Tag Archives: Google

The Grand AdWords Heist

“The Internet can feel like a dark, dangerous, syringe-filled alley”

I have always been skeptical of the value that online advertising brings to a company. And in particular, paid search like Google AdWords. If you haven’t given it a try it’s pretty simple: create your ads, define a budget, and determine a bid price for search terms. The results are instantaneous and site traffic is impressive, thanks to Google’s network.

So on October 21st we jumped in. SpiderOak setup a modest budget with the intention to test our way to the best search terms and then in 2016 we would expand the scope of our use of Adwords to help drive conversions of our backup product, SpiderOakONE. By mid November we turned off Google AdWords for good and completely abandoned the idea of paid search.

Why? Because of the Great AdWords Heist. Over our 21 days experiment Google reported 10,535 clicks on our ads. But our website analytics were only reporting 5,951 visits to our site. That’s right, Google was reporting nearly DOUBLE the number of clicks what we were able to verify came to our site. Wait a second. SpiderOak just spent $1,168.01 and nearly half of those clicks didn’t result in a visit? If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 25+ years in business it’s that if something smells like bullshit, it usually is bullshit.

Google AdWords offered this explanation in their documentation; “A click is counted even if the person doesn’t reach your website, maybe because it’s temporarily unavailable. As a result, you might see a difference between the number of clicks on your ad and the number of visits to your website.” Bullshit. Our site was certainly not unavailable.

Just as we did our due diligence with AdWords testing, I dug into Google AdWords Reporting — which I can report is pretty nice — and was able to learn a little bit more about the numbers. Seems that that over 85% of our clicks were coming from the Google Display Network (not Search) and well over 50% of the clicking was happening in Romania, Brazil, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, Philippines and Bangladesh. After a bit of sorting and filtering of the data I get another surprise, only 30 of our 10K+ clicks were from the US. When I compare all this info with our analytics data I see that most of the UIDs (unique identifiers of those who click) have more than one click — in fact most have dozens and several are over a hundred. Why would the same people keep clicking on the same ad?

There are good people in those countries but I have no idea why they’re clicking that often on ads that are written in English. Staring at this data I was reminded of the lively conversations about click fraud back in the early days on online advertising. Like everyone else I was confident all the issues had gotten sorted out before we moved onto more important problems like self-driving cars but then again… Bullshit.

Maybe we set AdWords up wrong. Maybe I’m reading the data incorrectly. Maybe our website was offline when 43% of people tried to visit it from far off places around the world. Maybe we were suckers who hadn’t a clue. Maybe I’m a complete idiot. Or maybe we were another victim of the AdWords Heist.

The online world can be a dark, dangerous, syringe-filled alley. Just the sort of place in the real world we might expect to get robbed. No matter off or online, safety does boil down to trust. In the offline world, we can visit the shop or have an in person meeting with a business owner to get a read on if we might choose to trust them or not. Online, it’s mostly slick marketing speak, corporate proclamations, and complicated terms of services. Mostly all bullshit.

Was it a heist? I don’t really know and I don’t really care. For SpiderOak, we now understand the value that online advertising brings to the organization, and it ain’t much. Mostly I feel like someone robbed $500 from us and we will never use AdWords ever again. We need to feel safe again online. Perhaps I should start rethinking who I trust as I navigate all these dark alleys.

“Yeah, we ditched Google.”

Why SpiderOak made a conscious decision to break up with Analytics

Most reports indicate Google has over 70% share of the analytics marketplace. Does that jeopardize our privacy?

After we gave it some more thought, we realized we were hypocrites. Since inception, SpiderOak has been an advocate for online privacy. Unlike many others in our market, we strive to be very clear about how our product design truly delivers Zero Knowledge privacy for our users. We tell potential supporters, what matters most is who has the keys and how they are stored. But you can read more about how we solved those problems from our many other posts our site.

For the past five years, we had been using Google Analytics for monitoring our web traffic. Innocent enough decision, right? Then we asked ourselves, “are we contributing to the mass surveillance of the web by using a feature-rich, yet free service that tracks web visitors?” Sadly. we didn’t like the answer to that question. “Yes, by using Google Analytics, we are furthering the erosion of privacy on the web.”

Most people might say, “well it’s only a cookie,” or “I don’t have anything to hide.” Yes our site is only one short stop you might make today while browsing the web, but why does Google and their advertisers need to know about it I would ask. Most of us visit scores of websites each day. The fabric behind the scenes that stitches a stunningly detailed history of your online day is Google Analytics. Even if you don’t have a Google account, or don’t stay logged into Gmail, your browsing history every single day is tracked across sites that include the JavaScript library.

So a few months ago we decided we were wrong and Google Analytics had to go.

Like lots of other companies with high traffic websites, we are a technology company; one with a deep team of software developer expertise. It took us only a few weeks to write our home-brew analytics package. Nothing super fancy yet now we have an internal dashboard that shows the entire company much of what we used analytics for anyway – and with some nice integration with some of our other systems too.

Some of us still have Gmail accounts and others keep using Chrome. Google makes good products. But where SpiderOak decided to draw the line was with the privacy of our current and soon to be customers. You deserve a choice when it comes to privacy online and we realized we could do better by not contributing to your browsing history with Google. And now that we’ve fixed that, we can sleep at night.
Be safe out there.