Another Web Experiment – Google AdWords (and a backlog of Google-related stories)

Google announced their fourth quarter earnings today.  They made a profit of $1.03 Billion which is triple what they made in the final quarter of 2005.   I have to admit that I was responsible for, oh, about twenty bucks of that. 

I've detailed my experiments with creating Wikipedia pages, submitting
Digg stories and my thoughts on a lot of other newish Internet
technologies on this blog (I'm too lazy to add links to the original
posts – search for those words and you'll find them.) 
My latest experiment (not even the right word – more like “play activity”) was a Google AdWords campaign. 

In an attempt to learn more about yet another web technology that's having a major impact, not just online but increasingly in the “real” world as well, I signed up for Google's AdWords program at the end of last year.  How it works is you set-up an account, specify the amount you're willing to spend per month as well as the keywords you want to “buy” and you're off.  (I think it recommends a minimum of $30/USD per month but I set my monthly limit to $20 just to try it out.) 

The keywords I “bought” were “mlis”, “university of western ontario” and “library student” so that anytime somebody was searching Google or an AdWords partner site (sites like Gmail that display Google ads to generate revenue) for one or a combination of those terms, there was a chance they might see my ad (see below for image.)  If they clicked on my ad, it cost me $0.10 and each click counted towards my monthly maximum but wouldn't take me over.  (I'm not positive but I think that $0.10 might be the minimum per click that they charge but if you want to bid on popular keywords, they charge significantly more.)

There's a whole art & science to picking your keywords (and designing your ad) but I didn't focus on that too much since I wasn't really trying to sell anything or make money off the ad.  I was mostly just fooling around to see what sort of results I would get. 

In the end (ie. after a month of it being displayed during last November/December), my ad was shown 239 000 times and clicked on 195 (apparently, these clicks were frequently by classmates who saw the ad in their Gmail accounts and thought WTF? if word-of-mouth feedback I got is any indication.) 

Again, I didn't do anything to analyse these hits beyond watching my normal traffic stats.  There was a definite upswing in traffic during that time period but I think that was attributable to my posts on “50 Ways To Improve FIMS” and “50 Good Things About FIMS” that I suspect got a lot of first-time visitors, the fact that we had a blog post advertising our furniture for sale that we advertised fairly widely at UWO via their housing registry and the “For Sale” board Shea had access to at the University Hospital and also because I think I posted my site in a library-related thread on MetaFilter that got me quite a few unique visitors as well. 

(This is fairly uncommon but some new hits may also have come via the Google ads but not have been reported via their system.  This is because some people
might choose to directly type the URL for an ad they see on Google rather than clicking on the ad itself.  They do this for two reasons – because they
don't want to cost the company that's advertising money or because they don't want to support
Google's increasing online dominance.  I've done the former when I've seen an ad appear for a charity or non-profit I'm interested in for example.) 

So in the end, was it worth it?  Sure, it was a great learning experience and I think that Google AdWords is only going to grow as a force in our world so it pays to know about.  Will libraries advertise via this method?  If they already have an advertising budget, why not?  Another feature that Google Adwords allows is targeting geographic regions.  I'm not sure if they allow you to go as narrow as the city level (I think I specified that I only wanted my ads to appear in Canada) but suspect that this is probably the case.  So if you're Moose Jaw Public Library, you can advertise only to people in Moose Jaw or maybe even southern Saskatchewan. 

If you've read the book, “The Long Tail” (and you should – probably the best book I read last year!), this is exactly what the author talks about – how the Internet allows companies and individuals to reach a targeted worldwide audience that they wouldn't otherwise be able to.

In this case, a mom and pop operation like mine that doesn't have any advertising budget to speak of (I mean, what would a business card-sized ad in the Gazette have cost me?) suddenly gets worldwide exposure to a highly targeted audience via the dominant portal for people using the Internet (which is a whole other issue – my “Broadcasting Online” presentation had a section about how insane it is that we'll likely look back at the dominance of five traditional media conglomerates in today's world as the “good old days” when it looks like three companies (Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo) are likely to be the most dominant online by far – and Google is definitely outpacing the other two as the first article I linked to makes clear.)

So anyhow, here's the ad that popped up when I was checking the MLIS Student Council Gmail account one day:

A few other Google-related notes since I'm on the topic…

-> This YouTube hoax for Google's new on-demand GoogleTV service hooked a lot of people (and would've got me too if I'd heard about it before I heard about it being a hoax!)  Watch it anyhow – I wouldn't be surprised if something like this became reality in the next year or two. 

-> One of the big reasons Google is so dominant is that people aren't just using it for search or thinking of it as a web site – they're literally using it as a Internet service like e-mail.  What I mean by that is that instead of typing a URL into their browser's address bar, they'll type the site they want to go to into Google first.  And often, because Google gets around the confusion of “is the site I want .com.ca.net.org?”, it's quicker to do it that way.  But you also end up with embarrrasing situations where “Yahoo” is one of the most searched for terms on Google and even worse, so is “Google” if you can believe it! 

From that last link:
One of the top search results in Google (number 6 at the time of this writing), is “Google“. Hundreds of millions of users are trying to get to Google through Google.
Does this make any sense? No. But it shows that users don’t think about
Google as a specific web page, they think of it as the service, an
essential part of the internet experience. They’re using this service
to get to the page they want: in this case, Google.”

-> Here's a story from the New Yorker about Google's ongoing book digitization program and quest to create a universal library.  (Thanks to Michelle L. for the head's up!)

From the link:
No one really knows how many books there are. The most volumes listed
in any catalogue is thirty-two million, the number in WorldCat, a
database of titles from more than twenty-five thousand libraries around
the world. Google aims to scan at least that many. “We think that we
can do it all inside of ten years,” Marissa Mayer, a vice-president at
Google who is in charge of the books project, said recently, at the
company’s headquarters, in Mountain View, California. “It’s
mind-boggling to me, how close it is. I think of Google Books as our
moon shot.””

-> Finally, did you know that Google has a blog specifically targeted at librarians
 and one for their Google Book Search?  Now you do!

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