Pay Per Click Gone Wild

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OK, so I manage the PPC campaigns for Magazineline, and we sell popular consumer magazine titles, including Harper’s Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar. Those two aren’t top sellers – not tiny, but not top sellers. So, around June 29 , I notice that our top PPC keywords are “harpers bazaar,” and “harpers” and “harper bazaar” and various misspellings thereof. Huh?

Well, then it hit me. I had a vague recollection of seeing a news item about Britney Spears appearing nude in some magazine. “Some magazine” turned out to be – you guessed it – Harper’s Bazaar. So of course half the world’s population wants to see the pics online, and they’re typing in the name of the magazine. Or something close, but not quite (hello, people – Harper’s Magazine ain’t the same thing as Harper’s Bazaar!). And a few of those millions are clicking on our PPC ads. Never mind the fact that the ads make it clear we’re selling SUBSCRIPTIONS to the magazine – naw, why bother reading an ad when I can just click on it?

The good news is, I realized this right away and was able to minimize our losses by adding a ton of negative keywords, and in most cases, pausing the ads entirely until the storm blew over – which took less than a week, by the way. Many lessons to learn here:

A. Watch your PPC campaigns like a hawk. Note and investigate any anomalies immediately. Sometimes you have to do a little digging – trust me, it’s worth it.
B. People don’t read. I know, news flash, right? Well, generally, the wording of our ads deters the “happy clickers” who are looking for content and/or photos – but these were more than happy clickers. The hot pursuit of Britney naked (and pregnant, no less) apparently blinds even the usually savvy searchers to ad copy.
C. People can’t spell. I had no idea how many variations of “bazaar” there are out there. I’d thought of a few, but I got a lot more ideas from the search terms in this frenzy. My favorite? “Harpers Bizarre.” Bizarre, indeed.
D. What looks like click fraud, might not be click fraud after all. When I saw the volume of clicks on these terms, my mind immediately went to “Fraud.” Looking at the referral data, though, quickly indicated otherwise – referrals were from the engines themselves, not crummy partners; and all 3 of the bigs experienced spikes at almost the exact same time. That’s almost never fraud. More likely, it’s a naked pregnant famous person.

Still, the amount of money this cost us left me looking for someone to blame. But who?
A. The engines? This time, it really wasn’t their fault. They were serving up ads that matched the queries people were entering.
B. Me? Never! Seriously… these were tried-and-tested ads and keywords with a track record.
C. The searchers? No. Although they may be foolish, or stupid, or just plain, well, curious, it’s not their fault either (except the aforementioned “I can’t read ad copy” issue).
So, who’s left? Britney? Yep, I blame Britney. That’s it. It’s her fault. Shame on you, Brit, for trying to revive your flagging career (did she even have a career in the first place?) by posing naked and pregnant. And just so you know, it’s already been done – by Demi Moore in Vogue, years and years ago. But that didn’t slow the curiosity of the masses, did it? Sigh. I guess people have short memories, too.

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