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Google and Facebook ad traffic is 90% useless (youexec.com)
540 points by somid3 on Jan 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 370 comments

I've got a long history here, stretching all the way back to 2007. At that time 80% of my traffic was organic, and most importantly, was spread equally between MSN, Yahoo, Google, AOL, etc.

I paid for ad's through HotScripts, and this was a solid source of leads. This mixture, along with a fast, secure, easy to use site and great word of mouth lead to an annual growth rate of around 30%, ending up in 2011 with a monthly income of just over $5000. Not bad for what started out as a side-project. I took none of this for granted, and worked by butt off every day.

It's key to note from 2007 to 2011 a great consolidation was taking place, with Google eating, for me at least, 90% of all search traffic.

Then the spammers hit. My site was targeted with millions of low quality links, which lead to a Google penalty in 2012. I lost 90% of my traffic and along with it, 90% of my revenue.

4 years on and I've never actually recovered from my penalty, with traffic being manually limited to under 30 clicks on any particular day.

I've done my best to advertise, with Google capturing the lions share. Unfortunately I too have very little luck with this channel, with only 1 $4 conversion after hundreds spent.

The real kicker here, and my reason for posting, is the difference between what was my organic traffic then, and my ad traffic now, is nowhere near the same in terms of quality and obviously, conversions.

I guess my point is the current situation, basically 2 companies controlling so much traffic, seems, well, bad for small business in this country. I value what they bring to the table and fully understand why they're so popular. But is things keep on this way where does that lead the guys like me? Is this just the way it has to be? Is the dream of the open Internet already dead?

The spammy links thing fascinates me. I don't know much about search algos or SEO but on our small, industrial business site we couldn't understand why, after many hours and thousands of dollars spent on the procedures that Google recommends, our organic ranking in SERPs for a very niche product (of which we are one of only three providers in our region) was appalling - often page three.

It wasn't till we realised we had 10,000+ spammy links pointed at our site that we wondered whether we had been the victim of some malicious attack. We couldn't recover the penalty to the site no matter how hard we worked and have had to rebuild at a new domain as a result.

For small businesses like us, is it really possible for a competitor to just destroy our online credibility like that or am I just paranoid?

I second the other commenter's opinion on disavow-ing links. It did have a positive impact on one of my online properties.

Reference: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2648487?hl=en

If one would be a target of automated spammy link attack - let's say a competitor would order 100 spammy links a month for example 3 a day - how could one defend against this kind of attack? (I'm not in such situation, just speculating)

What I'm wondering is how easy it is really to get to top at some more obscure search term by just using nasty black hat tactics. I'm also wondering if this is actually the easiest way to get top of search results. If that is the case than it's really alarming IMHO.

automated disavowing, maybe? Sucks, but may be necessary.

But how could you know what links are real and what are not if not even google knows it? If you are trying to get legin backlinks at the same time then this would be almost impossible.

Nah, if there's money on the line there's a lot of reason to target you for a penalty. Scammy sites can't get attention if there's a legitimate site in the search results.

SEO is a big industry and taking down competitors is a part of being the top N results.

So how do I combat against this? We're a small, honest company providing great products and services for the companies that need them but we're getting killed online because no one can find us.

I've forked out a lot (for us) on adwords and the return has been negligible to say the least.

Does this mean that the democratizing power of the internet has been swallowed up for small, lean companies like us who cant afford a mega adwords budget?

Why is it that someone else gaming Google's algorithm becomes my problem and requires me to solve it rather than Google?

For the same reason when some fellow citizen acts against you, you may need to sue them yourself - Google provides a platform with some set of rules, but they can't proactively ensure nobody is doing something malicious to other parties (especially if the malicious act is allowed by the rules), nor they can codify and enforce "don't be an asshole" rule.

Your analogy doesn't really hold up. This isn't another person coming after you directly, it's the other person manipulating a third party to cause the third party to come after you, and the third party saying "not my problem that I'm easy to manipulate like that".

For a criminal-justice-system analogy, it's similar in concept (though not in extremity) to SWATting. And I don't think we want governments to wash their hands of that and say "not our fault our system is abusable that way, it's all on you to do something about it after the fact".

Identity theft is a perfectly reasonable analogy. If someone steals my identity and ruins my credit rating, the onus is on me to inform the credit reference agency. It'd be nice if Equifax could telepathically divine whether a credit transaction was legitimate or not, but it simply isn't possible. Google are similarly unable to distinguish between a blackhat SEO scheme and this sort of weird SEO DDoS.

>but it simply isn't possible

The credit rating agencies could establish reasonably secure channels directly to consumers (passwords would be a start, dedicated tokens would be best), and require explicit authorization through the secure channel for new lines of credit. No account system is perfect, but it'd be a hell of a lot harder to break than "prove your knowledge of full name, address, DOB, and SSN" which are shared and stored all over the place, and bound to leak.

The financial industry or the government (probably at the financial industry's behest) could sign/distribute cryptographic identities along with plastic ones. Opening a new account could require a signature from a signed certificate.

Banks could send prompts to your smartphone asking you to approve/reject ACH and even credit card transactions, ala Venmo. Or you could sign them from a device you control, as with Bitcoin. (Instead, when we get cryptographic signing for payments at all, we get cards which sign all transactions presented to them by devices the consumer doesn't control, without verifying the cardholder's intent except through the merchant's terminal, whose UI could be lying. And we're still stuck with shared secrets for online payments).

A lot is possible, the financial industry has simply chosen to put consumers (and itself) through the hassle and expense of cleaning up after fraud because it's cheaper than a serious attempt at an authentication system.

Except there are a lot of people (myself included) who see the handling of "identity theft" as banks and credit agencies trying to pass the buck for their own poor approaches to security and verification.

Exactly - In my opinion there is no "identity theft". There is criminal fraud, which the banks are a victim of. However, instead of dealing with that fraud they just pass the costs on to an unrelated individual and then shrug and say "you deal with it".

Google does something much like this - but without regulation or clear appeal process.

"Swatting is the act of deceiving an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing an emergency services dispatcher) into sending a police and 9-1-1 response team to another person's address, based on the false reporting of a serious law enforcement emergency, such as a bomb threat, murder, hostage-taking or other alleged incident."



I strongly agree with this sentiment; the fact that "competitors" can penalize you, the back link component should be removed from the ranking algorithm all together.

Uh, maybe I'm missing something, but aren't backlinks the entire concept Google is based on?

You are the most motivated party.

I would like to see this change.

If Google's approach is encouraging or enabling fraud, I'd like to see to it they're the ones who are motivated to change their approach. Making them legally responsible for the actions of their algorithms, preferably with penalties steep enough that even they can't ignore the resulting fines, might not be a bad start.

It doesn't sound like they're encouraging it per se, and they do enable legit actors to take countermeasures. But there's no incentive for them to be proactive like you want, especially given that they are part of an effective duopoly in the space. I agree it's not a great situation, but the legal incentives you propose are basically delusional - if Google can't easily detect what spam is maliciously anti-competitive, how do you reckon a court is going to prove it thus and enforce a fine on Google for failing to do so?

Why is it that if someone steals my wallet in the street I have to describe them to the police?

Your analogy is incorrect.

If the police simply refused to respond until you'd done the full investigation yourself and handed in the proof, and then the only thing they'd do was acknowledge "yup, that guy stole your wallet, we won't assume he legitimately possesses that wallet anymore but we also won't do anything to get it back or prosecute him", then you'd have an analogy.

That's not a valid description of what Google does. The link up the thread describes what they do.

Also, have you tried reporting a minor crime in a major city recently? Me: "My (nice road racing) bike was stolen. Here's the video tape from the security camera showing the crime and the thief's face." Cops: "That's nice for you. Come back in a week and see if your bike is in our shed if you like. Cheerio".

Try finding influencers with high pagerank (page 1-2 for your business type) and paying them to review/feature your products and link to your site.

you can definitely rank as a small business as well in the organic search results, without any adwords budgets, but SEO is not as easy as it was 6-8 years ago - that´s for sure. if you are interested, i can have a look at your company´s site and provide some ideas / feedback, if you want to.

I manage SEO for a company in a very competitive and spammy SEO space (payday loans). (A good guy trying to fix the space.)

I spend an average of 10-15 hours/week disavowing bad links our competitors build. I've automated most of it now so it's going faster, but it's out of control.

It's a sad situation but I can pay $5 on Fiverr to attack you that way. Google should really handle it better.

they actually have, and have taken more steps to prevent this happening as of lately. (they also deny Negative SEO is a thing).

Their latest update of the Penguin algorithm states it is more "granular" and also stated it will really only penalize the pages that have the bad links pointing to it, rather than the whole site.

Small steps, I know but at least they are doing something it seems.

1) Update your Disavow file properly, which I am sure you've done

2) Email Google directly. It is sometimes difficult to find a way to email, but once you do they'll take care of it.

Any suggestions on where to search for such an email address?

Frankly I do not remember, but if you look into the webmaster console help section hard enough you will end up finding a place, or you can also try reporting an issue via the Maps since it is a local business. What is certain is you can contact someone there and they are usually helpful once you do.

Talk to one of their sales reps.

I dunno how much it has evolved, but Google got started by weighting search results based on how many other pages linked to that page. More links and your pages was found closer to the top of the results page.

So a easy way to game that was to set up "link farms" that pointed to each other, but not really offering anything worthwhile except a bunch of words people were likely to search for.

Goodhart's law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."


