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The New AAA Club: Angry AdWords Advertisers

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In May 2005, a CNN article quoted Dana Todd, president of SEMPO as saying: “Google has always beenworse than bad [at customer service.]”

That same article presented the results of an independent survey that questioned 200 advertising executives about the performance of 60 web sites in several categories. Google finished 18th in “accessibility and responsiveness.” Yahoo finished 7th in the same category. Finally, Tim Armstrong, Google’s VP of Sales, is quoted as saying that Google is committed to being a top-notch customer service operation.

But how committed are they? Let’s ask the members of the new AAA (Angry AdWords Advertisers ) club. In July of this year, Mark Libbert, an attorney who spends $300K per year on AdWords, composed an open letter to Google regarding the landing page algorithm change. Libbert complained that the representatives were uncooperative and unhelpful. “[Google] employees have been uninformed and left in the dark about these major changes to your program, and perhaps more importantly, your paying customers have been left in the dark as well,” he wrote. Libbert’s AdWord’s campaign boasted high-quality ads, some with clickthrough rates as high as 26%. Yet somehow, Google still gave them a low quality score, and were unavailable to help a frustrated Libbert.

As most advertisers know, there was another landing page algorithm shift in late October. This one sparked a firestorm of criticism from the new AAA club, many of whom accused Google of inventing algorithm shifts as an excuse to drive up CPCs around the holidays. The argument went that Google announced the landing page quality score to scare off click arbitrageurs, then banished well-performing ads with a low CPC to the bottom of the SERP.

These advertisers would therefore need to bid more on their ads, especially around the holidays, which would drive Google’s revenues through the roof. Since Google doesn’t disclose any details about its algorithm shifts (for fear of allowing search spammers to game the system), they open themselves up for this kind of criticism. They claim that they’re working to benefit searchers and reward advertisers for doing things right, and that may very well be true. But without disclosing specifics of what they’re doing-without, in other words, good customer service-how can anyone be sure?

Other conspiracy theorists feel that regardless of a promise to do no evil the temptation of manipulating the pricing structure of an opaque auction is too great and has resulted in a little fudging if not outright cheating.

Click fraud is an area that provides numerous examples of advertiser dissatisfaction. Google may be hemorrhaging lower spending clients because they have inadequately addressed this issue. A Business Week article in October of this year chronicled the difficulties of one business owner who felt that he was owed over $100K in fraudulent clicks from Google and Yahoo.

After many emails, some of which garnered anonymous responses from Google, he got back $35K. More recently, a CNet article allows many victims of click-fraud to have their voices heard. It is arguably the largest threat to Google’s business, but only forty of the nine thousand Googlers are devoted to it. If there were twice or three times that many, they might be able to listen to these advertisers’ concerns and help them solve their problems.

So now that we’ve met the members of the new AAA club, what do we make of them? Are they kooks-people who just don’t know what they’re doing? At least one of them claimed to be responsible for some big brands’ campaigns, so one would hope that he knows what he’s doing.

It will be interesting to see how many angry customers Yahoo generates as it switches to a hybrid auction, and Microsoft generates as its advertiser base grows and its product matures. That will tell us for sure if Google really does have bad customer relations, or if angering customers is an inevitable byproduct of auctioning off keywords. One thing is for sure, if Google applied the same focus that it reserves for technology and analytics to answering customer complaints, the new AAA club would dissolve. Unfortunately, I fear that at this time next year, as PPC grows more competitive, the club will be even bigger regardless of whether it is the fault of Google or simply a byproduct of auctions in an opaque marketplace.

With Yahoo moving to an opaque marketplace and Microsoft’s opaque adCenter gaining steam advertisers may have other targets at whom to spread out their exasperation and anger.

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Mr. Frog is a leading Search industry visionary. Mr. Frog is a member of the Did-it Search Marketing team which accompanies him to most major
marketing conferences.

The New AAA Club: Angry AdWords Advertisers
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