Dumbass of the Week: Pay Per Click Advertisers

DuhIt’s been ages since we’ve had a Dumbass of the Week, but I saw something yesterday that prompted me to resurrect the title once more.

A staff member here sent me a screengrab from a Google search he had made and pointed out one of the Sponsored Links / AdWords ads at the top of the page (see screen grab below) . He had conducted a search for *cheap glasses new zealand* and Google displayed a range of organic and paid results on the SERP.

Here’s a screengrab of the original search page showing the top 3 sponsored results:


When my colleague clicked on the 3rd Sponsored Link on the page, it took him to a 404 Error Page. Thinking that the URL was simply malformed and he could find what he needed from the home page, he stripped the tracking URL down to the top level domain and refreshed the page. Again, he was taken to a 404 Error Page.

At first I thought perhaps the site was offline temporarily or simply not loading in his browser so I asked him to send me the destination URL from the ad so I could try.

Because I have the Google Toolbar installed, when I tried to view the same broken link, instead of a standard 404 error, I received a Google error page stating: “Oops! This link appears to be broken. Did you mean: www.­lessforspecs.­co.­nz?”

Aha! Mystery solved. The advertiser Less for Specs had accidently used dot com in their destination URL instead of .co.nz. Turns out, the dot com site doesn’t even exist, which is probably for the best as they would have been paying to send traffic to their competitor’s site if it did.

Normally, the AdWords system detects malformed destination URLs and either doesn’t approve the ad or sends you an alert very quickly and pauses the ad for you. However, for whatever reason (perhaps the dot com site did exist at one point), the ad was allowed to go live.

An identical search today doesn’t trigger the same ad, so perhaps the problem is resolved. Maybe Google alerted them of the problem. Perhaps the mistake was made by a 3rd party agency managing the site’s PPC campaign. But who knows how many people clicked on the link and were taken to a 404 error page before it was fixed? Who knows how many dollars the mistake cost the advertiser in click costs in the meantime?

Now, I don’t mean to single out Less For Specs. I’ve seen similar errors in Pay Per Click ads by many companies over the years, heck, I’ve made them myself. But seeing this example reminded me that we should be taking more care with our PPC campaigns in order to get the best value for money out of them.

Here’s a list of common PREVENTABLE errors I’ve seen in PPC ads:

  • Malformed destination URLs.
  • Incorrect or misleading display URLs.
  • Destination URLs leading to a *this page is under construction* placeholder.
  • Forgetting to pause a PPC campaign during a scheduled site outage (I have to admit guilt on this one!)
  • Moving a domain but forgetting to redirect PPC landing pages.
  • Not knowing about an unscheduled site outage for 48 hours.
  • Spelling or grammatical errors within ads.
  • Sexist, racist or otherwise ignorant ad wording.

Yes, some PPC systems such as AdWords and Microsoft AdCenter have built in checks to prevent dumb user errors, but they’re not bullet proof. Dumbass happens. Just don’t let it happen to you.

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Dumbass of the Week: Facebook Users

DuhOh boy, you’re going to love this one.

It all began last week when Read Write Web, (a very popular blog based here in New Zealand), published a post about Facebook’s new partnership with AOL called FB Wants to Be Your One True Login.

Apparently the post started ranking in the top Google SERPs for *facebook login*. Nothing wrong with that so far, it makes perfect sense given the post title and TrustRank the site has built up in Google.

BUT, all these strange and inappropriately angry comments with excessive use of exclamation marks began appearing on the RWW post.

Comments like this:

“When can we log in?”

“I don’t like the new facebook. Why fix something that isn’t broken. this really sucks..”

“I just want to log in to Facebook – what with the red color and all?”

“Quit this crap and let me sign in!

“All I wanted to do was LOG IN TO MY FACE BOOK ACCOUNT! I don’t like this new way! “If it an’t broke why fix it?”

“Can we log into face book? This is crazy I want to get all my info off and be done with this.”

“How do you get in?”

“I just want to get into my Facebook page.”

“This is such a mess I can’t do a thing on my facebook . The changes you have made are ridiculous,I can’t even login!!!!!I am very upset!!!”

“I was just learning,why would you mess it up?”

“All I want to do is log in, this sucks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“The new facebook sucks> NOW LET ME IN.”

RWW staff were confused at first, but then it dawned on them. Instead of bookmarking Facebook.com or entering www.facebook.com in their browser address bar like anyone with half a brain, all these commenters were apparently typing *facebook login* into Google whenever they wanted to login to Facebook and then clicking randomly on one of the results. The RWW post just happened to be the one they clicked on.