Supposedly Google now doesn't count these as negatives, they just disregard them. Specifically because of this vulnerability.

I wonder why google doesn't count spammy links as zero rather than negative.

"I guess my point is the current situation, basically 2 companies controlling so much traffic, seems, well, bad for small business in this country"

Why "in this country"? Isn't it a problem for the entrepreneurs in the rest of the world too?

More importantly, which country?

Fake indignation devalues legitimate indignation, you know which country.


Chinese businesses don't care, Russian businesses don't care, etc.

Says who?

Nobody in China uses Google other than English speakers. Google is notoriously bad at breaking Chinese characters up into words.

Few people in Russia use Google for Russian language searches, this is because Google is not as good at declining Russian nouns and conjugating Russian verbs. Yandex gives more results of a higher quality for certain searches.

>Nobody in China uses Google other than English speakers. Google is notoriously bad at breaking Chinese characters up into words.

That has no bearing on whether Chinese businesses care. Obviously there are tons of Chinese businesses that sell outside China, including retail businesses, and their customers DO use Google.

Same for the Russian case.

That's bulshit, Google auditory is bigger even in Russia, not saying about other russian speaking countries. prof: https://www.searchengines.ru/google_oboshel.html

Your article says that Google has overtaken Yandex in terms of the total usage for the traditional and mobile version of the Google website and its mobile apps (emphasis mine).

So a reasonable explanation is that Russians are increasingly using Google's apps: gmail, google calendar, the google now launcher; which probably has something to do with the fact that these apps come preinstalled on their phones. Not necessarily that they prefer Google for searching for Russian-language websites.

>> Few people in Russia use Google for Russian language searches

This is not true, Google has >20% share in Russia iirc

I didn't say nobody, I said few. 1/5 is not that many compared to the usage in English-speaking countries.

Yes, and I should have said as much.

It never occurred to me that back links from other websites would hurt ranking, I thought it's OK as long as a website don't point to other spamming sites... So this is really scary, it means that other people can attach your ranking...

Hence the disvow link button

>My site was targeted with millions of low quality links

Are you saying competitors maliciously sabotaged your ranking? Or that you bought SEO services from an unscrupulous company?

Does Google actually punish sites for buying spam SEO, or is this speculation without evidence? They don't publish page rank scores anymore, so how can one know? How does one determine their site is "punished"?

I have seen the consequences of paying for SEO. They spam your site URL on random web forums. If you pay for SEO, you are very likely paying people to use bots and sweatshops to spam your site url via low quality garbage links dumped on Twitter, on web site hosts, in comment sections and forums. A lot of this traffic originates from criminal botnets. Seriously, don't do it.

As an example I just pulled out of our filter, here's what you're really paying for when you pay for SEO: https://twitter.com/karenhall191

Unfortunately, as a web hosting provider (neocities.org), I have to deal with some of the fallout from this. Google's business model creates this problem, but they provide little support and few tools to help us deal with it (reporting API please?), and we're largely forced to go it alone.

>Does Google actually punish sites for buying spam SEO, or is this speculation without evidence? They don't publish page rank scores anymore, so how can one know?

Because they tell us:


>How does one determine their site is "punished"?

Because it suddenly falls behind in results?

That is not a measurable process. A site could fall behind for any number of reasons, including bugs in their algorithms. I'm never going to say to myself "welp, our pagerank went down, time to use Google's weird tool to clean up the negative SEO attack again."

Without a real way to understand what's actually going on, you're just shooting at the darkness. It feels more like worshiping a cargo cult than doing something actually productive.

>Without a real way to understand what's actually going on, you're just shooting at the darkness.

That's no more a reason to doubt spam links' effect than to doubt any other suspected metric, as all as "shooting in the darkness".

What are you gonna do, lie down and have the site end up as low as it can get? Sometimes you do need to fight in the dark, and gauge any changes you make from the reaction you get.

"I'm never going to say to myself "welp, our pagerank went down, time to use Google's weird tool to clean up the negative SEO attack again."" -- is not really an option.

I have seen people promote several unrelated sites on the same spam network, and watched them rise and fall in lockstep.

I do know a company in India which does this site linking in forums, comment sections etc for their own product. They have large number of guys working on just linking. And does have good revenue as well.


What does that have to do with anything?

A valid question.

So I've never done any "SEO" work on the site outside of Google's own recommendations with regard to site content, ease of use, etc.

In other words no link building, keyword stuffed pages, etc.

I'm still in the dark all these years later, but my best guess is:

a. I had a blog and forum that, like most of that time (2012's), has occasional spam posts.

b. Those posts would often, but not always, be referenced by the spam links pointing to my site.

c. I had very high rank in Google for several years leading up to the penalty.

Because of this I don't think it was a necessarily a competitor, but rather spammers trying to leech off of that high ranking.

Either could be just as true, and you can't always tell which SEO company will be unscrupulous. They are masters of the spin, after all. I have resolved to never use the services of an SEO company. Having both been burnt and worked in the industry itself, I would rather not work on a project that relies on "SEO" for important revenue at all. As noted above, it is a fickle and ultimately brittle way to prop a business up.

Or your competitors bought SEO from an unscrupulous company ... ?

> Is the dream of the open Internet already dead?

At most, the dream of ad-funded websites might be dead. (I wish!)

This dream created a lot of value by providing free services to Web users. But it also created a lot of harm by enticing those users into closed gardens full of surveillance, which service providers created to gather data to drive ad revenue. I think on net the harm is much greater; we'd have a much more open Internet today if people had gotten used to paying a few dollars a year for ad-free webmail, IM, social networking, search engine access, etc.

> At most, the dream of ad-funded websites might be dead. (I wish!)

What you are wishing for is a world in which access to things like Google Search which we take utterly for granted now are forced to become paid services. What are the implications of that, particularly for the world's poorest?

> a world in which access to things like Google Search which we take utterly for granted now are forced to become paid services. What are the implications of that, particularly for the world's poorest?

hmmm so Google will stop being a de facto monopoly while ad networks crumble? Maybe free and/or open search will start flourishing again because finally there is incentive to write readable HTML for all crawlers instead of only returning scannable results when they detect the (highly peculiar) GoogleBot.

Maybe we'll get search engines again that do proper ranking (I hear actual pagerank was not a bad idea), or ones that do a proper AND-search of your keywords instead of trying second-guess you. Maybe they'll even return more than the top 1000 results. Search engines aren't that hard if you don't try to be as big as Google immediately and they just try to be good at that things they're good for.

Walled silos of user-supplied data will fall apart because it's no longer a viable strategy to special-case GoogleBot access to get your locked data appear in the results any way.

Google can no longer afford to arbitrarily overlook tactics which are against their TOS, as long as the player is big enough.

All the while, small business can still advertise if they want, easily enough by making a deal with other businesses (perhaps through a middle-man) and self-hosting the banner, click-through link to the other. Maybe some self-hosted analytics. And because in this hypothetical dream-world the craziness of these huge 3rd party ad-networks is gone, this will actually work, it'll pay, people will click.

Ads will therefore become much less shady as they are currently perceived (like, merely deceitful, not as a proper possible danger to your computer, your data and identity). Hopefully this will change the public idea of what ads can and should be in such a way that these ridiculous 3rd party ad networks with their "accidental" malicious code and ubiquitous tracking will never get a foothold again.

There might also be some downsides, though.

How much does it cost Google Search to support an extra user on the margin? I don't really know, but I'd wager much less than $1/year - because it's very implausible that the extra ad revenue it gets today from an extra user is more than that.

(The world's poorest people are a really bad target audience for ads - they have very little discretionary income!)

Meanwhile, the cost of Internet access for the poorest people is at least an order of magnitude bigger, maybe two orders of magnitude (since the cost to Google probably is much less than $1). Also, poor people's main or only Internet access is often via smartphones, and mobile data costs much more per GB than landline ISPs.

On the margin, some people who can afford Internet access today would not be able to also afford (as many) paid services. I'm willing to pay this price, in exchange for everyone who could afford access and services (including most of the poor people who can do so now) getting much better and more varied service and much less surveillance. Also, a paid model would enable people who publish blogs and other sites, and various services.

Finally, if you treat Internet or Web access and services as very important and maybe a human right, then governments should provide it or subsidize access or regulate prices. Absent that, for-profit corporations paid by users would be much better than the same corporations paid by advertisers.

I'm surprised to not see more discussion of things like ZeroNet in these types of threads. I see the next generation of sites being on a platform like that, where everyone consuming content is also helping to carry the distribution load.

Google at least has the organic option.

"If your content is fresh and linked to from reputable sites, we'll promote you in the search results... for free."

Facebook is purely pay-for-play. Paying for boosted posts is the only way to cut through the noise (unless your content goes organically viral, which only has a 24 hr shelf life).

If you have watched the SERPS (search engine results pages) over the years you have seen that a number 1 organic ranking has gone from # 1 to something like #20 after all of the ads and what not that are shown above the first organic rank these days.

Some evolution images and stories: http://searchengineland.com/evolution-google-serps-three-key...

It is still "free" but takes a lot of work to get there, and it is worth less than it used to be. Lots of SEO's have gone the way of paid.

Pardon my ignorance but why do generally spammers hit a website?

If it makes you feel any better, I've been blocking ads the whole time.

