Thursday, March 29, 2007

Google Hypocrisy

This may or may not be the appropriate venue for this particular blog entry, but I think anyone who reads here (and those who write similar content) should take a good look at how fake Google (and probably other ad companies) are when it comes to adult content. Forgive me if this entry is in any way not articulate or feels "unfinished". When I am upset, I'm not sure if my words come across the way they should.

I have an issue.

I write for an erotica site. A few months ago, I was asked to help with promotion for the site. At first, the task seemed easy. I would go to the appropriate message boards, mailing lists, magazines and the like, announce our presence, and in would roll the customers. But, it's not that simple.

First, erotica is not for children. Well DUH! you say. Yes, I know. More specifically, "adult content" is not to be marketed in general "family friendly" publications, on family friendly sites, or in general writing circles. There is a special place where we go to look at those things we have the hide from the youngins. Meaning: if it can't be shown to 10-year-olds, it's considered porn.

Naturally, I balk at that generalization, but there's nothing I can do to change it (as I've ranted about several times in this blog). I don't consider IBA a porn site, but neither do I want to offend the readers of Elle or Cosmo, etc. and their equally chaste editors. (Yes, I used chaste and Cosmo in the same sentence. LOL)

So, for the past few months I have been doing what I could to promote our non-pornographic site through adult channels. We've had, let's call it limited success. I spend time at Adult Who's Who, Xbiz, Adult Insider, and trying to solicit readers of erotica and erotic romance from sites whose users are looking for graphic sexual content with little to no "literary" content.

A lose-lose situation.

In January, I came up with the brilliant idea of trying out Google Adwords for a few days. I know what you're thinking. (Or at least what I was thinking.) The most popular search engine in the world can get us the customers we need. Adwords even lets you set your own ad budget so you don't end up paying more for customers than you're making back.

So, I was a little stupid.

I failed to realize that Google works the same as those lovely magazines and sites that did not want to promote our erotica site, with one small twist. While women's magazines and some mainstream fiction sites do not take kindly to adult material, Google doesn't like the people who write dirty stories either, but they are willing to take your money and give you limited results in return, under the pretext of their "policies" being in affect. Let me give a few examples.

My blog is for adults. Blogger allows me to use any content I want, save for anything illegal. On the one hand, Google acknowledges that this content may be on my blog and there's nothing they can do about it. I can put ads and a search box on my blog to earn money, though they have reservations. (In fact, if my entries are too graphic, the only ads shown are for non-profit donations. More on that later.) On the other hand, they reserve the right to disable my account, and not pay me any money they owe from ads being displayed if my site has adult content.

This is why I think Google is made of a bunch of money grubbing hypocrites.

IBA has paid for Google ads, not once, but twice. (I'm not even going to get into how they kept my ads going and kept charging me three days after I shut down the ad campaign the first time, but know that I am still upset about that.) When one sets up an ad campaign with Google, there are several steps involved, the most important of which are setting up keywords that pertain to your site's content and telling them how you wish your ads to be displayed. This is, of course, separate from the way ads are displayed on your site. Again, I will get to that later.

Google finds out what kind of site you have not only by the keywords you choose, but by spidering the content of your site. They even recommend appropriate keywords for you based on ones you've already chosen and your present content. (Yes, I know this is a long-winded rant, but stick with me.) I don't think I need to explain how a search engine works, but you know how it is. Put words in box--> search--> page results--> clicks. Google makes money and is happy. Website promoter/owner is happy. Searcher/customer finds what they are looking for and is happy.

Or so it should be.

Google has their own plan as to how this should work. First, let me say this algorithm/formula for placing keywords on the site and search engine hits and strategizing placement (blahblahblah) is a trumped up load of bullshit. When you buy ads from them, they prioritize your site based on how much they think they can take from you in any given period. (Which might explain their "recommended daily ad budget" for IBA of about $1000. Funny that we got a ton of hits with a $5 a day budget. Not funny that our ads ran at around $12 a day.) You can pay as low as five cents per click for ads (or impressions), and Google is supposed to stop showing your ads once your daily budget has been reached. If you're not buying ads, Google throws you to the wolves unless you get several thousand hits a day and they have to be nice to you.

What do I mean? (Yes, I'm finally getting to that. Yay!) And why am I so pissed at Google?

I mean, Google is shady as a tool for website promotion if you have an adult site. I paid to have my ads shown ANYWHERE our relevant keywords appear. That means search engines (Google Adwords shows ads on about a dozen) AND other sites that have similar content. There are literally thousands of adult (porn) and erotica sites that have paid for Google advertising. Meaning: when I write adult content and use certain keywords, these types of ads should appear on my blog alongside the appropriate posts. Likewise, the ads I pay for should not only be appearing in search engine results (when people look up things like "dirty" and "spank" and "adult fiction"), but they should also be appearing on other websites.

I think anyone with an adult site has a right to be ticked off with Google. Yes, I know that every advertising agency has the right to "protect" their consumers and young people from seeing content that is deemed inappropriate for general audiences. I do not believe that this is Google's motivation. They, like many large corporations, are there to take your money. No, this is not a rant against The Man taking advantage of the little guy, I just want to get what I paid for.

Here is the problem in a nutshell. People use Google search to find content or services, but is not always exactly what they are looking for. (That wonky algorithm thing I'm not getting into screws up search results.) When visiting a site, relevant ads (by Google, clicksor, Adbrite, etc.) can sometimes lead them to a more appropriate site than the one they're currently at. These ads are shown based on the keywords of the site OR based on the website owner's preference. My problem is that Google doesn't really show adult ads, regardless of content.

