Saturday, March 17, 2007

Permission to use free online services

Over on The Bankwatch blog, Colin picks up on a note on Seth's Blog about the evolution of advertising. In his discussion, Colin responds to Seth's idea that Google AdSense is effective because it is 'permission based':
Google AdSense is not permission based IMHO. Why? …. because no-one asked me if they could display those ad’s beside my search results. But lets go further … even if those ad’s are relevant, they are only relevant in the minds of the advertisers. I would consider myself a fairly active internet user, and I not only never click Google ad’s …. I don’t even notice them. Google App’s premium, which I subscribe to, does not display ad’s to me.

I think about this slightly differently. Although I wouldn't call AdSense 'permission based', it could be argued that by choosing to use any free service or information source, like Google, Improving New Account Opening, Hotmail or whatever, you are effectively giving your permission to the service to try and make some money from you through advertising.

The challenge for the service is to optimize how effective this is: balance the annoyance of the adverts against the need to get people to click through to the paying advertiser, so they can profit from running the service. This is what in my mind stops advertising becoming too much like TV and radio - with the Internet I always have the choice to go somewhere else.

This blog is admittedly an exception to the real commercial services in this respect. I do run AdSense on this blog and know I'm not going to get rich, but it certainly helps me understand the dynamics of free online services. I get a steady-ish stream of page views even when I don't post, and I get little bursts of ads being clicked some days - split between ads on my most popular posts (most last year) and the home page. My guess is that its not regular readers doing this, instead people stumbling across the site from outside, and looking for the next place to go for more relevant information. It works far more effectively than the prepaid Adify service on the right, which rarely shows anything but my own banner, and when it does mostly unrelated commercial ads that are really just fluff.

Since I started my blog last June, I think I've been credited with approximately $65 US in clicks. The value of some of the ads seem to be reasonably high, to match the business nature of things discussed here. Based on my original aim, I have donated this 65 bucks, and a lot more to Oxfam. And maybe I have helped the occasional reader find something they were looking for related to my posts.

I have posted in the past that the AdSense is a useful model for corporate intranets and knowledge worker applications, helping target user actions with other useful information that may help them complete their tasks or research faster. It was an idea that I'm sure is already offered by the information access vendors like Autonomy and FAST. I think it is almost better than pure search, since it provides a manageable list of results, that are driven by value as well as content on the page, rather than the 3 words entered into Google.

So everyone is encouraged to read my blog, and by doing so they have my permission to get mildly annoyed by the presence of AdSense adverts. I hope that regular readers do not find them too annoying, and that everyone may occasionally stumble across something related that may be of interest to them. I'm not necessarily a good linker to external stuff, and AdSense helps fill that gap!

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1 comment:

Colin said...

Phil ... Just got the chance to read this now. This is a great and clealy described view of Adsense and how it works.

On a related note, the larger question I have is whether the $65 worth of folks who clicked through, actually purchased anything once they got there. Thats the real test for advertising.