I really thought I was crazy when I thought that a 99% bounce rate is unreal, even for my highly specialised product sites which cater to a very niche audience. But I ultimately came to a similar conclusion; no matter what ads I come up with, it's money down the drain, and I've never had a single conversion that came through the door that way. I've spent untold thousands on paid ads. I learned a great deal about which keywords to target, and mimicked the reputedly successful approaches of my competitors. Nada. Would have been better off shoveling cash into an open pit.

The only customers I've gained through web marketing have been organic, coming through bona fide referrals on other sites. The "hit rate" on that has been pretty good, suggesting that the blame can't lie entirely with my crappy sites...

Just checked your site. It's well put together but the language is far too technical for AdWords. Engineers don't usually make the kind of business decisions to buy these things at larger companies, it's VP level people.

Find your kinds of customers and tailor a landing page with stuff that they want, instead of having the site explain everything like a users manual.

Ex: Calls centers do not care at all about the other uses for your product, so for ads for "call center phone systems" don't show them any of that.

You can leave the existimg content there, it will help with SEO and people that want to look deeper. Just make sure the first few pages from ads are exactly what they're looking for and nothing else. They will read more into it if they're interested.

The big thing you're running into is bounce rates because most visitors spend 30 seconds or less deciding if your product is what they want. If you can't convince them "yes, it's perfect" in three sentences most will leave. The easiest and surprisingly effective way to do this is to make the title of the page huge and make it match their search query exactly.

Your sales site should focus on uses, not features. Nobody cares about anything technical so take off the stuff about being built in Node etc... The people looking to buy this don't even know what that is. Too many words they don't know is scary, maybe this isn't what they're looking for.

Dumb down everything so that moronic managers will forward a link to your site to the guys that actually know wtf you're talking about :)

Thank you for the suggestions!

The intentionally deep technical content of the site may be motivated by reasoning backward to your thought process:

Usually it's the technical guys, tasked with researching and finding a product that fits the requirements, who find the site and forward the link to their managers. The managers have no idea what any of it means, but "it looks like good stuff", so "contact them and find out more".

This has been my experience. Of course, that may be a reflection of the self-selecting group of prospects that the site does reach, so your observations are entirely valid!

LOL I have a site that is totally and exclusively devoted to Study Skills. My quality score for the keyword "study skills?" 1/10

Now, I understand what's happening. I haven't loaded up the <h1> tags and stuff. I'm appealing to the people who might be looking for something like this. It's very different from selling umbrellas, but we are forced to fit the same mold.

I think the general conclusion is sound: Having such a dominant company that suffers no ill consequences of its mistakes is bad for small business.

In large it doesn't matter what you're selling anymore for the most part. People are used to thumbing through search results and every company competing in the space is at their fingertips with a single click. It's not like you're the only study site they found, they probably have ten open right now.

You need to have the most appealing intros or people will simply hit X on the tab and move on to someone that does. In short, make absolutely sure it's abundantly clear to a five year old that they've reached the right place within ten seconds or people will go somewhere else.

Also, everyone will be 1/10 qs for study skills. The keyword is far too broad for more than 1% of your ads to be targeted properly. Unless you have thousands of negative keywords I wouldn't go near that one. Google wants ads to be relevant so users will continue to click them. You will be punished severely every time your ad shows up and it's not what the user was looking for

Thanks for the tip! I don't use Google for advertising at the moment, but I'll keep these in mind if I go back to them.

another tip is that if you don't sell a product Adwords is not for you. Pure content sites will be vaporized by the cost vs the revenue you get from people seeing ads on your site :)

This is exactly what I tell people. Selling lawn chairs and umbrellas: maybe. Selling content/research/intellectual work: nope.

In my experience people through AdWords are not technical. Usually how it goes is that the people actually using the software, so the poor saps working in the call center, will get so frustrated with their existing system that they will google "call center software" and let their manager/coworkers know about any good looking alternatives they find.

Once management and IT know about the problem there's usually already a shortlist of software to check out and management makes the final decision.

Indeed it is probably self selection of our markets to a large extent :) but it worked for us. In my current and last company new tools and hardware have been exclusively pushed from below. If management doesn't know there's a problem they won't change anything, and most managers hate being told about problems without solutions in hand

AFAIK Technical information is usually downloaded in PDF white papers.

A lot of times, nobody reads these white papers, but there is a huge credibility boost from having them. It says that there's something substantive here. "Sounds like good stuff."

I have seen a lot of companies do this and it's terrible. You get SEO mostly from long form in depth articles and dumping it into a PDF will tank something that would be page 1 to page 5. Google will prefer a well setup blog over a file download ten times out of ten. Unless your whitepaper is a unicorn the search results will go to someone else

From personal experience Some bosses I've had preferred to share them when selecting providers

How about having the technical page but also having an overview page for managers (who are hopefully used to the concept of technical people writing them summaries). Maybe the main ui for such a product's site could even be explicit with e.g. 'executive summary' and 'technical summary' tabs.

I second that opinion. The site has a good technical explanation, but it doesn't have a "value proposition" - why should I, as a manager, buy your product? (I guess it makes calls cheaper? Is it needed for what?)

The nature of the organic audience is such that if they found their way to the site in the first place, they are very likely highly specialised in IP telephony and know the answers to these questions. They are typically looking for more details, not a gentle layman's introduction. When they contact me, 90%+ of the time they have highly specific questions, and there is no need to convey what the product is or what it does in broad terms.

There is a market segment of relative laypeople who do not know what this product is, yet could benefit from it nevertheless. However, it is very small and does not represent the most desired customer base. Imagine selling an industrial control mechanism used in water treatment plants. You probably aren't looking to target the product page to people who don't already work in one.

By the same token, a successful ad campaign in this case would be one that effectively targets the search terms used by people that by and large already know what they are looking for, and steering them in my direction.

On the other hand, you both have a point. I am probably underestimating the number of managers looking at the site who, despite working in the VoIP service provider industry, find this all to be Greek. And it's probably equally true that I am reasoning backward from a self-selecting group of customers--the ones to whom I do manage to sell. In other words, survivorship bias, where the survivors are those not spooked by my esoteric content.

So, fair points!

Detailed content is great for SEO and will get you extremely well targeted visits. At least from what I've seen the majority of business comes from people that want to be told what to do and not those that already know. Chances are somebody with detailed knowledge already knows all the players in the field and are just weighing their options s. There's a whole pile of people trying to setup a phone system or call center for their existing product/company that don't know their ass from a hole in the ground :)

That is an astute observation.

Is your product specialized to technical users? I've noticed that businesses with more technical clients have harder time getting customers via ads, because most technical users don't click on ads

I suspect most technical users don't see ads anymore.

haven't ads disappeared from the web 10 years ago ?

It is always a harsh return to a sad web experience when I have to use someone else computer who don't know about ad blockers. Almost unbearable, to the point that I first grant them the magic of ublock orgin before anything else. They thank me profusely and never go back to the ad riddled experience of the web.

Indeed; you can see some links in my profile. Our product is unquestionably a big-ticket, slow-moving, long-sales-cycle kind of thing.

However, there were plenty of clicks. I've just never had a single sale, and only a very small handful of low-quality enquiries, despite lots of traffic.

Well that's very possibly an attribution issue. Those clicks led to traffic, and if the sales cycle is long those clicks will take months to convert. Unless you are tracking sessions back to their source months after the fact, you can't really know if those ads led to conversions or not.

No, not with definitive certainty. However, the traffic volumes involved are low enough that I have a pretty good idea of how people that buy came to know about the product or came to visit the site for the first time. A high percentage of the time, they tell me.

Never, ever have I heard, "Saw your ad on Google".

Not saying you're wrong but the goal of advertising is not necessarily a direct, short term effect of increase in sales. It could be brand recognition, which can be activated via subliminal messaging. E.g. "I heard of you before but I don't quite remember where". I'd also say that's good. If a customer found a product from a review site, that means the customer is an informed subject who is convinced they're buying the right product. Discussion fora is more of a toss up as quality and premises of discussion can be anything really.

Re: article. The screencast (that's how that's called, right?) shows 'this visitor scrolls different' and claims that is how a mobile user scrolls. But that is also how a trackpad (laptop) user who skims through the content scrolls. Basically, its how one 'scans'. Scanning is useful to determine if content is interesting.

Anyway. Its also possible we are talking bots here. Is this possibly the effect of Ad Nauseam [1]?

[1] https://adnauseam.io

I agree with you. The primary purpose of my web sites and ad campaigns is marketing, not sales.

Nevertheless, some proceeds in the latter sphere must eventually be realised from the former, by means however diffuse...

Yeah, I hear you. I would never rely on someone telling you. If you integrate adwords with salesforce you can truly track the customer from the first click to conversion, even months later. Could be worth looking into if you want to optimize your marketing spend.

Have you ever heard that they saw you on Google at all? I feel like a lot of people fail to remember the distinction between ad results and search results.

To me this immediately stood out to me as the real issue. Even for smallish products I click on an ad and rarely buy on the first visit. But I remember the name and come back to look for the product later on.

This is why tracking is so important. @Parent what is a conversion to you? Maybe you should add something light that the user can do that gives you a sense of their interest other than a purchase.

Usually, that latter function is served by the contact form. The intent of the site is to give them just enough info that they are motivated to contact us to learn more, after which they go in our CRM (Close.io, following @patio11's recommendation of it) and get extensive follow-up over what is, as you correctly surmised, often a very protracted evaluation and sales cycle. It's not uncommon for the subsequent back-and-forth to take months or, in some cases, even years, before (if) there is any real traction.

