New Billboard Day Effect : How to Advertise More Effectively on Your Blog

Advertising. “The Engine of Commerce”. Ideally, it should work like it does in the Simpsons episode 2F12 “Homer the Clown”:

“In the middle of driving down the highway, Homer skids to a halt in front of a billboard.

Homer: [gasps] It must be the first of the month: new billboard day!

Homer: [reading] “This year, give her English muffins.” Whatever you say, Mr. Billboard! [skids off]
[stops suddenly at another billboard for barbeque sauce]
[cars collide behind him and explode]

Homer: [reading] “Best in the West.” Heh heh heh, that rhymes!
[looking at the next one] “Clown college”? You can’t eat that.

At the power plant, Homer piles his purchases (including MSG, “Best in the West”, and English muffins) at his work station. “Well, I got everything I was supposed to get. I’m not going to enroll in that clown college, though…that advertisement had absolutely no effect on me whatsoever. In his daydream, he imagines himself sleeping and dreaming of himself eating a sandwich. The billboard for the clown college batters its way into his thoughts. The Krustys on the billboard start dancing to circus music.”

Of course, Homer enrolls in the clown college. Having never enrolled in a clown college because an ad told us to, we all go on thinking: “advertisement had absolutely no effect on me whatsoever.” It can’t possibly be true: bajillion dollar industries, such as advertising don’t simply exist if they are not effective.

During the dot com bubble even large companies mostly failed to earn much from banner ads. Even the heaviest online ad campaigns did not seem very effective and suffered horrible clickthrogh rates. Online ad companies escalated the war for clickthroughs by inventing obnoxious popunder, popover and floater ads. The more the ad was like a flash-bang grenade mistakenly used by NYPD on an elderly woman, the better. For instance, many sites started using larger sizes of vertical banners known as “Skyscraper.” That was not enough though – extreme, flash-driven skyscraper ads with movies and sound, capable of crashing browsers and known as “Godzilla” and “Pagekiller” started to appear.

The founders of Google decided to address this issue, and as a result, made bazillions of dollars. As a former googler remembered:

” Besides, Larry and Sergey hated these kinds of advertising. In fact they hated most kinds of advertising as inefficient, dishonest and a total waste of people’s (meaning their) precious time.”

We all know that AdWords and AdSense, Google’s advertising programs managed to earn so much money through unobtrusive, mostly text ads. The winning strategy was “relevancy”. Google’s server would read in the page where the ad were to appear, and serve up a relevant ad.

For instance, after parsing pages on chupaqueso.com, a site dedicated to a cheese snack invented by web cartoonist Howard Tayler, in theory shows ads about cheese. And after reading about chupaqueso’s cheesy goodness, I might indeed be in the mood to buy some cheese online.

On the other hand, the AdSense algorithm is not too efficient. On some pages in the abovementioned site it serves ads like this:

Yes, indeed, amongst Howard Tayler’s readers there are a lot of computer geeks. I know I am not a typical web user, but I am a pretty typical web developer. And I have zero desire to “Boost XML app performance.” I also have all the “ODBC drivers” that I need.

Many of you, my readers, are bloggers or have regular web sites with AdSense ads. Look at them. How many you’d say are “inefficient, dishonest and a total waste of people’s … precious time”?

I say – about 99.5%. And clickthrough ratios are pretty horrible. People try to tweak them by playing around with ad types, look and feel, positioning and excluding advertisers, but it’s all rather ineffective.

Google’s ads only pay if people click on them. In the TV, billboard, magazine and the type of advertising that people tattoo on their bodies there’s no such things as clicks. You get paid depending on how many people see the ad. It works really well if you need to make people remember your company’s name or logo.

Side Note:
When I was little, in Odessa ( Ukraine, Not Texas) somebody scribbled in almost every public phone booth “[Some girl’s full name] is a whore.” In a city of about a million people this worked like a charm. The mindshare that that advertisement delivered must have been off the charts.

These 99.5% of unclickable ads can be divided into two categories: a) ad campaigns that build brand’s awareness almost for free and b) those that indeed waste everyone’s time and money.