Having arrived at the Read Write Web post about Facebook, they somehow thought it WAS the *new* Facebook, despite the completely different color, design and the very clear Read Write Web heading at the top of the page. Not only did they think they were AT Facebook, but these commenters, in their hundreds, somehow managed to ignore the post itself, work out how to comment ON the post and leave their inappropriate rants about how much the hated the *new* Facebook. Except for one commenter, who claimed he liked the new design.

As the hours wore on and the page rose even higher in the Google results for *facebook login*, the comments became even more inappropriately angry and amusing:


“I am going to delete my account (IF I CAN EVER LOG IN) as this SUCKS BIG TIME ! If this does not get back to NORMAL you are going to lose a lot of folks who hate this and as you can see from all the comments they think it sucks too !!! facebook was great for connecting with old friends …now, NOT SO MUCH. SO HOW DO I LOG IN?”

“Bring me back old facebook this is sheet”


“Who’s idea was this?? Hope he’s not too big to fire cause he just LOST a bunch of faithful users. Chances are it’ll never be the same as it was before….cya”

“I’m going back to my f*ckin space u ass holes have to f*ck up a good this !!!!! dumn asses

To add to the hilarity, a Facebook user called Laraine (bless her heart), found a new way for Facebook users to solve their *problem*:

“For those of you that want to get in face book now just go to Bing..put in face book and search (or it will pop up) hit on face book login and it takes you  to your password page…i did it…. if this ever gets back to normal I will use the address bar from now on…..”

Read Write Web added a big bold paragraph to the original post stating *This site is not Facebook* and wrote a new post addressing the issue called We’re Still Not Facebook, but they continued to be bombarded with flames. It’s a little something I like to call The Walmart Effect.

There are two morals to this story:

1) There should be some type of study done on the correlation between IQ and the use of exclamation marks.

2) You need to design your web site and your software for the lowest common denominator.

I’m reminded of Damian Conway’s fantastic presentation at Webstock Web 2.Overwhelming – 22 Ways to Frustrate Your Visitors where he amusingly drilled into us that the majority of our web site users are NOT geeks, they’re NOT tech savvy and as this example shows, Dumb User Errors (DUE) are terrifyingly commonplace.

Make your stuff embarrassingly easy to use, because Dumb Happens.

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Dumbass of the Week: Virgin Blue

Today, an unknown number of Virgin Blue Velocity members (including me) received an email titled “Surprise!- You’ve Turned Gold”.

The email announced that the recipient had been granted a free upgrade to Velocity Gold, the Gold level membership of Virgin Blue’s frequent flyer programme for a period of one year. The email went on to describe perks available to Gold members when travelling including:

  • Free Lounge membership, so you can catch up on work, relax and escape the airport crowds.
  • Priority check-in.
  • Up to 32kg of checked baggage at no cost.
  • Two personalised baggage tags

No reason for the unexpected upgrade was given, apart from “you came so close to making it on your own”, suggesting that the recipient’s Velocity points for the past 12 months came close to the number required to qualify for Gold status. Except they didn’t. At least not in my case. Not even close. You normally need to reach 50,000 points to qualify.

My husband received the same email, as did many others, judging by the discussion on Twitter shortly thereafter.

Still, it was a delightful surprise. Feeling chuffed, I click on a link within the email to an explanation of Velocity Gold. ONOZ. It led to a bizarre error message stating that the whole thing had been a terrible mistake:

Friday the 13th strike
Oops! Due to an error, you may have received an email regarding a Gold upgrade by mistake. Please disregard the free upgrade communication. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Virgin Blue is yet to offer any explanation for the error, apart from a single tweet blaming the email screw up on Friday the 13th. The backlash on Twitter so far has been brutal. Result? Gold Standard Marketing FAIL.

What do you think? Should Virgin Blue honour their original offer? Or is their Friday 13th excuse enough? Please add your comments below.

UPDATE 1: According to @bengrubb, Virgin Blue is blaming an IT glitch for the problem.

UPDATE 2: I created a new hash tag on Twitter for the incident called #velocitygate and it seems to have taken off.

UPDATE 3: Not sure when it went up, but the Velocity Rewards site now features an apology front and center of their home page. It’s a step in the right direction:

UPDATE 4: According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today (17 November), the email glitch was human error, pure and simple and accompanied by tears of panic as it was posted out to over 1 million recipients by mistake. No action will be taken by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over the glitch and if Velocity members still have an issue, they are being advised to contact the airline directly. Drama over, move along please, nothing to see here.

