Today’s Obsession: Web Advertising is Broken

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Vintage ad found by Flickr user colleen-lane

Here’s an interesting read for your Monday morning status meeting, heaven love your souls: an article titled, simply, “Facebook is a Ponzi Scheme,” asserting that Facebook’s advertising platform doesn’t work. Having come off of a test run of the platform, yeah. Facebook’s ads didn’t do anything for my business.

I thought it was just me, but this article verified what I saw in my traffic. Typical Facebook users, as it turns out, visits their page once a week, generally on Saturdays and Sundays, and spend a lot more time on their content than ads. The ad serving for conceptually-based businesses (like, say, selling design) is problematic in that placement is based upon keywords. So that means my ad, for House of Pretty Ltd, looking for someone who’s buying design, can’t tell the difference between someone who actually wants to buy design versus someone looking for a Hermés purse.

Chances are if you’re looking to sell, say, a specific type of lugnut, sure. You’ll get traffic for that. But will it sell? I kind of doubt it (unless your lugnut happens to be Farmville, which is a very social lugnut). Facebook is experiential, and therefore keeps users engaged by serving meaningful content (which is great). They should be charging based on selling experience, or booking PR agents who are herding eyeballs. Not just ads in a sidebar, which readers are pre-programmed to ignore anyhow.

AdWords at Google was slightly better in that we actually got some clickthrough from folks who spent about a minute apiece, but the ad placement was garbage. From what I saw, the sites who hosted the largest amount of Google AdWords tend to be domain squatters. You know the sites, the ones which pop up when you mistype a URL and trumpet, “ is your best source for deals on House of Pretty!” and then give you a million helpful ways, all listed concisely, to earn them a penny.

The actual inquiries we got from the ads were largely Indian and Czech design houses offering to do our work for us, which would be nice if i didn’t have a vested interest in keeping money in American communities and hometown artists’ pockets.

It’s so dismaying to me to find out that after all these years, nobody really seems to be able to get net-based advertising to run in a contextually-meaningful, automated way. It works at a very rudimentary, literal level, I suppose, but… really? That’s all there is to advertise with? No thank you; I’ll go to individual sites and buy things on my own.

So, my takeaway from the entire experience of online ad placement over the past few months: network ads are underperformers, and can actually damage your business’ image. There’s no way, in the context of a nameless, faceless ad network to get meaningful placement that puts your company in the right context and right company.

Advertising agencies: you’re not going to go under, especially if you can get your media planning and buying departments to figure out the web in a way that can compete with Google and Facebook. Shouldn’t be that hard, assuming you display a little taste.