adwords).

When I emailed her back with my findings and agreed to a call appointment only if she had recommendations for how to re-link Adwords to Analytics, there was no response (as expected). We were able to determine the cause and re-link, but there were no further recommendations from this “AdWords Expert”.  Obviously, since our solution didn’t serve Googles profit motive, Google’s AGO enforcer was no longer interested.  We definitely learned a lot from the experience.

This is just one example, and actually a fairly simple one. Overall, Google is clearly driving it’s paid search customer accounts toward a standardized “best practice” baseline where all competitors within a certain market are operating on equal terms on a level playing field. The perfect situation where a price bidding war is the only way to “get ahead”.

When Google’s system constantly makes (direct and indirect) recommendations for me to increase my client budgets to “keep up with the competition” do they really expect me to think they’re not doing the exact same thing with “the competition”? I wouldn’t give the username and password to my Adwords client center to the competition, so they could analyze my strategy. And yet Google is contacting my competition armed with that knowledge (whether they use it or not) and inviting them to “beat me” at my game.

Besides the bad taste that obvious conflict of interest leaves me with, if inciting bidding wars is the strategy, it reminds me of a pricing game where an agency keeps telling clients to lower their prices to be competitive – and both competitors are their client. Where does that lead?

Google will ultimately win the “profit” battle, but will they win the “best search engine” war? There will always be a better search engine to be built if search revenue becomes the new focal point over search relevance. Just search “Google profit motive” in Google, and then in Bing.  I think you’ll see what I mean.

The “Problem” with Facebook

I just read another short article about how online advertising is destroying planet earth. This time it’s focusing on Facebook. The article posits that “Facebook Can’t Be Fixed” without “completely gutting its advertising-driven business model”.  The premise sounds good, but it just doesn’t make sense.

Facebook’s Problem is not Monetization

It sounds good because it’s easy to scapegoat advertising in general, and it’s even easier to connect with readers who think the web should be advertising-free.

But the author never bothers to explain why Facebook’s advertising-driven business model is a deal breaker. He just banks on the premise that everyone hates advertising enough to agree.

So the statement’s validity is a given with no further explanation, and no apparent need for justification.

In my opinion, Facebook does have problems (don’t we all?). But it’s advertising format is probably one of the least of them. At least with Facebook there’s a reasonable use of data gathering to show relevant ads (and not too many). So I strongly suspect that most users won’t find ads to be the most bothersome thing about it.

Here’s a short list of the real problems that Zuckerberg may be facing (in my opinion) that can be addressed to improve Facebook. Teaser alert: committing existential suicide by gutting its ad-driven revenue model isn’t one of them.

1) Facebook is getting creepy. When synthetic programmed responses try to have an interpersonal relationship with me, it’s annoying. When “Facebook” talks to me, saying: “Hi (firstname). We care about you and we want you to … ”

STOP! … Please …. I’m not 9 years old, and I don’t need my social media platform anthropomorphized into my personal, platonic  digital friend … who “genuinely cares about me”.

We all know that Facebook wants to monetize our personal data and relationship activity, and that’s a given among mature adults (the people with money to spend from ads). So please tone down the idea that we actually feel nurtured by programmed responses. If Facebook’s data assumptions are telling Zuckerberg that more than 51% of ad-revenue-producing users feel good about being nurtured by A.I., I stand corrected. But I still think the majority find this creepy.

2) User content is downright frightening. We all know the feeling. Moderate, tolerant people who thought they knew and liked other moderate, tolerant people are finding out that their friends are emotionally challenged, completely illiterate, class discrimination extremists, racists, extreme left socialists, right wing nationalists, narcissists, obsessive-compulsive – you name it.

Facebook as a social “shock therapy” platform can’t be sustainable long term. I’ve noticed the “changes” in posts. Maybe having topical versions of Facebook could help. One for “the beautiful people”, one for stalkers, one for political activists, etc…

3) Facebook is getting a bad rep. It’s reputation as a “dopamine-driven engagement trap” is getting increased awareness and this does not bode well for users who eventually read about (and can understand) the psychology of Facebook addiction. This is a tough one and may require a serious PR effort to combat. I see a lot of reduced usage by friends who are more likely to be exposed to this material (myself included) but I don’t think addictive personalities can break the habit just by acknowledging “step one” (admission). If Facebook just admits to reality, in the right format, it will do wonders for this roadblock.

And there you have it. Details aside, these three problems are what I see as the toughest to resolve and most damaging to the long term sustainability of its engagement model. They have nothing to do with advertising. There’s a bunch of little things like irrelevant notifications (why notify me every time a friend joins messenger?) that could amount to “death by a thousand cuts” but they are either a subset of the big three, or too few (or too minor) to matter. I think those will be addressed accordingly.

But again, the charge that “You cannot fix Facebook without completely gutting its advertising-driven business model.” is just another broad indictment of capitalism on the web. If Facebook is guilty, so is Google. Neither of these companies has a bottom line in revenue growth or stock price (with Google more time-tested) to justify such a baseless claim.

Finally, when you consider the incredible amount of business you can potentially generate through Facebook without spending a dime, a paid ad here or there is a very small price to pay.  As revenue models in advanced economies continue to shift, the opportunity to create targeted audience groups and sell to them (the right way) is a huge free opportunity that is so inherent to the platform, Facebook would probably never charge for it (only to boost it).

Since most people don’t “get it” (inherently understand the power of audience segmentation / relevance) they will pay for these “boosts” – in essence letting Facebook broaden their reach beyond their friend network. And that’s a sustainable model for now, and probably for a while. Though it’s surprising how a friend network can expand through “similar interest” groups. Now the glue is “common interest” more so than acquaintanceship.

Facebook’s big threat is greed (isn’t everyone’s?). If they in fact eventually find a way to charge for what is free today – if they somehow manage to monetize groups for example, it will be the beginning of the end, a.k.a. “move over MySpace. Hello, whatever’s next”.

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