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Dumbass of the Week: Derek Powazek

DuhIt’s been a long time since we’ve had a candidate sitting on the Dumbass throne. But this month, we’ve had two. I couldn’t decide which to blog first, so I decided to go with the one who made me the angriest. That, my friends, was Derek Powazek who has decided that Search Engine Optimization ( SEO ) is worthless.

Let me start by saying that I’m familiar with Derek’s many years in the industry. I know he’s worked at Blogger and Technorati and has been on the web a year longer than me. I know he works with Internet start ups and big names like Hewlett Packard.  I also know that Derek was named one of the top 40 “Industry Influencers” of 2007.

I’ve even heard Derek speak at Webstock about community driven websites and live-blogged his crowd-sourcing wisdom so others could learn from it.

All this just makes his anti SEO rant this week all the more frightening in its ignorance. Derek claims:

“Search Engine Optimization is not a legitimate form of marketing. It should not be undertaken by people with brains or souls. If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned.

In fact, Derek has some pretty strong opinions about those of us who practice SEO. Apart from calling us brainless, soul-less con-artists, he says:

  • we’re spammers
  • we’re evildoers
  • we’re opportunists
  • we’re scammers
  • we’re not to be trusted
  • we’re poisoning the web
  • what we do can result in a lifetime ban in Google (which doesn’t even exist BTW)
  • we’re cockroaches
  • we employ botnets, third-world labor, and zombie computers
  • we’re bastards
  • we’re hackers planting worm viruses
  • we create programs to grab expired domain names
  • we create web pages filled with content stolen from RSS feeds
  • we’re jerkwads with disreputable clients
  • we encourage people to dumb down their content for Google instead of for their readers

I’m not paraphrasing here, his post actually says this stuff.

When his rant was pointed out to me and I first read it, I was sure it was just link bait and I ignored it. But after a day or two of seeing his responses to industry commentators and his replies via comments, it became obvious he meant every single word.

The vitriol even spilled over into his Twitter feed:

“There is no such thing as honest SEO. There’s only making good websites.”

“The term “SEO” sounds inoffensive but it covers a spectrum of practices that are ineffective at best, and destructive at worst.”

“So I guess SEO creeps exist because bad web designers exist. Crap begets crap.”

“What a great rallying cry for an industry: SEO! We fix other people’s crap! Every ecosystem needs bottom-feeders, I guess.”

A few people have responded directly to Derek’s outburst, including Danny Sullivan, who wrote a restrained, intelligent response to the original post and a detailed deconstruction of Derek’s own follow up post.

Derek apparently thought Danny’s post was a personal attack and tweeted as such:

“I may have stirred up a hornets nest, but I didn’t attack anyone personally. too bad @dannysullivan can’t pay me the same respect.”

At this point my bullshit radar couldn’t take any more and I tweeted in response. Here’s the exchange that followed:

Me: @fraying I would say that calling SEOs bottom feeders qualifies as an attack.

Derek: @kalena I attacked an industry, not a person. There’s a difference.

Me: @fraying No, you attacked people who work in an industry. So a whole slew of people.

I’m not going to attempt my own deconstruction of Derek’s anti SEO rant, because Danny has done a great job of this already and Derek still doesn’t get it.  But I’m not going to stand by and let Derek’s ignorance go unchecked.

Yes, the SEO industry has a dodgy reputation. Yes, some SEO firms are trying to push silly ideas on clients. Yes, the industry has some scam artists. But I bet you’ll find many more SEO firms that are providing an honest, valuable service. Even Google agrees:

“If you’re thinking about hiring an SEO, the earlier the better. A great time to hire is when you’re considering a site redesign, or planning to launch a new site. That way, you and your SEO can ensure that your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the bottom up. However, a good SEO can also help improve an existing site.”

What really yanks my chain is that unenlightened posts from someone as influential as Derek do even more damage to an already unfairly scorned industry. Making sweeping statements about all SEO’s being “snake oil salesmen” and “bottom feeders” just prove that you don’t understand SEO.

Search Engine College was born out of questions I was constantly bombarded with about SEO. Webmasters would write to me with the idea that SEO was black magic and beyond their ability. This is CRAP. Anyone can SEO a web site. I know some in this industry scorn us for providing non-technical courses in a subject that can be highly technical. But to me, that’s the God.Damn.Point. Taking what can be a highly complex subject and de-jargonizing it for the masses. Taking SEO back to basics and making it accessible.