My organic traffic behaves about as I expect; they often fill out the contact form and we end up having a productive chat. Paid ad traffic, however, unfailingly bounces.

The problem is in your approach. Try switching from asking to giving in exchange for email. Then nurture the lead through email and you'll see much better results. The money is in the lists.

Thanks for the tip. But how do you suggest, within the logic of the site and my product, that I give in exchange for email? What should I offer? I can't just wall off all information behind a demand for contact info. If they have no inkling of what's behind the wall, there's no reason for them to provide it.

I know your product and space well - you'd be better off with getting people on an email list via a content giveaway to start your marketing. You need a lot more top of funnel and long term engagement marketing to convince your prospects to buy.

That is undoubtedly true, though I lack the expertise and time to properly implement and manage that sort of thing. All I can do is to try to be a prominent and useful member of the ecosystem in our corner of the FOSS VoIP world and attract enquiries on that basis.

I don't see sales to be my problem, but rather marketing. I'm content with the ease with which prospects are persuaded to buy when they come through the door, but there are just far too few opportunities to have those conversations.

I sell an OSX app for advanced users, and as you said, they don't click on ads and it would make more sense to heat my house with $20 bills instead sending them to fb/adwords.

However, I ran 2-day flash-sale and it went unexpectedly good. I never thought devs and tech-savvy people visit websites like that.

Anecdotally, I never click ads (they're all blocked with years) but I do respond to "deals" site in my local market. If it's something I vaguely though I'd like, seeing it recommended on a deal site is sometimes enough to make me buy it. Something worth noting for those selling to a HN type demographic.


No. Anyone with a career in a large org.

We, as users, have been oversaturated and desensitized. There is so much crap shoved in our faces, that we've learned over the years to ignore all ads.

Speaking for myself, I have an almost visceral negative reaction with ads. I would (and do) pay dumb amounts of money for a service if that means I'm not served ads.

What exactly is "dumb" amounts of money? If by dumb, you mean enough for authors to get by, then you are probably in the minority.

People love talking about how much they hate ads, and how, no, they're not cheap, they would totally pay for content.

Let's be honest - internet users are cheap. They want stuff for free. And if site A starts charging, they will jump ship to site B, until eventually it's a race to the bottom.

Ads seems to be the only model that works (thus far).

Many attempts have been made to monetise things (a la micropayments).

I believe Google did something before, where you paid cents, or fractions of a cent to authors for article views. This was back in 2012:


And recently Mozilla's Brendan Eich is doing Brave, with bitcoin micropayments. I'd love to see it gain traction, but I don't see it going mainstream.

Look, I know some ad networks go too far - but IMHO, Google/FB ads are hardly that intrusive. (I personally hate pop-up/pop-under ads, and auto-playing videos)

(Disclaimer: I work for Google, but not in ads - above opinions are purely my own).

I guess I'm cheap then. I have no interest in paying any amount of money to read most of the things I read online. It seems to me that it's not so much that people are demanding this content for free as it is that people don't think it's worth paying for. It's not that I particularly wanted to see an article about the usefulness of advertising as it is that it's something to read on the bus. I would probably just look out the window instead if the alternative weren't free.

Most articles/videos on sites like HN fall into this category - I wouldn't have paid to read this article for example. To me, this comment thread is worth much more than the article itself and I don't see anybody here upset that they aren't getting paid to comment.

I guess that means that I would probably pay a subscription fee to a site like HN but that I wouldn't generally pay for the content itself, which does seem a little backwards. Still, that's what's valuable to me. Does anybody else feel this way or am I weird?

You're definitely not alone.

For some reason comments are often more interesting than the articles themselves, and people never think of monetizing their comments. Somehow karma is enough of a reward.

If I had to watch an ad for 30 seconds or pay $0.25, the proceeds of which would be distributed to commentators by proportion of karma they earned in the comment section ... I probably wouldn't bother.

It doesn't make much sense to me how I arrive at these utility valuations though.

Paying commentators would immediately destroy the quality of comments as people tried to exploit the system.

I for one will NOT use an Android app if there's no premium, ad free version of one.

I'll readily buy the ad-free version if it's any good, and I have the track record to prove it.

I've completely given up trying to control the torrent of spammy apps (games) on my son's IPad. His next device will be an Android.

At least within your home or on some other place where you control the network infrastructure, you can use dnsmasq and block many in-app ads at the DNS level.

I think it depends on the content, but in general i agree with you.

There's some really valuable info on the net: medical research, good product recommendations, educational materials regarding hobbies and work, etc. I wouldn't mind paying for them(and i do buy some books), but most of these are free, or availble via places like sci-hub.

As for the rest, which is basically enterntainment - i can't imagine no good free alternatives for those - hey, there are many blogs from people who aren't professional writers who offer much better content than the pro media.

I wish there was a search engine focused on the best of those - i feel it would improve the internet by so much.

"Websites love talking about how much their readers are cheap, and how, no, they don't publish crappy content, they would totally check facts and whatnot.

Let's be honest - many websites are after monetizing whatever they can. They want content cheap to produce. And if readers don't want to buy it, they'll sell your attention and your privacy to advertisers, until eventually it's a race to the bottom."

Logically I can't wrap my head around your position. Content, like comments is just the output of someones thoughts. The majority of comments are short off-the-cuff statements, but articles on websites stand a better chance of having gone through a process of deliberation/research/etc. Perhaps you could argue that most content is fluff but even so, all I'm saying is that it stands some chance, versus no chance of being thorough.

So.. to me, the opposite holds true. If lets say I was interested in reviews on some technical product I wanted to buy - I would definitely prefer to have a lengthy article that goes over all the details rather than a comment thread which might detail one tiny slice of their experience with the product. So maybe if enough people comment, I can waste some time reading them all and cobble together a larger slice in my head, but again, its tedious, its just easier to go to a single source that has already done it.

Maybe what we really need is better curation than the current voting model.

> Let's be honest - internet users are cheap. They want stuff for free.

There are 3 problems with this statement.

1) There is a lot of free content, easily found, and content gets more rapidly out of date nowadays. Paid content must deal with this (newsworthy, in depth competition).

2) Your view is US centric; the vast majority (read: not all) of internet users from other countries generally have less money to spend.

3) The cost of loss of privacy is indirect, therefore hidden, and US companies generally get away with it. This is why data mining is currently profitable.

In order to solve #3 shit must first hit the fan, to increase awareness. #1 is solved by collectively putting the high quality content behind paywall. #2 can in theory be solved by globalisation in long-term. Short-term, dynamic price makes sense, but it makes #1 & #3 worse.

Let me quote the rest of your statement:

> [...] They want stuff for free. And if site A starts charging, they will jump ship to site B, until eventually it's a race to the bottom.

Agreed, except for example for (local) newspapers who also provide online access as part of their sub. Global newspapers have more competition. Especially given the widespread English language.

> Ads seems to be the only model that works (thus far).

For Google, yes. For privacy, no. In apps on an unrooted Android device, yes. On recent iOS and desktops, no (the latter 2 due to ad blockers).

Also, streaming media such as Spotify proves a subscription in a new market (not newspapers) can work. Netflix proves it for video.

> And recently Mozilla's Brendan Eich is doing Brave, with bitcoin micropayments. I'd love to see it gain traction, but I don't see it going mainstream.

Not yet a final, stable non developer version released AFAIK. Also, Eich is no longer part of Mozilla.

Let me address your three points in order:

1. There is a lot of free content - yeah, the internet is full of free content, but much of is click-bait garbage, or re-posted a billion times. Let's be honest - true, honest-to-goodness original journalism costs money. Good writing costs money. Investigating journalism costs money. Getting people to actually go out into the real world, and interview people, or write about stuff costs money. Who's going to pay for that?

Pick up an article from the New Statesman, or The Economist, or The New York Times - compare that to the offal you get on Buzzfeed, or one of the billion other click-bait sites.

When all those actual journalists go out of business - you'll get everybody coming out of the woodwork complaining that they can't get news, or it's all just PR puff-pieces from companies, or sound-bites from political spokespersons. And people on the internet will whine that <insert random politician> is corrupt and only got elected because nobody could be bothered reporting on politics. Or that everything they read is beholden to corporate or political interests.

2. Your view is US centric - I'm not from the US, so I'm not really sure how to respond to this. Or are you just assuming, because you're not from the US, and it's convenient to erect a strawman?

Or are you saying there's poor people on the internet? Sure, I'm certain there are. In fact, there's poor people without access to access to computers, or the internet either. I suspect those people probably don't care (yet) to read articles from The Economist, or New Statesman either.

I'm specifically addressing people who access these sites, and still want to access them by blocking ads, or circumventing their anti-ad-block. So please don't erect some strawman, or turn this into a "Oh, but I'm poor! Please, give me free stuff!" plea. Poor people have do have problems and deserve compassion - but being able to get free articles from Forbes, or Wired probably isn't their main concern.

3. Cost of privacy is indirect - I see this as market forces. As in, if people don't want to do a normal "I pay a dollar, you give me a newspaper to read", then newspapers need to find other ways to monetise. I do have issues about that - but I certainly don't see either side as particularly clean in this fight.