I have 5 blogs. Yes, five. Three of them have adult content. Since March 2nd of 2006, I have never seen one adult ad on any of my blogs. I have not set any restrictions on the types of ads to be shown, but Google apparently has. When I do post something that's not clean enough for the Google spiders, my ads for are things like sex offender registries, sites that claim to help parents protect children from online predators, and non-profit donation sites. Don't get me wrong. All of these things are worthy causes that need attention, especially the sites about protecting children. But they are not appropriate for my blogs. I mean, who wants to be reading a short story about two consenting adults getting it on in the kitchen and then look over and see an ad for kitchen cleaning supplies or an appliance sale at Sears?

No, seriously. Say you're at Polly's Wet Panty Emporium and you're looking at blog entries, but what you're really itching for is a picture to match the story. So you glance over at Polly's ad block to the right of her page and see an ad for a lingerie sale at Macy's, another one for a cleaner to get those stubborn stains out, and a couple of ads for one of those useless online quizzes.

Who does that serve exactly? Not you, the surfer, who is hoping for ads similar to the site you're already on. Not poor Polly who won't get any money unless you click those (not relevant) ads. Not the sites whose ads were shown to people who aren't remotely interested in what they're selling. And not me, the adult site promoter whose ads should've been shown but weren't. The only one that benefits is Google. If a surfer accidentally clicks one of those ads, Google gets money, whether that ad was appropriately placed or not. Sometimes, they even get money just for showing the ad, even more incentive for them to just stick it anywhere, regardless of content.

I don't understand Google. Wouldn't it make more sense (and cents) if they showed adult ads on sites that have (and proudly promote) adult content? Maybe it's just me. Maybe I just haven't seen where they display these ads I know people are paying for. But from the few times I've used them, Google only showed IBA's ads on search engines and never once on an appropriate website. Yes, we got hits from them, but none of the people who clicked on our ad were potential customers because our ads only came up in adult (porn) searches. Not in fiction searches. Barely in erotica searches. And certainly not on an appropriate webpage.

Google takes advantage of sites like IBA because we can't advertise through mainstream channels, but we also have difficulty with porn advertisers.

I'm upset with Google because, not only do they not show our ads equally as they would a non-adult site (in all appropriate channels--not just search), they frequently overcharge, exhausting our daily ad budget and not giving us our money's worth. I don't feel like I should have to pay for them to pick and choose if they want to show my ads because they don't like my content. If they're so against adult content (going so far as to not include adult press releases in their news section [I checked] and only showing family-friendly ads), why deal with adult sites at all? I mean, if you claim to have these principles of not promoting adult content, why are there adult ads on your search engine at all? If they're willing to take my money, they should be willing to put my ads where I pay them to, end of story. Anything else is just hypocrisy.

(And don't worry Autumn. I'm going to put our ad budget to good use. As soon as I have a chat with those customer service people about the overcharges on my account.)


Autumn Seave said...

Awesome post Sara. Did you see my post on "Bit by the Google Monster"? I wonder if those two things are related? I don't know when you started the most recent ad campaign but hmmm. We're currently only bringing up about 600-is search results - we used to have 1800. And the page rank on the main index page has gone down to 2 despite the fact that our traffic has increased!

Stupid Google!

Sara Winters said...

I don't know what's going on with the search function. Maybe they've changed how they send results yet again? I know I read a blog post about this same issue sometime in the past few months. I'll try and find it for you.

The recent ad campaign: I turned it on Wednesday afternoon and turned it off again Thursday afternoon, about an hour before I finished this blog post when I saw what the charges were (about 5 times the ad budget for the day). They should've sent us close to 70 people.

Marketing Whore said...

First of all, Sara, I wanted to know I found you/this at Spin Thicket ~ did you submit it? (If not, someone else did!)

Second, this isn't surprising to me. It's completely insane from a business pov, but it's fact. You can't even buy ad space in Esquire for sex help DVDs or in Cosmo etc for rabbit vibes, even if they talk about Sex & The City which made the rabbit vibe a best-seller. I did an article on this 'trend' (and some ways around it) for XBiz awhile ago.

In the name of offending someone, they miss markets ~ and money ~like crazy. It's stupid, but their call to make. It's one of my favorite rant topics, and missions, of course lol So I'd better stop now before I hog your blog ;)

I feel for you, I do.

Sara Winters said...

mw, on advertising: maaaan I was so tempted to rant the other day about not being able to get a mainstream magazine to do an article about us (because they are concerned about offending advertisers) when erectile dysfunction and personal lubricant commercials come on more than McDonald's commercials in any given day, at all times of the day. More hypocrisy.

Google is doing bad (idiotic) business. Think how many adult (or less hardcore) sites would pour cash into ads if they knew at least one site was getting decent results from Google. They have thought of the way to cheat these site owners, but not to work with them for mutual benefit.

Lucy Felthouse said...

Dear me Sara, what a rant!! Your blog was beginning to look mine for a minute there!! Hehe... but I do know where you're coming from. I haven't actually paid for any advertising, I'm still doing things the hard way (i.e. getting reciprocal links etc) but I definitely won't be going there now. I did have Adsense ads on my site, which as you mentioned, viewed only charitable donation links and similar, but after a while I got an e-mail saying would I take their ads off my site because it contained adult content... therefore they were doing themselves out of money!! Weird or what!?!?