Some readers here know that I volunteer in spare times moments as a “Top Contributor” on one of the Google help forums relating to online advertising. The program itself nets me a bit less than $100 a month, on average, but my knowledge is so deep that I’m one of a small group of international moderators with the ability to connect publishers around the world with Google staff if their problem cannot be solved within the help resources or forum system (and it can actually be solved, period). We aren’t paid for this work, but Google provided us an all-expenses trip to Mountain View in September for a summit.
(This puts me in a truly unique situation, as publishers are supposed to never be able to return to the program after their account is disabled. I managed to receive the “account disabled” email, twice, and still ended up being able to hob-nob with Google staff responsible for the program at and chow-down on Google-paid food in California after flying there first class — though Google didn’t pay for the upgrade.)
Not surprisingly, I enjoy some rather unique friendships in this community, some of whom have been quite successful in selling online advertising and others, well, who have been far less successful. Nevertheless, the individuals who had been successful have been reporting a disturbing trend — despite following all the best practices they know and truly understanding the system to an “expert” level, their online revenues have been declining dramatically.
We’ve been speculating about the reason for the revenue decline, and the consensus is emerging that Google is flooding the marketplace with far too many program-eligible sites and videos (through YouTube) that fail to deliver real value to advertisers. Despite efforts to clamp down on abuse and fraud, advertisers just aren’t seeing the results they expect, and with seemingly unlimited inventory, the online auction bids are dropping to a level previously unseen. More publishers and fewer advertisers in an online auction environment, of course, results in a sharp revenue decline. (This may also create an opportunity for online advertisers who truly know how to use AdWords effectively, carefully defining their scope, target audience and other metrics to avoid crappy sites, and setting up effective landing pages to attract and convert the now-cheaper leads.)
So how are my peers in this online space surviving? One says he went back to his home community, started talking with retailers, and helped them define and develop locally-relevant online packages that (using social media as a boost) are really drawing traffic to their business. With immediate and measurable results, the retailers are willing to pay fairly for consulting services — at a price far greater than he is receiving through Google’s program.
Meanwhile, our offline business continues to be viable, with our strongest successes where our publications closely correlate to the communities and market relationships. We are using a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach to community and market development, working closely with relevant associations to improve their membership base, address their political concerns and generally support their activities. Meanwhile, we continue to demonstrate to individual advertisers that our philosophy is not to sell and run. This blog, my book, and other resources (including my time) are available to any advertiser without further cost who needs practical and inexpensive marketing guidance. So, if you invest $500 in an advertisement in our publications, you are guaranteed to receive your money’s worth, even if the ad itself doesn’t generate a single call or order — because we’ll show our advertisers how they can get that business through other, free means (including, where we can suggest it, free news section publicity in our competitor’s publications — though we don’t want our clients to spend a cent of money on advertising in them!) Of course, here my online expert knowledge status is helpful in providing value to our off-line clients.
I’m reminded as I write this of the basics: In an era of instant messaging, world-wide communication and powerful social media resources, our business brands are still defined largely by trust, respect, and community word-of-mouth.