This morning I received an email from a internet business I've used many times and it had a product that interested me. Thinking to buy it, I clicked through to check out the price, landed on a product information page, and scrolled down for the information I wanted where I was asked to click further. So, it seemed, there was not only a financial cost for this product, there was a time cost. I clicked out of the site and didn't buy.
I wish these were techniques practiced only by small start-up web companies, but they aren't. Similar techniques are used by two of our most influential internet platform providers.
I came smack up against this hard truth when I started looking into paid advertising for my novels. I began with front pages ads on some book blogs and websites. I have a background in advertising art and by proxy some knowledge of advertising principles so I know that random ads here and there are not particularly effective but I thought the influence of the sites would help. It didn't and the ads didn't generate sales. There had to be another way. Maybe Google.
Go-Daddy had sent me a coupon for a hundred and fifty dollars which was a good incentive to give Google a try. I called the number on the coupon and talked to a very friendly guy. I didn't have all the information he needed, so he gave me a number to call back. I called back two days in a row and didn't reach him, so I went into Google's Adwords area, messed around with some possible ads and checked out how to best pinpoint my book market.
The Google rep called back. We discussed my tentative campaign and he talked to me about why $5 a day wasn't enough – $20 was optimum -- and why I had to give him a credit card number and apply money to the account. I said I was uncomfortable with that because it was like giving Google a blank check. He said my Go-Daddy coupon wouldn't apply unless I did, although that restriction wasn't explained in the fine print of my Go-Daddy coupon.
After writing three or four ads for me and polishing my keywords, he showed me how he'd paused my account and said I needed to unpause in order to release it, then went on to another client.
Suddenly everything went weird. I had error codes going across the top and was clicking here and there trying to get out of it and the next thing I somehow owed Google money for nothing, as far as I knew. I decided to cancel the campaign and the entire account only to find out that I owed them most of my original deposit. How could that be? My campaign had never been launched.
Or so I thought. In reality, my practice campaign had been set loose. Since the default date on each campaign is always the present date, the minute the error code were resolved, the campaign went 'live.' Fortunately, I discovered this before the Google required auto-replenish function had eaten up the limit on my credit card.
This is the sleazy part. Apparently, if you don't want your campaign to go 'live' you have to hit the 'pause' button before cycling out of the setup area. Sort of like selecting your gasoline grade at the pump, but having the gas pour out before you put the nozzle in the tank.
The chances for that going wrong are pretty high, especially since the starting parameter is the date and the default date is always 'today.' I know I sound naive and since my entire Google experience has generally been that they are astonishingly counter-intuitive, I should have expected something like this. Still, in my opinion, they should have credited back my entire deposit, especially since they gave me absolutely no credit for the Go-Daddy coupon. I requested them both, but they refused in that "kinda, maybe," way that Google has.
So onto my next sleazy major internet provider experience. This time I speak of Facebook. I have my profile and an authors page and Facebook has been pressuring me to run my posts as ads. I clicked on one of the quaisi-ads one time and a credit card number popped up.
I've never given Facebook a credit card number. That particular card was expired – fortunately -- because any attempt to talk to someone about where they got that number was thwarted by page after page of possible grievances, none of which fit mine. I gave it up as a no harm/no foul kind of situation.
Then a few days ago, during my exploration into paid advertising, I went into Facebook's ad page for information about their advertising program. What I found was that I owed them five dollars to pay for an ad I scheduled (NOT) and my credit card had expired, deadbeat that I am.
No, I don't owe them five dollars. I didn't order an ad. They had no business with my credit card number in the first place. Again, no way to contact them, even though this infraction is so serious they imply they may shut down my Facebook account.
On top of that they are now sending activity notifications to my cell phone even though I've never given them my cell phone number. How did they get it? Just like the credit card, I don't know. And that goes beyond sleazy; it's downright scary.
Not Everyone is a Sleaze
Okay, there is some possible light at the end of this sleaze tunnel. Twitter. As I've often said, they are my favorite social media tool. I've looked into advertising with them and at the moment the Big 2 have made me skittish about the Majors but my exploration was amazingly informative when compared to Google and Facebook. Their information pages are easy to understand, when they give you something to click the information is actually on the other end. They suggested various kinds of advertising campaigns, advised me not to rush into it without some planning, and to first make sure I understand my own market. I'm going to follow their advice.
Which takes me back to the free book blogs and websites. They do a really good job of delivering what they promise, which is exposure. What they can't promise or reliably deliver is the results of that exposure. Some do it better than others.
I've done some paid advertising over the last six weeks to two months, concurrent with bringing out THE DRAGON HOUR. The first few ads got me nothing, and I really didn't know why, except that they were single sites and my exposure was only for a day or two. As said before, brief bursts of advertising don't work very effectively.
You have to be out there all the time, every day. I suspect we're all trying to avoid that every day thing, but unless we can afford someone to do it for us, it's inescapable. So our best bet is to find a service that gets you out to dozens of places and supports you even after the run is over. For me such a site was e-BooksHabit. They run free books and for a reasonable fee also offer a side benefit where they submit your listing to twenty-five or more blogs and sites in the community of e-book promoters.
The Anti Sleaze Squad
I used eBooksHabit about a month ago and loved my results. THE DRAGON HOUR is still bouncing around as a top fifty time travel novel, currently floating around thirty and has been as high as number three. I'm using these guys again to promote THE FIRE OPAL, one of my older books that's lost traction over time.
This is where The eBook Author's Corner, James Moushon's blog on the value of paid advertising was like a life raft. Thanks to James, we now have feedback from at least fifty authors on how their paid advertising efforts worked.
This list would be incomplete without mentioning the World Literary Cafe They are like a one-stop shop for indie publishing needs, from tweet teams to support forums to courting readers and much, much more.
So my personal decision is to avoid the big guys – with Twitter still kind of up in the air – and keep advertising with independent bloggers and website operators both paid and free, because one thing I'm sure of – you can't dump the promo unless you're willing to dump your income.
But there is a bigger issue here, and it might be so big that we just kind of want to ignore it, but many of our large companies are engaging in deceptive marketing practices that at one time would have brought on huge fines and reputation-destroying censure. No one seems to be regulating these online people, certainly not themselves. Google, for instance, has a company principle of "do no evil." Do they somehow think that a practice of duping consumers into paying for advertising they didn't order isn't evil?
I could go into a big soapbox thing about how ethics seems to be absent from business altogether but it won't accomplish anything. For one thing it's too big a problem. But what we can do is demand a higher level of ethics from the companies we depend upon. How? Through our back and forth communication with each other. We've got to stop ignoring these small cheats from these big guys by publicly telling each other when they happen. Enough of us start doing that and they'll know we notice. They will change. Why? Because there's always someone out there wanting to step into their shoes and the only ones keeping the old guard there is us.
So I guess I did go on a soapbox and I'm really interested in knowing about other people's experiences with Google ads, with Facebook, or with any of the other marketers that are out there trying to serve (or dupe) independent authors. Some of these experiences are bound to be good – please tell us about your favorite blog or website. Others will be more like the ones I most predominantly shared. Be sure not forget to go to James's blog The eBook Author's Corner because he has a fuller scoop. Still, please let me hear your stories, either by email or as comments to this blog.
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