I’m running a small hobby site, and from time to time I like to delve into the data to see how users behave, where they’re coming from, what the usability issues are – things like that.
I usually get a trickle of visitors from Google search, some from social media, and about 50% from forum posts that link to the site. This month, I decided to experiment with buying ads, just to see what would happen.
Facebook: Worst. Experience. Ever.
My first choice was Facebook, because I figured they could target ads better to the site’s far-off niche. They have a very nice user interface for building your ads, and pre-selecting the audience. I set a micro-budget and waited. Unfortunately, the act of setting up the ads led to my Facebook account being suspended. I had to jump through insane hoops to just be allowed to log on again (including answering questions like “You are German, but you’re not accessing us from Germany right now. Please explain why in detail below”
Eventually I got my normal Facebook account reinstated, but the ads won’t run until I send them scans of my government ID and some utility bills. Fuck you, Facebook. Needless to say, not a single ad ever ran. And to top it off I now get a special little “woah, we can’t just let you log in like that” message EVERY FUCKING TIME I try to log in, where they force me to use 2 factor auth and other little shenanigans I never even knew existed in Facebook’s account management. Seriously, fuck you Facebook.
Google Adwords: Mostly Fake
I moved on to Google Adwords. More complicated interface, but still quite manageable. And contrary to Facebook, they were actually happy to take my (micro) money.
The problem with Google Adwords though is it’s pretty scammy, specifically ads served through the content network. You see, search ads are very expensive (up to $5 per click just to be on the first result page, that’s insane), so I decided to do a mix of search and content network ads.
I’m just going to give you the numbers, assuming you could just scale this phenomenon up with higher budgets: according to Google, my website received 88 clicks. Only 59 ever made it to my website. That means over 30% of all reported clicks didn’t even happen. It gets worse. Of the 59 that did make it through, only 2 people looked at more than one page before leaving. Of those, exactly 0 people actually interacted with the site in any meaningful way.
Let’s compare that to users who came from search engines. This month, 8885 users came from search engines, and 7387 of them looked at two pages, 4146 of those looked at three pages or more.
This illustrates that people who do make it to the site on purpose stay and engage with it. However, the visitors coming in through ads are entirely untargeted (despite highly specific keywords) at best – at worst they’re just bots.
I guess it’s probably an open secret in the online ads industry, forgive me if I’m figuring this out years late, but it seems to me that what advertisers actually buy is very much in question.
In closing, here are the lessons I learned today:
- Stay far away from Facebook Ads.
- When on Google Adwords, do not advertise with the content network, it’s utterly a scam, presumably run by the operators of these websites.
- At best, your ads won’t be as targeted as you think. At worst, factor in the possibility that the majority of your visitors will be bots.
- Those clicks you see in the admin panel aren’t real. You need to subtract at least 30% to get to your real number. This also means in reality you paid 30% more per click than you thought.