I don’t think I ever clicked on any Vonage ads, even though I’ve seen thousands of them. They worked without any clicks — if I did not also know that their customer service sucks and reliability is horrible, I’d have their VOIP service now.

The ads that nobody ever cares about still do get some clicks. When people come by a useful and interesting site, they tend to click on random ads so that the site owner would get some revenue. This is the untraceable portion of a much scarier phenomenon called click fraud. I am not even going to address this here.

In short, I feel that even though Google’s ads are a step in the right direction, AdSense sucks, especially for a blog with a smallish audience, such as mine. The useless, stupid ads that clog AdSense are a waste, even though they might generate a few “pity clicks.” Only half of my ad revenue for the site came from AdSense last year. The rest came from my experiment that I think will be of great interest to everyone.

My thinking went like this: I want to serve ads that are extremely relevant to my blog posts and interesting to my audience. Even more importantly, they must be selling something that I would be interested in. Ads I’d click on.

When you have limited advertising space, the problem with AdSense is that it often tries to sell things that your readers don’t want. What you want to do is advertise things that people aready want. As an example of such salesmanship, let me direct you to a post on the very popular waiterrant.net, where The Waiter describes selling dessert to calorie-conscious women:

“”Ladies,” I say sweetly, “We have some excellent desserts tonight.”

“Oh, nothing for me,” Bubbly Blonde replies.
“No dessert,” Severe Brunette says, holding up her hand.
“Me neither,” Lawyer Babe says firmly.

The fourth woman, a Soccer Mom type, looks at her companions and sighs. She wants dessert.

I see the longing for chocolate in Soccer Mom’s eyes. She’s my weak link. My in.

“Would anyone like some coffee?” I ask. Suggesting coffee is the first stage in selling dessert to calorie resistant ladies.”

“The ladies pay the bill, tip well, and leave. As I watch them go I think about how I got them to order dessert. To be a good salesman you have to have a seductive quality about you. Don’t believe me? Look at pharmaceutical reps.”

That’s what I want to do! This means that I need to find something that will be the equivalent of selling chocolate dessert to Soccer Mom types.

I believe that my 1000 readers are a lot like myself. And what do I spend a huge amount of money on every year? Books, movies, cds and gadgets. Also I purchase some rather esoteric items on eBay too, but the majority of my spending happens squarely at Amazon.com. My wishlist there is humongous, and in fact, I spent my advertising revenue there.

Luckily, Amazon has a pretty generous associate program. You can link to any of the products they sell and get a cut of the sale price, if the sale happens as a result of your clickthrough. In fact, you get a cut of the entire shopping cart amount (I am not sure, this could be only the items that were added after the click). In any case, it’s decent money, and most importantly, a great selection of new and even used items to sell.

What to sell, of course depends on your audience. I found some success selling items that tempt me. In fact, many times it’s the items that I am planning to buy or already bought.

In some cases, relevancy is important. My article with pictures from Fog Creek’s party sold 4 or 5 of Joel’s books. It was a combination of a very desirable in this particular audience product with a closely related article. Interestingly enough, I tried to sell the toy that you can see in the picture as well, but none sold. As I own both books and don’t own the toy, this seems logical.

I might have tried selling flat panel monitors and Aeron chars (WOW, Amazon sells them too! ) ,that make Joel’s office so nice (in fact, at home I have the same exact dual monitor setup, an Aeron chair and a window with a view, and I had id before Joel wrote about his bionic office). These are big ticket items though, and the likelihood of someone buying them on a whim is lower. But then again, so are rewards.

The relevancy does not matter as much as I thought, though. For instance, I advertised “Make” magazine subscriptions and Shure E2c headphones, and sold a few.

In fact, I think that the approach to selecting products should be somewhat similar to the one that Kevin Kelly uses for selecting items on his website Cool Tools:

“Cool tools really work. A cool tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is tried and true. I am chiefly interested in stuff that is extraordinary, better than similar products, little-known, and reliably useful for an individual or small group.”

In short, advertising video iPods is good, advertising “The world’s greatest 3D IM” is not!

Side Note:
My former co-worker won a $300 gift certificate for a certain gadget catalog in a contest. Now, he’s a guy who spends a lot of money on gadgets, like the uber geek that he is. I mean, he owns planetofthegeeks.com domain. But despite that, he had a lot of trouble picking something to spend $300 of free money on in that catalog! Not only was everything overpriced, but there were very few things he’d be interested in owning!