1. are you aware that newspaper were dying before the web ? they were mostly financed by advertising which owned them, also they pretty all been bought by rich people or giant corporations. Then out of the content available on the web (I'm not talking of the internet because I've never seen a journal publish on newsgroups or other parts of the internet that are not the web) newspaper are but a really tiny tiny fraction of the content available. The web was designed as a non-commercial sharing space, so it's no surprise that people expect it to still be used that way. At some point advertisers and marketers (who should suck on tailpipes [1]) invaded the web by the selling the idea that you could make money out by hijacking the traffic of a website. The internet and the web built on top changed the rules of the game and your failed business model is not my problem is the attitude you have to deal with from now on.

That said on the matter of independent (read no advertising) investigative journalism publishing online the number of available spots are limited and the first to move will seize the better place on the market. Look at how mediapart.fr established itself in France and how many stories they get out compared to the other newspapers. They are a success established on initial funding giving no power to the funder and now entirely paid by the readers.

Lesson here is there are people willing to pay and support a truly independent online newspaper, the demand is here and the old newspaper who are dependent on ads and controlled by who has the most shares are not fulfilling it.

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaD8y-CGhMw

>>Let's be honest - true, honest-to-goodness original journalism costs money. Good writing costs money. Investigating journalism costs money. Getting people to actually go out into the real world, and interview people, or write about stuff costs money. Who's going to pay for that?

Investigative journalism is in its death throes, and it's not because of lack of money. It's because of lack of interest from audiences.

Nowadays, journalism is all about who breaks the story first. This is why people are saying (only half-jokingly) that we live in a "post-facto" world: investigating leads and verifying facts take a lot of time, during which your rivals might publish the story and get all the eyeballs and therefore ad money. And if they get the facts wrong, or the entire story ends up being incorrect? No one really cares, because by then everyone has moved on to the next thing that is demanding their attention.

>>Pick up an article from the New Statesman, or The Economist, or The New York Times - compare that to the offal you get on Buzzfeed, or one of the billion other click-bait sites.

Buzzfeed is known for clickbaits, but it has some honest-to-god excellent long-form articles. Here is an example: https://www.buzzfeed.com/suzannecope/up-in-the-air-with-caro...

I'm not so pessimistic. For example, over here in Holland we have De Correspondent, which does an admirable job at depth over 'breaking first' (it's even their mission statement: beyond the whims of the day, loosely translated). They're very loosely paywalled and get by on paying subscribers like myself.

From what i gather so far, they're doing a wonderful job and expanding rapidly without losing money. I think there's plenty room for initiatives like that in specific niches as well.

My impression of NYT and The Economist and such is that while they're trying, they're still way too tethered to an older model which, among other things, requires more money for (relatively) more crap. And while on behalf of good journalism I lament the period of turmoil as they fight their fight but eventually disappear, I think it's necessary for more targeted, leaner journalism to take over.

>Investigative journalism is in its death throes, and it's not because of lack of money. It's because of lack of interest from audiences.

How do you explain the success of vice?

So poor people don't/won't read the Economist? They "don't care to". wow. BTW, these click-bait sites are rewarded by your employer who then is able to pay you. As an aside: Doesn't google still provide a text only web cache that strips ads? What if I use wget or curl? What about reader view in safari or firefox, absent from chrome of course. Rss? Blocking ads is only one way to go.

The Economist will quite proudly tell you itself how educated and rich its readers are (or take a look at the ads – it's the only periodical I know where you can usually find a small port terminal or newish refinery in the classifieds)

But the actual point you were arguing was: Is it legitimate to block ads and/or circumvent paywalls? What about the poor? or non-Americans?

The latter two aren't actually new situations for publishers – they have actually always operated in 0-marginal-cost environments, and have therefore developed strategies to capture any "consumer surplus" they can get. For those cases, there has always been country-specific pricing as well as discount schemes. Most common are probably student discounts, but you can also do price discrimination by making people jump through hoops to get discounts, essentially trading time for money. That's the principle behind supermarket coupons.

Regarding your technical scenarios: You're trying to do some legalistic hair-splitting, in a discussion that isn't even about legality but morality. I hope we'll get to the point where people realise the importance of professional, traditional print outlets, and see that they can obviously not continue to exist without our willingness to spend some money. I'm rather pessimistic on the former ("yeah I browse the NYT on the loo but it's not worth anything and 15 years ago they were wrong about Iraq WMD and I rather read bloggers from all sides of the spectrum and do the synthesis myself and even learn about Pizzagate and no I don't have a problem with run-on sentences").

The media still has to do its part, as well. I regularly do a shallow read of 10 to 15 publications. I'll happily spend 200$ per year for the privilege, but I haven't found anyone willing to take my money. I'm not going to pay that amount for a single publication as my parents have done over decades.

I'm spending 10$/mo on music now. Before, I had bought maybe two CDs in my entire life. But so far, publishing is blocking "streaming" to protect "CD sales".

>> Pick up an article from the New Statesman, or The Economist, or The New York Times - compare that to the offal you get on Buzzfeed, or one of the billion other click-bait sites.

It would be interesting to try an ad-blocking program that has an exception: if this article has been written by the journalist who did all the work(or something close to that) , he can show me ads.

Sure -- I agree that content producers need to make money, and ads (invasive/unethical or not) are a time proven way of achieving this end.

Let's do a run down of my monthly online spend.

Netflix: ~$9.99

Hulu premium: $11.99

HBO now (or is it HBO go?): ~$12.99

Sling TV: ~$50

Google play (includes YouTube red): ~$13

Amazon prime (also used for the Amazon TV shows): ~$9

Spotify: $10

A random Twitch show that I patronize: $6.66

Wikipedia: I donate $10/year, so let's say $1.

So, roughly, ~$125/month.

I use Tumblr heavily and the ads piss me off, but the moment they offer a premium ad-free option they can shut up and take my money.

Interesting you use Spotify and Play. Spotify really seems redundant in your scenario.

I see why you might think that -- but Spotify's playlists and the discover weekly features overall are much better then Google play. Yet, as a project fi & G apps user, Google play has great download functionality.

Add Kiva to your list. ;-)

Brave should collect the bitcoin payments, but only pay the site owner when no advertisements or third-party tracking is found on their website for the past month. If the conditions are not met, then the bitcoins are refunded to the users.

This way, it provides site owners with an incentive to remove their advertisements when they see they could be earning a higher amount from user donations. Also, users are more likely to donate, because their donations are encouraging site owners to drop their advertisements, and their payments only go to those that share their vision, and remove advertising.

> Let's be honest - internet users are cheap. They want stuff for free.

Web users are not cheap. They expect stuff to be free because this is what the web has been designed to: sharing knowledge for free between people. But truth is it is not free, we are paying through privacy invasion and the reason for both of these is google. Google provides whatever you want with no immediate price to pay, though we actually pay in the end, and you can compete with google especially since google has established dominance.

The reason I say we pay in the end is not obvious but self-evident when you think of it, google gathers personal profiling data, exploits it to sell ads paid by advertisers, advertisers include the price of advertising in the product, we buy the product thus paying for the content in the end. The trick is we may have bought the product anyways though now we pay a bit more to pay the advertising costs. That's how we pay google to provide us with seemingly gratis stuff.

> Ads seems to be the only model that works (thus far). You're starting with a bad assumption. There is a model that worked for years even before this assumption became rampant: do not expect revenue by having a website or webpage that is not an online shop. example: www.debian.org

Then if your content is good enough your audience will pay for you to make more, see the dice tower getting its funding on kickstarter [1], or the webcomics with patreon, and so on. The point being, there are models that work to get a revenue from publishing online outside of ads, but you need a sizeable audience first.

[1]: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tomvasel/the-dice-tower...



Brave's bitcoin integration is under the hood, only exposed in beta but it'll be hidden. Our long-term play is to build the anti-Google, your personal data platform.

Ad networks have not "gone too far" -- the whole system is broken, with malware entering 3rd party ad exchanges and fake users browsing fake publisher sites to steal ad revenue (https://whiteops.com/methbot). Google facilitates and profits from all of this.

Don't be distracted by intrusiveness, however bad and block-worthy. Tracking required by ads whether intrusive or not is the higher priority. It enriches a few and loots user data, if not exposing them to malware then abusing them with retargeting, online to offline breaches, and the like. Third party ads and tracking form a system that is stiffing publishers year over year, leading to eventual ruin.

Brave is 3-6x faster than Chrome on Android and not just by blocking ads: blocking trackers is required and those scripts and the "programmatic waterfall" or "header bidder wrappers" or other such junk are to blame.

TMZ Brave Shield results: https://twitter.com/BrendanEich/status/820166880778256384

Brave vs. Chrome on Android: https://twitter.com/BrendanEich/status/820082887194120193

I believe ad networks (that rely on third-party scripts and cookies) days are numbered thanks to adblocking. The only ads I see surviving long term are affiliate links, sponcered content and static native ads.

The problems with ad networks are too big to go on for very long. Poor user experience, Ad fraud, malware, the indiscriminate gathering and selling of user information. It's just a matter of time 'till everyone has a adblocker.

Programmatic ads (i.e. Real-time auctions) aren't going anywhere. The old method of phone calls and handshakes to fill adspace is just so inefficient.

The ad networks are just waiting for premium content (eg ESPN) to go programmatic. The cable networks who own that content are slowly wearing down. Once those floodgates open there will be a whole new arms race.

I've always wondered when this would happen. If premium content went programmatic we would see a massive upending of the advertising status quo.

I'm not sure sponsored content is better.

I make no claims about what is ideal only what is likely to survive.

Most people do pay dumb amounts of money for content. They pay their carrier for the bandwidth to download the ads. That's in the ballpark of a nickel per page [0].