In my experience, the only people claiming SEO is smoke and mirrors are the media or those who are trying to hide something from clients. I get the sense that Derek (and others) think that all SEOs are pretending to perform rocket science or trick clients into thinking as much. That’s ignorant. Any professional SEO will educate their client along the way and provide a fully transparent and quantifiable service. And there are plenty of them out there.

SEOs aren’t scam artists and SEO isn’t rocket science. Anyone telling clients what they do is magic is not an SEO. Just an asshole. And guess what Derek? Assholes aren’t limited to the SEO industry.

Update 1: Oh and Derek, you might like to know that your employer HP doesn’t think SEOs are scammers. At least they didn’t when they hired me to perform search engine optimization on their Asia Pacific sites some years back.

Update 2: Before I published this post, Derek had approved a comment I left on his follow up post but has since decided to remove it and many others that criticize his stance. Yet he claims SEOs are defensive? Pot, meet kettle.

For what it’s worth, here’s my comment:

Derek,  I heard you speak at Webstock earlier this year about the power of crowd sourcing and was inspired by your passion for building community driven websites. I’m bewildered that you would choose to isolate an entire community by attacking them with an ignorant and uninformed rant. Disappointed.

Update 3: In his original post, Derek boasted about ranking for his own name on Google. Now I can boast about the same thing. Still think SEO is ineffective?

Update 4: It seems Derek has had second thoughts about his rant and has posted an apology of sorts on his blog. This is to be commended and I’m pleased he finally seems to understand why he was wrong to isolate an industry. BUT, he kind of negates the apology by accusing us of being too defensive. I’ve submitted a comment to the thread, hopefully it will be published rather than deleted this time. The comment was rather long, so I’ve turned it into a blog post.

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Dumbass of the Week: Google

At first, I was delighted to see Google’s new logo (pictured) when I logged into Google New Zealand today. After all, the logo is designed by Eric Carle, author of my son’s favorite book The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I thought maybe the logo was in celebration of the book’s 40th anniversary. But instead the logo IMG Attribute reads “First Day of Fall” and links to a Google search results page for that phrase.

Nothing wrong with that you say? Sure. If you happen to live in North America where the term *Fall* is almost exclusively used. Here in the Southern Hemisphere and other parts of the world, we use the term *Autumn* to describe the season that transitions Summer to Winter. Heck, even if you look up the term Fall on Wikipedia it takes you to their definition of Autumn.

If you look at the actual search results that the logo links to, they’re not even relevant to the Southern Hemisphere. They all discuss the first day of Fall as it applies to North America or else the March Equinox. According to Twitter buddy Roy Britten, they didn’t even get the Autumn Equinox date right. As Massey University states, Autumn Equinox occurs tomorrow, March 21.

Now if today had been the first day of *Fall* in the Northern Hemisphere and Google had used that logo, I would have overlooked the matter. But to produce a special logo for their regional sites that has no relevance to persons who actually use those sites screams cultural insensitivity to me. Am I wrong?

For a company that boasts so many employees with MBAs and PhDs, this is an embarrassment. That’s why I’m crowning Google: DUMBASS OF THE WEEK.

From the corporate page of Google New Zealand:

“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

I think they left two words off the end of that sentence: “to Americans”.

Update 1: According to Twitter buddy Alan Perkins, Google.co.uk is also sporting a Eric Carle logo, with the alt text reading “First day of Spring”. Click on the logo and you’ll be taken to Google search results for that phrase, with the first listing announcing March 1 being the first day of Spring. Huh? Seems there is some confusion over the official date that Spring starts and Vernal Equinox. But don’t worry, Google has overuled that.

Update 2: I must have more influence than I thought. Mike Cochrane just informed me that Google New Zealand has CHANGED their alt tag to read “First Day of Autumn”. Good onya Google! Would be nice to see a “we were wrong” post though.

Update 3: Apparently, Google New Zealand made the change after noticing the error early this morning (see comments below left by Annie Baxter of Google NZ). Riiigggghhht. Well I’m just glad it’s fixed.

Update 4: Just spotted by Twitter user RiddlerMusic, the caterpillar logo used on Google.co.uk now links to search results for Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar instead of “First day of Spring”. The logo alt text remains the same and other regional domains still link to the Spring/Autumn SERPs. Perhaps this is due to the confusion over the official start date of the Vernal Equinox as mentioned above. Coincidence? Hmmmm

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