The great thing about selling items from Amazon is that you know that the prices there are very Wal-Mart-like, and most of your readers already shop there. Some people prefer not to patronize Amazon because of software patents or other issues, but there are “organic” alternatives, like for example Think Geek (in fact they sell through Amazon too).

The one gripe that I have with Amazon is the difficulty in creating the links. The tools that they provide want you to use iFrames to create image wrapped links, which of course do not work well in RSS Readers. This brings me to my final point, the specifics of blog advertisement.

A blog is a two-sided entity: it generates page views from people who don’t use RSS aggregators and those who come in from search engine referrals. And then there are the views from within RSS aggregators, in case you are serving up the entire text of the article in the feed. Some blogs don’t do this, serving up only the title or a title and a teaser. The thinking is, readers will click through to the page where they will see ads and thusly generate revenue. Some do this because they don’t serve ads and want to limit their traffic, and yet some do it because they use a default setting in their blogging software and don’t know better.

The great thing about my advertising scheme is that you can serve ads in-feed. A New York blog Gothamist, for example serves atrociously uninteresting ads that repeat. At some point they had a long run of a flashing ad for something that made me unsubscribe from the feed. If they started selling interesting items, they could greatly increase their advertising revenue.

Advertising my way does not detract from regular content and isn’t cheesy. It is clearly marked, unlike those fake editorials in magazines and newspapers. Advertisement can be entertaining in itself! Since the early years of Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, people look through catalogs like Levenger, Victoria’s Secret Penzeys Spices and Think Geek for fun! My wife has a lot of gardening catalogs that she looks through now and then. After finishing an interesting post, readers would not mind learning about an interesting gadget or book they might want. In fact, they might already be in the mood to buy it! There is no reason to serve partial RSS feeds with this type or advertising.

P.S. I turned off comments to this article because for some reason it attracts a ridiculous number of spam comments. If you would like to contact me, see about the author section. I also changed to a different way of displaying Amazon’s related items.

Party Pictures

I’ve attended the Joel‘s demo party for Fog Creek Copilot, an amazing grey hair and premature baldness prevention product. Here is my photo report.

The Joel is famous for creating humane working conditions. Natural light, dual flatscreen monitors, Aeron chairs. Actually, this is very similar to the setup that I have at home, except I have a view of Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. My chair at work is a butt-hurting monster, but if I stand up in my cube and really crane my neck, I can see the same skyscrapers, but from the other side.

Joel was literally mobbed by fans.

I dragged him away and had a couple of minutes to take a picture of him.

A funky light fixture was casting a glare on the famous office partition window, but I used it for a cheesy “idea” effect.

Michael Pryor had way too much fun with a Zero Fog Blaster.


Despite a wide array of snacks, he chewed on the poor defenseless office plant.


Ad:
Zero Fog Blaster shoots far traveling rings of non-toxic smoke. Provides hours of fun.

Joel’s books mix Yiddish and other types of humor with software design and project management. Even more fun than Zero Fog Blaster.

You should also own:
User Interface Design for Programmers
Painless Project Management with FogBugz

At the Towers of Madness

I always dreamt of working in an office located high up in one of the Twins. So today I would like to publicly thank the Donald for giving me a slight glimmer of hope that I might still fulfill this dream. Also I would like to thank him for calling pile of shit architecture by its proper name – pile of shit architecture.

The current version looks like the worst case of design by committee – absolute shit. The angles of the cut off roofs and the horrible spire that looks like a chewed up pen stuck next to a stick of modeling clay (that’s how they probably got the idea) are Lovecraftian in nature, looking as if the architects came from a place of perverted geometry.

After work I went to take some pictures of Trump’s model over at the Trump Tower lobby. I have to give it to the Donald – his place is way photographer friendly.


Trump rebuilt the Wallman Skating Rink after fighting the egos of numerous politicians and politically connected incompetents. That was a medium sized miracle. Now we need a supersized one.