You can't say that micropayments doesn't work when ads ARE micropayments. They're just micropayments with a particular set of properties.

The only question remaining is which of those properties are necessary. Is it actually necessary that your nickel causes an ad to be displayed, or is it just easier and the way we've organized things so far?

[0] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/01/business/cost-...

And yet, when I turn on ad-block for a month, my cable internet bill does not go down.

So, no, it is by no means a micropayment. And even if I were charged for overage, and I were over my monthly limit, I wouldn't be charged at a rate of $1 for 20 MB.

I think there is some tremendous gap between what a site believes it's value to be and the value to the person behind the keyboard. My opinion is the reverse of yours. Internet users aren't necessarily cheap, the sites overvalue the content they provide. Just because someone provides content doesn't mean it's good enough to make a living. If people leave site A because they charge for site B that's free but of less value, it may mean that site A doesn't provide enough value for the price they want to charge.Personally, I don't care how intrusive you think they are, I'm not going to view them. Why would you want me to, I'm not going to click anyway. I do pay for several sites via subscription (FT, WSJ, NYT, and others) and I pay for my email service(s) and I pay for Amazon and Netflix and Mubi and Hulu. Oh, I also pay for my broadband connection. If you think that anyone who puts content online should be compensated by default, that's the weirdest contention I've ever heard.

The issue isn't so much you not viewing the site - but rather ad-blocking.

Not having readership is one thing - but people who still want your content, but refuse to pay, or view the ads, well that's another.

I respect people who don't view sites like say, the NYT, or WSJ or The Economist etc. because those sites show ads. Or that won't buy the hardcopy magazines because there is ad space.

What I can't respect is people still trying to view those sites and defeat their anti-ad-blocks.

Or who complain about how link-baity the articles on HN are, or why there are fluff pieces here - but don't think, hey, good content costs money

I suppose if those sites went the way of intrusive, pop-under/pop-over ads, I might chance my tune - but on the whole, I've found the text/small image ads so far on them a reasonable exchange.

Oversaturated and desensitized, yes, but too few non-technical people are bothered enough to install an ad blocker. This is an issue because the biggest security threats, today, come from ad-network-delivered-junk.

It has become so much of an issue that my advice on which antivirus to install has shifted from xxx to uBlock Origin. It's just basic computer hygiene, and I would really like if content creator would move away from ad network based advertising.

I like the irony at that. For a long time you were exactly right and "the consumer wants it this way" was a convenient argument that ad-supported sites could make.

Now ad-blocking gets more and more mainstream - and many sites (especially news sites apparently) start to panic, pleading users to disable their ad-blockers or putting up ad-blocker-blockers...

News sites don't get it. There is no story I'm interested in reading in the WSJ or NYT that I can't find on a dozen other free news sites. Sure they do investigative pieces, but if they are really noteworthy they'll get reported on elsewhere within hours. I would never consider paying for a news site.

I don't know if you've actually thought your logic through to completion.

You claim that you would "never consider paying for a news site", because it'll just get re-posted somewhere else.

I urge you to think and reflect on what you've just claimed.

Investigative journalism costs money. Going out and interviewing people, or taking photographs costs money. Digging through old archives, or filing Freedom of Information requests to your local government body costs money.

If everybody stops doing that - what exactly are you going to re-post? Kim Kardashian's selfie feed? Cute photos of cats?

WSJ and NYT do journalism - you may not agree with everything they write, but let's be honest, they do real, honest-to-goodness journalistic work. I have a lot of respect for their craft - they're what keeps companies and politicians honest as well, so I see them as essentially to a functional democracy.

Or let's put it closer to home - we techies complain that a lot of news content is just PR puff-pieces from hardware/software companies.

Well, sites like IDW, Anandtech, Phoronix, Engadget, Artstechnica - they do actual reporting, they go out and buy components and test them etc. That costs money.

By your argument, you refuse to pay because somebody will just re-post it - yeah, but somebody has to do the original work. So you are basically spiting the hand that feeds you

> If everybody stops doing that - what exactly are you going to re-post?

An issue is that for a high quality investigative story, say the Boston Globe's story about how the catholic church covered up abuse by priests for years, is that although it is expensive to produce, and interesting, it is difficult for me to quantify how I should value it. I'm neither from Boston, nor catholic, so in a sense that story is completely irrelevant to me. It's going to be the same with most stories, i.e. they're highly likely to be irrelevant to an individual.

The bigger issue is that the conclusion to your argument is that we should be obliged to pay for investigative journalism. I would argue that if society as a whole benefits from something, but an individual doesn't, then it should be the government's responsibility to support it. The BBC seems to work well, and maybe something like that could work on a state-level in the US.

I have a hard time trusting the impartiality of a government-funded news service.

Most countries, at least in the west, have high quality government funded news services.

Would you be comfortable with the only investigative journalism being carried out by the government?

Sure, the BBC (British) or ABC (Australia) model seems to work well - but there's been funding spats in the past.

It's not that hard to imagine a world where the Prime Minister thinks "These silly ivory-tower journalists are just using their rag to rail on me! Why the heck am I signing off on more funding. Cutbacks!".

That and there's many countries where I'd rather an independent journalistic service.

News sites absolutely get that people like you exist and are quite common; you're the reason why free-to-readers, clickbait headlined sites where content is either paid for by heavy advertisement or interested parties sponsoring content are so dominant -- no reader-focussed business model can be built around users with those preferences.

And what would the contrasting preferences be? People who are willing to pay for journalism for news' sake?

I think that the 'for a long time' part makes it somewhat less ironic.

Things change, and it's perfectly normal that this can cause turmoil and turn winners into losers (and vice versa) until everything stabilizes again... for a while.

There are those natural steps you always take when you set a new machine up (either for yourself or for someone else): Install the OS, install any updates, remove vendor-provided crap-ware, install antivirus, etc. "Install ad blocker" has turned into one of those steps for me. I now do it without even thinking about it. If you have tried to browse the web without one recently, you know why you need to: the current ad-encumbered web browsing experience is totally ridiculous.

This is definitely a more technical solution than the average user might use, but I've had some great success with network wide adblocking via the Pi-hole package for Raspberry Pi, and setting my DHCP server to point to it as the primary DNS.

It runs a local DNS cache that blacklists ad domains (so basically how uBlock Origin works but utilizing DNS instead of just dropping the elements on the page).

There are a few sites I've had to whitelist but in general I don't even think about it running anymore, but all devices on my local newtork are ad free.

I'm always surprised how bad ads are on some systems. I usually like ads in specialty paper publications. It is nice to know what vendors are around, what new products they have. And you can skip an ad in a fraction of a second.

Before I installed Privacy Badger, my experience was usually ads for stuff I really didn't care about, unrelated to the subject of the website. Then I start searching for something, find what I want to buy and buy it. Then for months I get ads everywhere for the product I just bought. Never for example for accessories.

Of course, ads have to be as obnoxious as possible. Not just being there if you want to give them some attention, no they have to destroy your reading experience.

I once gave a news site a nice donation. By sheer coincidence right after that they changed the layout to the point I stopped visiting. Of course, my donation could easily be seen as a reward for the articles I read there before, but it didn't feel right.

This sounds like a joke but when an obtrusive ad comes up I literally only see Close, X, etc now. Totally tune out the whole thing except the parts that look like they might make it go away.

I'm with you - totally unable to remember the contents of the last lightbox popup I dismissed, and I'd challenge anyone to honestly recall theirs if it wasn't within the last few minutes.

Depends on the audience too. I'm anti consumerist somehow and reject ads mentally (it's as if they didn't exist on TV to my mind).

The few times I've clicked on ads were for odd geek products (SBC). A few times I found a website / company that indeed taught me something about a brand / product / idea ... but in retrospect a webpage ad is way too superficial for me to know that in advance, and doesn't trigger curiosity much (offseted by the browsing experience penalties).

The scary part is that we can only tune out ads so much. The subconscious absorbs them, and marketers totally know this.

That's the interesting part. Individually, people declare their aversion/immunity to advertising. As a whole, marketers measure the lift and attribute revenue to efforts across a segment with high statistical confidence.

Either there are enough highly susceptible people to offset the ad-immune crowd, or marketing works in much more sophisticated ways than we realize.

Curious, how does your behavior around perfectly elastic goods play out? Two products, same price, arguably indistinguishable (eg. Coke and Pepsi).

I like to think I fall into the same category, where ads don't prompt me to spend money I wasn't going to spend before, but I think all else being equal I stick to brands I've heard of (via ads).

Out of my head, these kinds of products appealed to me as a kid, and I sticked to those I liked more. Pepsi lacked something. I can't be sure how psychological this is (branding, logo, color .. amount of marketing in my country versus the US). I still think I could probably distinguish them blind.

Early on I was fond of both brands, but later, if you offered pepsi half the price I'd still pick out a can of coke.

Now I don't drink anything but water so ..

Sure, that was just an example though. Where do you buy gas? Which lightbulbs do you buy? Which batteries do you buy? Etc.

Yeah sorry, I got caught in my own head. I think more than brand, it's shelves that drive the decision for such commodities. Whatever is close and in good supply I'll take without too much attention paid to the brand. Or brand reputation when I'm feel picky. But never advertising itself.

You cannot escape the influence of advertising. To think otherwise is self-deception bordering on ignorance.

My consumerism seems to be restricted to a few kind of products for which I feel about for very specific reasons.

