Vignette: Google’s Sales Call and the (New?) Fifty Percent Rule

For the second time in one year, I got an email from Google's outbound sales force, on account of being the band manager for Boing Boing, which is a pretty high traffic site. Clearly, Google's cold calling sales force has been mining Alexa or somesuch for lists of prospective…

GoogadsenseFor the second time in one year, I got an email from Google’s outbound sales force, on account of being the band manager for Boing Boing, which is a pretty high traffic site. Clearly, Google’s cold calling sales force has been mining Alexa or somesuch for lists of prospective new AdSense clients.

In her emails (the first of which came via BB’s founder Mark Frauenfelder), Google’s rep told me that Google had some special programs for Boing Boing that I might want to take advantage of. Well, I’m open minded, and willing to try it again (for more on the last time we went around this bend, read this.)

Google’s salesperson was very pleasant and responsive, but it seems to me she had not run my name through, well, Google, nor did she have the data from the last time I spoke to an AdSense sales rep, in which I disclosed that I was the dude behind Searchblog and that Boing Boing had some issues with AdSense, not the least of which was performance and AdSense’s TOS. Now, I’m not looking for special treatment, but had she used Google or had a history of Google’s contacts with Boing Boing, she might have realized that I was, well, a bit engaged in this discussion. What follows is an edited, rough paraphrase of our conversation. Caveat: We talked about more stuff, but not all of it was worth reporting here…

Me: Hey, nice to meet you.

Her: Likewise.

Me: So what are these cool advertising programs that Boing Boing might take advantage of?

Her: One is called AdSense, and one is called AdSense for Search.

Me: Yeah, I know about those. But what’s the special part?

She: Well, it works like this. You put code on your….

Me: Don’t mean to interrupt, but I know about how it works. We’ve tried it before on Boing Boing and it doesn’t work too well for us.

She: Really, why not?

Me: Well, Boing Boing is pretty eclectic, and it’s hard for networks like AdSense to figure out what ads to run. I am sure if we ran it for months on end, the permalink pages might start to have better CPCs, but..

She: Well part of what we can do is help you to optimize your site for AdSense.

Me: Really? What does that entail?

She: Well, we can give you tips on where to put the ads, what placements work best, how to best categorize your site, things like that.

Me: Right. Well, I’m aware of that kind of stuff. Can you provide me with a better deal?

She: A better deal?

Me: Well, one of the things that publishers wonder about AdSense is what is the split? How much of every dollar goes to us, and how much to you?

She: Well, we don’t divulge that information, but if you look at our SEC filings, you can see our numbers…

Me: Yes, I know about your TAC, and it averages in the high seventies to low 80s, but that number is very difficult to understand – I know that you have set deals with sites like Ask and AOL, and those probably skew the overall TAC. I wonder if you are making up that high TAC by, well, dialing down the TAC with smaller publishers like Boing Boing. I mean, we have no idea if you are giving us high seventies, or taking 60 percent all for yourself!

She: We can’t get into numbers, but we can say that we give the majority of the revenue to our publishers.

Me: Huh. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that – so more than fifty percent?

She: We can’t give exact numbers out.

Me: Sure. I understand. That’s your policy. Well, it’s great of you to contact us, and we’ll talk about it, and get back to you. Thanks.

She: Great! Let me know if there is anything I can do.

Me: OK, bye!

She: Bye!

13 thoughts on “Vignette: Google’s Sales Call and the (New?) Fifty Percent Rule”

  1. John,

    There are a lot of ways to interpret what she said.

    She could still be talking about the aggregate payout to publishers, not 50 percent for all clicks or all publishers. The only thing I’d read into what she said is that there is a lot of ambiguity in their message and adsense is still way too opaque. Unfortunately that’s pretty much the norm these days…


  2. I’d be willing to bet that for plausible deniability, she doesn’t know the precise revenue split either. Don’t get too excited…

  3. “Boing Boing is pretty eclectic, and it’s hard for networks like AdSense to figure out what ads to run.” Using the adsense preview tool on individual posts pages of boingboing, generally the ads don’t seem off the mark to me.

  4. I’ve been in sales a LONG time, and this salesperson shouldn’t be embarrassed, she should be fired.

    She works at Google and didn’t bother to find out that you’ve written a book about search … okay, THE book about search … and that your business Federated is all about web advertising …


    Are you sure she wasn’t actually from the NSA or something?

  5. >mining Alexa

    Am sure they have about 10,000 as much user data as Alexa does.

    Interesting that they came out and said majority…would have been nice if she would have slipped up and gave a bit more…maybe next call 🙂

  6. I agree with Halley ,have been involved in sales myself and sounds like you were chatting to a low level salesperson ,telemarketer .She is most likely working from a script and knows nothing about percentage payouts.

    Sounds like the sales manager should be fired

  7. In an organization as large as Google, it’s no wonder that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. I doubt the thumb doesn’t know what the index finger is doing. After all, when they decided to stop showing AdSense ads on my site I thought they were being rather silly…. here I was, actively promoting AdSense and telling people to write sites with great content and they take away the ads because the word “Google” is in the domain. Well, what do you expect, my book is called Make Easy Money with Google so of course the natural domain for it is… wait for it…!

    I appealed the decision, but no go. Ah well. I’ve not yet decided if I’m going to switch domains or not, I’m running my own text ads in the meantime. Which makes it all so ironic, doesn’t it?

    Google is not the small web startup it once was, a long long time ago. It’s a big company now, and that means that bureaucracy, policies and all that big-company stuff are inevitable.

  8. John,

    The part I found particularly interesting about the conversation was that the rep cared little for your concern about AdSense’s relevancy to your site pushing it over to it isn’t being displayed in the right location.

    This seems like their sales force is not working to make you into a client, just trying to push their stuff on the uninformed. Not necessarily evil, but not going to help the semi-educated. They should have gone to where they can taylor the advertising to coded keywords or what not. I am somewhat shocked that this was not taken care of correctly…

  9. Common practice John. When training new sales reps on the publisher or advertiser side it is typical with many search companies just to give the rep a list or a couple of places to mine data from in order to show them how to dig up leads for themselves. They go at these blind without any information or background on who they are calling. I’d find it hard to believe Google doesn’t have a CRM system to manage this stuff and make reviewable notes for future calls, but maybe they don’t.

    As far as the revenue shares go it is VERY common practice for all search companies to give a larger share of the ad revenue to their bigger publishers while pushing low rev shares to the small publishers. With enough small publishers you do make up the difference in revenue and lower you’re overall TAC. Not that this needs saying but wanted to include it for those who may not be aware.

  10. Last year we were called by Google for some “optimizing” help and our AdSense revenues tripled after we implemented their suggestions. We ended up working with 3 different experts and it has totally benefited us. Felt obliged to share this.

  11. I got a similar e-mail from Google for one of the sites my company runs. The rep wanted to discuss “exciting new advertising opportunities with Google”. Like you, out of curiosity, we followed up and of course there was nothing “new” or “exciting”. Just plain old AdSense but the part that I found surprising is that even though he initiated contact, he obviously didn’t spend even a minute learning about our site before contacting us. I’m assuming that their conversion is good enough that they don’t have to spend time and effort into having a more sophisticated (prospective) customer management.

  12. John, needless to say, FMPub sites pull in far more traffic than my two blogs, in aggregate, and larger sites get special “consideration”. If, instead of asking about the publisher split, you had asked about how to improve ad targeting, my personal experiences have shown that Google has ways of accomodating. You might be able to benefit quite a bit financially if you call them back.

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