Eyeballs vs Clicks

I really don’t understand why Internet advertising industry is so centered on clicks. Everywhere else advertisers pay to put ads on billboards, magazine pages, TV and movie screens, all unclickable. They will even pay crazy money for tiny little logos on very fast cars going in circles. Or on outfits of athletes and even golfers. Yet when it comes to web advertising – eyeballs do not matter, it’s all about clicks. For instance, Vonage gets a really sweet deal – I never click on their ads, but every ad is a reminder to me that Verizon is ripping me off and I should really think about an IP telephony solution. When I will finally see that they have done something about providing a 911 service that is as reliable as a regular phone company’s maybe I’ll finally succumb. Or maybe their ads will do their dirty deed, I won’t have much problems finding them – their company name is also their web address.

“If You Paid Attention, You’d be Worried Too” or Finit Finis Finish Omnious Omnium Shmomnious

The very special 47-50th Street/Rockefeller Center station has some very strange advertisements posted in the decrepit old clock boxes. You know, the ones overhead, the ones to which nobody pays attention too because the clocks are usually way off?

For some reason I thought that the ads that I’ve seen for a long time were cigarette ads. But recently I looked at them a little bit more carefully and realized that something was odd. The ads show a sunset over the forest and a flock of birds in the air. The caption says “Omnium Finis Imminet”. Huh. Hello conspiracy theories.

Well, my crappy knowledge of Latin tells me that “omnium” means “all”, “finis” means “end” and “imminet” since it sounds just like “imminent” means “is coming”.

Apparently graffiti with this nice apocalyptic message has been popping up in other places. On the other hand, this is not graffiti, is it? At the very best this is a well executed hack.

Come Monday (well, if the end of the world is not going to happen before then) I am totally giving a call to Gannett Transit (formerly New York Subways Advertising Co) at (212) 297-6400 to figure out what’s up with this.

Update.
I called Gannett Transit just to be kicked to voicemail, but it looks like the ad is legit. I’ve seen a whole bunch in West 4th Station and comments are rolling in about TV spots too. As commenters pinted out this is probably a “guessing game” ad for the new War of the Worlds movie or some stupid Sci-fi Channel movie or series. Well, at least nobody seems to be paying attention to the ads. None of the people I asked were able to recall what it was about.

Well, at least it seems that my humble blog ranks high in the very sparse search results for “omnium finis imminet”, “omnium finis imminent” and the other creative ways to spell this slogan, so hopefully I’ll gain some readers along the way.

Now, if this were an ad for Darren Aronofsky’s Flicker, that would be way cool. But I am not even sure that he is filming it at all.

Another update
Wow, it looks like New York Times fact checkers are in hot water as the reporters totally pulled this out of their butts (or read on this in my blog as it was the top result on Google for a while) :

“The advertisements portray a flock of birds against an angry red sky, with a single phrase: Omnium Finis Imminet, Latin for The End of All Things Is Near. The advertisements, for Steven Spielberg’s movie version of H. G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds,” cost about $50,000. The film is to open in July.”

They did post a correction later on. Here’s the full ad from a recent Scientific American that my wife brought me today.

Note the Photoshop lens flare and the horrible font. Looks like their art director is about as competent as their marketing director. The letter “T” is probably made to look like the Orange County Choppers dagger logo to capitalize on the popularity of that show.

He heh, the show seems to have a stupid “X-Files” marries “Millennium” premise. The end of the world is approaching, and investigators are a physicist instead of Scully and a nun instead of Mulder. That’s some sexy and original stuff. Just get a bad 80s rock ballad for a theme song and all the geeks mourning Star Trek will flock to see this.

Raiding the Foodmotron

I am endlessly fascinated with vending machines, and being my old semi-autistic self like to study their contents. These days, trying to fight my way out of being overweight, the only thing I ever consume out of them is peanuts or trail mix. Still, I am amazed at how hard it is to get anything remotely healthy out of them.

I’ve seen an article once that described how to get a balanced meal out of a vending machine. All I have to say to that is – “Ha!”. So in the spirit of exploration I decided to figure out what is the single most unhealthy item you can get from them.

The placement of items in most of machines that I’ve seen at different workplaces follows the same pattern. Chips at the top, various snacks in the middle and ultrascary stuff at the bottom. The very last minirow is usually reserved for dried out rolls of lifesavers and gum.