I'm still subject to influence, because I have eyes, but it's mostly negatively, advertising is a cheap trick void of information to me. I can't buy something because a handsome male pretended to use it in a video.

Even those with informations are often lying to put a spin on their product. Health products with a new molecule. Green vehicles. etc

Plus if you know a bit about production you know brands are often using the same materials with a few superficially differenciating details; so in the end.. same product.

I still have a technical mind, and it's my main mode of functionning. Influence can still be there but I'd bet 10$ it's barely significant.

I would bet the influence is not significant to you — you would get the same product for the same cost either way in most cases, but it is significant for the brand you end up arbitrarily choosing.

You mean that investing in marketing branding and advertising is still the best ROI for most companies ?

I don't really understand your point but I'm not educated in the subject either so ..

I simply mean that it makes no difference to you whether you buy your gas at Shell or Chevron because it costs the same and you get the same product. But it makes a difference to Shell if you buy your gas at Shell.

Since it is inconsequential to you, you don't care or notice the impact.

Trying to find someone who'll say "off course ads work on me" is about as difficult as finding s/o admitting to be a bad driver.

How do other people respond when watching ads ?

Do they think

  - "meh it's all bs ..."
  - "hmm I'd like that! can't wait to go to the mall and get one"
  - "oh I didn't know this, it could help me <there>"

I recall feeling 3) once in my life, it surprised me because that was my first deep positive reaction to an ad. Even though I've seen similar products all my life.

Does marketing count on negative bias in their theory ? "he may dislike the add but we have a foot in the door now, he'll buy our shit later"

They respond with a vague feeling of familiarity to a brand or product.

But all sorts of brands have commercials..

This is one of the big problems. It's an arms race, with the costs being passed directly on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.

Indeed. I wonder if there are regulations or theory on what's appropriate or not... otherwise it's like ebay auction gambling.

What does this have to do with the topic at hand?

The topic is that the traffic the ads bought were bots or click farms.

A great deal?

Why not just use adblockers? It's free.

Make sure you control which countries your ads can show in. 90% of my budget for high tech equipment was getting spent in Bangladesh. Pure fraud. Once you start clamping down a LOT, results can get better.

For the US market, I'd love to see a breakdown of visitors via Google and Facebook and see what % of them use an IP that is associated with a VPN.

If the % is high, then there is a case to be made that most of the clicks are from abroad VPNing into the US.

How do I find this list of VPN IPS? I know Netflix knows it but not sure they are sharing...

Every IP address has to be registed to an ISP, VPN servers are pretty trivial to detect as you'll see that the registration info from ARIN, RIPE, APNIC, etc. comes up as "HideMyAss" or "Amazon".

There are companies out there that provide paid anonymous, reliable (not hacked) proxy servers that run on consumer internet connections though, and those would be very hard to detect as vpn / proxy connections.

Another way is through capabilities where you have a computer that identifies itself as a macOS device but has the TCP/IP stack of a windows device – that's a proxy ! I would recommend the source code of p0f or the book silence on the wire to learn more about the topic.

I would start with public proxy lists like HideMyAss. I can't imagine foreign users pay premium for VPN services like IPVanish, etc.

What % of VPN users will that get you? 10%? This seems a very hard problem to actually solve...

Try getIPIntel.net

Indeed; I limited my impressions to the USA and a handful of developed nations, as well as a handful of middle income countries I know to be good markets for my product.

Bangladesh didn't make the cut. :-)

Do you have a breakdown of % VPN IPs vs. not of your visitors?

I felt the same when I tried LinkedIn ads... It doesn't even compare to a poorly targeted Reddit post.

I don't know if big companies get special treatment, but as a small startup, these ad networks just don't seem to work at all.

Sometimes I feel that the reason why big companies advertise through Facebook/LinkedIn/Google is not to promote themselves, but rather, to bleed small competitors out of business by inflating the CPC/cost of acquisition for their industry.

I'm spending ca $150/mo on google and getting a few hundred in revenue from it – not even including repeat purchases from these sales (about 80% y/y retention). It's been like that for 8 years.

Facebook on the other hand... Probably spend $2000 trying all sorts of things over the years and I'm not sure if there's a single new customer that can be attributed to it.

What product so you sell? If industrial drilling equipment, Facebook is hard. If it's a t-shirt that makes a trendy joke, Facebook will do well.

Physical consumer goods with orders in the $30-$200 range.

Are those Google ads Search or Display?

Search ads only.

It could be that the 10% traffic does give them an edge, or you're right about the CPC inflation argument as well. Overall, there is something wrong with the current model since it impedes innovation by allowing smaller players to properly reach the masses. A weird way of defensibility via marketing.

That is a cynical, but not wholly implausible view.

Big companies' ad campaigns do have their weaknesses. Their keywords can be poached by small competitors. Well-known brands invite comparisons, e.g. "HipUpStart.io is a better $BIG_BOX_BRAND."

Big companies use more advanced features like adaptive audience segmentation or dynamic creatives to better target viewers. Hence they tend to bid on those who are statistically more relevant to them.

Sorry to break this to ya but I've never had an issue getting at least some traffic through AdWords.

Bounce rates that high mean something is extremely wrong with your site or the keywords you're advertising for. I've purposely setup some bogus ads to use as controls and I still only get around 85% bounce rate. If your site is interesting enough people will sometimes stick around even if they reach you randomly.

Niche products tend to do better with advertising, less competition.

Basically if it's a complete failure you're doing it wrong. Whether you can get a positive ROI is a different story

The testimonials you have up from the Google and P&G employees are from stock photo sites. (I didn't reverse image search the others.) I'd consider fixing this.

Yes, they all wanted to remain anonymous so we used stock images of people similar to them to prevent identification, either via reverse image search or by colleagues identifying them. We run into issues of people judging others when they feel they receive insights to rise... it sets a weird tone.

Though your point is well taken, we need to find a better approach. People are sensitive about the topic.

What proportion of your prospects do you guess are running an adblocker?

Thats irrelevant since I'm analyzing clicks from Google and Facebook and then looking at their movements via Fullstory. How does an adblocker alter that process?

It segments the audience. The people that are coming to your site aren't running adblocker, and might behave differently than those who do.

ublock origin has anti-tracker lists, and to use fullstory you add fs.js to the <head>. I could see it being blocked (like I just did in my custom list).


Inbound done well outperforms others. The thing is that it requires a bit more effort. You can really leverage organic and establish low cost funnels. Feel free to ping me if you have questions. No bs or strings.

I see these posts all the time of DIY Adwords/FB and then a claim it doesn't work. This would be like me, a non-carpenter, trying to build a house, seeing how bad it looks and then claiming building materials suck.

There is reason companies spend ~$70 billion on Adwords annually. So because Adwords/FB didn't work for you doesn't mean their traffic is 90% useless. And dont get me wrong, I completely acknowledge there is junk traffic on the networks, but filtering this to a minimum is part of getting advertising right. So to get 90% useless traffic, it means you set up campaigns without proper targeting or content, not Adwords/FB is 90% useless.

At my last company, we worked with Google's in-house team to build adword campaigns, eventually spending the better part of a million dollars over the course of 9 months or so, with free assistance from them in the development of campaigns and with their ongoing guidance and advice. From our meetings with them, they were quite confident that our strategy was appropriate, that there existed an audience that we could reach via our keyword choices, and that they could drive the kind of traffic we needed to our site.

It was an abject failure, and a chief contributor to the downfall of the company.

> ...we worked with Google's in-house team

I'm no expert but I don't think the incentives were aligned properly there. Here's a Reddit thread that says it better than I can:


Maybe work with an agency next time?

Sage advice. I'm bookmarking that for the next time I need to talk about marketing strategies with people.

I can say from much first hand experience that Google's in house teams don't typically deliver what I would consider great work. And that was with the top tier of support at a search agency. I'm not entirely surprised at your results.

Most savvy people I know managing search for a living would but run something Google put together without quite a few changes.

Some of this comes from lack of understanding the business as well as someone on an account or in house, some is lack of experience since you often can have people barely out of school working on this stuff. Even when I had veteran teams there were still tweaks needed.

Things like keywords that didn't make sense, poor targeting settings, etc. were not uncommon. I know they've made big efforts to improve here, but they still have a long way to go.

Using the Google team...there is your mistake. They always approach reasonable spending accounts to try and offer account optimisation sessions. But their motivation is to make you spend not perform better, albeit they are better these days.

I used to have a team account team constantly approach myself and my boss and say I could be doing account management better. My boss started to question my credibility as Google people must be the best at Google.... so I offered them to set up their own separate campaigns rather than mess with mine. The results were atrocious. They do what the manual says to do vs what actuly works. To get the best out of Adwords you need to twist the system to suit your agenda, not Googles. Seriously get an independent professional in to manage Adwords. Try a few if you dont have experienced PPC marketing people in the office as there are many snake oil salesmen in this area. Also watch out for agencies that pitch you with their experienced guy but then put the junior in charge of running the account. Always ask to interview the person that will be hands on with the account and having direct contact to them. Adwords type platforms can be awesome when used well but you can't just throw money at it and expect results.

Why would you spend $1 Million on ads that were not working?

Did you not test your ads to grasp the conversion rate before spending the money?

Wasn't my job to manage ad spends, but I believe that somebody got in a great deal of trouble over the majority of that.

On the whole, IMHO, the business people weren't being entirely foolish, or foolhardy with our money - ultimately advertising costs a lot, and some adwords are expensive, and there aren't that many choices if you trying to get leads from a specific type of user.

"but I believe that somebody got in a great deal of trouble over the majority of that."

1M is a pretty big ad-spend for even a medium sized company. If it was a total failure than the leadership had absolutely no clue what was going on. The CEO is to blame.

If you're trying to get 'customer acquisition' then there's no reason that ads could not have been tested - you should have been able to resolve the unknown one for under $50K.

Granted - every situation is different and I understand it's not always so clean - but still - 1M is a lot especially if it affected the company. Sounds really bad.

Google's in house teams usually have no real world experience converting Google Ads to sales. It's the same way game developers are usually not esports pros. There's a big difference between knowing how a product works and being great at making it work

Can you name the company?


Sounds like a bad product

That's not an unfair conclusion. However, our retention rate after the first order was spectacular, and we slowly gathered a core group of users who were using our services exclusively. Unfortunately, despite providing a ubiquitous business service, we couldn't gather customers fast enough to float the boat.

Would need to see the product, but right off the bat seems like fb is the completelty wrong platform to be advertising. Marketing department should have been fired after 5 figures spent?

Facebook ads were actually better ROI than google ads, by something like 2x IIRC. Still not enough traffic/value to save the company.

Sometimes we fail even if the stars are aligned. It sucks, but the market is irrational.

Pretty much. And much of the time, we will never know if it was the stars, or the unavoidable missteps that we make.

That's why failing early and quickly is important. It frees up resources and allows for us tk recalibrate. If I had a dollar for every person Ive talked to that was "waiting for the chance to hit it big". People dont realize that success is a by-product of failure.

"There is reason companies spend ~$70 billion on Adwords annually. "

You'd be surprised how a lot of marketing budget is wasted.

Especially in brand advertising, where there is no directly measurable ROI.

Toothpaste, paper towels, cars, cereal - they spend gazillions on those brands.

But think of this: most 'ad spend' is spent on completely commoditized products - I'll guarantee you the 'no name' toothpaste is as good as 'Crest' or whatever.

Our economy is made up of huge 'soft monopolies'.

The grocery stores, pharmacy chains, 'big brands' like P&G - they are all systematically slow, barriers to entry are surprisingly high (you can make toothpaste easily, but you cannot build a brand easily). Car companies, entertainment channels. Banks.

Talk to some of the front line marketing people buying ads. They are often clueless. They have no idea often if the money is well spent or not. But the have a 'budget' and 'have to spend' it across various channels. They know they need to 'go social' so they buy ads from 'known brands' like Facebook and Google.

Now - the other source of more profitable ads are simply things where you can reasonably get conversions online. Anything for your household that you can buy at Ebay, Amazon etc., i.e. consumer goods.

And then the scammy stuff.

Some of the above complaints about the value of ads have merit - that said - they may not be making products that are amenable to online ads.

How many times do you hear "if I don't spend my budget it will be reduced next year"?

Creating brand loyalty is very expensive, but can definitely be worth it. I guess most of us have brands they buy without any specific reason, other than that they somehow like them or that they always used them.

While it's very hard to measure the effect of ads trying to create this loyalty, it doesn't mean that it's not worth it.

I've discovered that for myself where I saw ads on Facebook that I didn't click, but later saw a product in store and tried it out. If you just follow conversions, you'd say that the Facebook ad was worthless, whereas it actually influenced my buying decision.

I'd argue that most money on ads is well spent, but to be effective, you must have a huge budget. People need to see your ad multiple times, so that they'll be familiar with a product. If you don't have that budget, it'll be very hard to use ads effectively. But that's no fault of FB or Google, that's just psychology.

I agree, I don't know much about digital marketing but I know that anecdotal evidence, which is all the author is presenting, is next to useless. I've heard other claims from people about how they made enormous sums on facebook.

The real issue is that neither of these claims constitute data. Only large scale research tracking traffic across many websites would let us come to meaningful conclusions and that sort of research is something I haven't seen yet . . . which is likely why we are stuck with all these he said she said stories about how social media is a useless moneysink or a veritable gold mine depending on who you ask

Who says ads are a goldmine? I'd like to read up on that.

Goldmine for the seller.

Also, the target moves as time goes on. What worked for someone five years ago won't necessarily work today.

Here's a more familiar analogy: Imagine a marketer cobbling a bunch of [pick your language] code together with help from StackOverflow and, when it fails or runs slow, declaring that [language] code is slow and useless with some recorded execution times as evidence.

My sentiments exactly. It is all about demographic targeting, crafting a good landing page, writing good copy, and writing good ads.

I could easily make a shitty ad and send it to a blog post I just wrote that 99.999999999% of the world doesn't care about, and find 100% bounce rate and burn through $10,000 in a few days.

I work with Adwords for a living (part of it, anyway) and can assure OP that if 90% of this traffic was useless, I'd be out of a job. I use heatmaps and other CRO tools and regularly watch my funnel go from an ad > a form generated on a website.

Anyway, if the traffic is 90% useless, doesn't that mean it's 10% useful? I mean, just going by the title. -- Google employee, but not in ads. Take my words with the appropriately sized grain of salt.

Yes, but if Google advertises in the Keyword Tool that I can get 400 clicks at $0.50 per click, and then when I join I get 4-5 clicks per day at $1.20 per click -- for the same exact keywords. Ok, thats acceptable. Thats about 3X as expensive and 1/100 the scale, ok.

But if I then see that traffic behave about 90% like garbage relative than organic visitors -- that puts me at two orders of magnitude off, which is quite insane.

Pricing depends not just on price paid but on the quality of your content(as Google sees it) so it is definitely possible that there are people using that keyword and getting 400 clicks a day at $0.50/click.

Sure, but that 10x cost per useful amount of traffic probably tips the cost-benefit analysis against it.

If that were the case, here what I propose. That developers audit their code once a year to make sure it's fair.

My main point is the CPM versus CPC audience-mix.

> So to get 90% useless traffic, it means you set up campaigns without proper targeting or content, not Adwords/FB is 90% useless.

at least one similarity to Poker, Daytrading, Daily Fantasy Sports

so with a more objective criticism, "the full story", new projects might nix these kind of ad campaigns from the budget and Facebook and Google will get one tenth of the revenue?

You incorrectly reference zero sum games (actually, negative sum because of the middle man), where winners' gains come entirely from the losers. Ads are definitely not that, they are a regular market with supply and demand. It seems that the top actors get a disproportionate amount of profits though.

or I correctly made an analogy because of the similarities in things that are otherwise dissimilar.

Ironic because you pointed out the similarity after deciding to write about the dissimilarities.

Disagree. You called out a pattern that has characteristics, but ads don't match the characteristics. There is a superset of characteristics that this pattern falls into as well, but now you are making a misleading analogy.

I did Adwords for 1 person mom shops and bigger companies in industries ranging from tourism and general aviation to jewelry and software development.

It was all profitable. Ad agencies are borderline scammers - they measure traffic and clicks as performance, which makes you to spend more money to increase "performance" and pay more agency fees.

Sometimes I burned $15000 before first conversion, but ROI was always positive in the end.

People launching ads without any experience, redirecting people to homepage and loosing money are the same kind of people trying trade stock market and loosing money, creating their own amateur e-commerce shop and loosing money getting zero customers, hiring high-school nephew for company website etc etc. You need experience, and before that - knowledge.

First, manage your ads in-house. Agencies have no reason to work for your conversions, that's not their business model. Second, don't treat ads like "we'll slap users with our ad and see what happens". Prepare user flow, conversion funnel, dedicated landing pages, drip campaigns, remarketing etc.

Adwords and Facebook are fully-fledged promotion channels and they have to be treated as such. It's a craft which consultants make huge money from - because they know how to bring profits.

You are painting agencies with overly broad strokes. I used to help lead the paid search group at a top search agency. Rest assured we did not try to pass off clicks as anything but that. Occasionally we had clients with branding goals and we worked with them to make sure we were adding incremental value, but most were direct response (ie. "Show me the money or you're fired").

A percent of media model isn't perfect, but if a client isn't seeing results, the relationship won't last long, and word gets around.

Now, there are scammy agencies out there, but it is hardly the norm. I loved stealing business from them because it was shooting fish in a barrel with all the problems on those accounts.

Be careful about making such broad, and highly inaccurate statements... They really don't help paint you in the best light.

> Be careful about making such broad, and highly inaccurate statements... They really don't help paint you in the best light.

What paints me in good light is my results and my results only. Also, I'm a cool, likable guy :)

I had my share of dealing with agencies and nothing beats knowledge of business goals, internal processes and clientbase and reports honesty while working in-house.

Many agencies exist because it's cheaper to outsource. Just like Indian coders - but quality of work is often questionable.

I stand by my words and refuse all agency work - still, I have many recruiters regularly saying "hi" on LinkedIn.

Do you have a recommendation on the best way to learn to be effective at this craft? Did you learn on the job or from some other resources?

I'm 100% self-taught. Firstly, gained lot of theoretical knowledge reading blogs, guides, tutorials, ebooks.

Next, I experimented with very low budgets for my own websites.

After that, small business for family friend. It all went surprisingly well and wasn't that hard, really. You just need to be very data-driven and methodical.

Game changer for me was NGO and Adwords grant (https://www.google.com/grants/), which gives you $10 000 per month. You can experiment without fear, trying everything you read or thought about.

When you optimize campaigns and grant limitations are starting being annoying, that's when you are ready for the real big work.


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