The ultrascary items are the ones that I am interested in here. I have to admit that in the dot com years a consumed a couple of items from there. In fact I had a manager who publicly admitted his addiction to “Black Forrest Brownies” located there. I looked at the wrapper of the brownies and was absolutely scared of the fact that somebody managed to stick that much high calory crud into such a small package.

I checked the machine at work and promptly started the collection of scary vending machine food wrappers. I present to you the current champion:

The little “Eddie” character looks a little creepy, doesn’t he?

Wow, 40 grams of fat and 61 grams of carbs. Food of the gods!

I dare you to find something less healthy in your vending machine. If you do and send me a scan of the package I will send you a nice set of 3d photos of New York that I took and 3d glasses to view them.

Kajillion Words You Can’t Say On A Scrolling Cubicle Marquee

Remember my geek toy, right? It’s out of commission for a little while, even though even my boss’ boss told me that I am probably being too cautious. Well, I checked the search terms in the logs for obvious signs of profanity and didn’t find any. But of course people search for some anatomical terminology that would probably not be a good idea to have scrolling above my cubicle. Also my merry co-workers will go to great lengths to stuff searches with embarrassing stuff. And then there’s that person who keeps searching for “bunghole” (and not finding anything).

So the question is this – do you know any industrial strength open source profanity filter list that will be restrictive enough to filter out anything above and beyond George Carlin’s Famous Seven?

Close To The Machine

While we are on the topic of vending machines, I gotta mention  hacking.

I remember that a trick with a coin with a little hole attached to a string worked on Soviet payphones, but I don’t remember seeing it used on soda machines.  I never tried it. Mr Krabs in a Spongebob cartoon about the origin of Krusty Krab did that, sot it’s probably an international “hack”.

At UGO one bright person tried to cheat the Coke machine out of a dollar by applying a long piece of scotch tape to the bill  and trying to pull it back out once the machine swallowed it. This broke our subsidized 25 cent machine resulting in an office full of pissed off people. That cost the company a few hundred dollars. 

Then there was an interesting machine at iXL – one that dispenses glass bottles of Snapple. There are 5 shelves, and glass bottles fall down and somehow surviving. Somebody figured out that that particular machine checked if the bottle fell to the bottom before taking the money. If one stopped the bottle by holding a flap that swings to protect the dispensing box at the bottom, the machine was tricked into thinking that the bottle did not dispense and let the user make another selection. Everything was fine, but one not very bright individual caught one bottle with the flap and proceeded to drop a second bottle from the top shelf directly overhead. The dispensing bin was immediately filled by glass shards and Snapple.

.

Some American soda machines have a hidden menu that can be activated by pressing drink buttons in the following order : 4 2 3 1. I activated it once by accident (the dang machine was out of everything) and only now found a reference to this online. Some snack food machine can be induced to show its internal temperature, but I don’t know the key combination.

The company where I work now used to have two presidents at the same time. One liked Coca Cola and another liked Pepsi. Because of that we used to have two vending machines. Now they are both gone and we have only one machine.

And last is but not least : a weird “hack” that some of my classmates used to trick a proprietor of a soda kiosk in Odessa. They cracked a  broken fluorescent lamp open and rubbed the white residue found inside on a copper 2 kopek coin. The coin became silvery and could be easily passed off as a 15 kopek coin. What’s that white residue? Deadly mercury.

Univac Lighter

I recently bought this beauty on eBay. When I arrived I was a bit disapointed to see that the hinge that makes that click-clack sound was not operating properly. I really hate the stupid eBay feedback system which makes minor complaints not worthwhile (nobody wants a negative comment in retaliation for reporting an incomplete or dishonest description, right?). Hmmm, maybe that’s the point. Uh well, still, it was a good deal for $15.

What is super cool is that it appears that zippo lighters come with a warrantee that goes something like this:
“Any Zippo metal product, when returned to our factory will be put in first class condition free of charge, for we have yet to charge a cent for the repair of a Zippo metal product, regardless of age or condition.”.

So, theoretically all I have to do is send the lighter to the factory and they will fix it. I’ll let you know how good a job the’ll do.