Lessons from tacky Heath Ledger jokes, Day 1

[Update 30 January 2008: More analysis of this has been posted since this article was written. Look for items tagged “heath ledger”.]

Screen grab of Google AdWords advertisement: Heath Ledger jokes. Only just dead, but the tacky jokes have begun. Outrageous! stilgherrian.com

Just 24 hours ago, actor Heath Ledger died. Before most people even knew he was dead, I’d set up a web page asking for jokes about his death and I placed an advertisement (pictured) on Google. Tasteless. But there was a porpoise. This was Science!

Here’s what I’ve learned so far. If you have any questions as you read this, please ask them. I’ll be exploring the data more deeply over the next few days.

Actually, before we get to the juicy numbers, my motivations:

According to Crikey‘s media timeline, Ledger died around 7.30am Sydney time. News broke 45 minutes later, and by 8.35am it was in Australia’s mainstream media. Just 65 minutes from death to TV news. Such is the imperative to stay ahead of the media pack by being the pack.

My jokes page was ready for business just before 10am, around 2.5 hours after Ledger’s death. The first joke was posted at 10.25am, and 8 minutes later I was called an “asshole”.

I’m not exactly sure when my Google AdWords effort went online, because I had to create an account and figure out how it worked. I’m guessing around 11am because that’s when the real flood of traffic started.

I’d bought spots in the search results for “heath ledger”, “heath ledger dead” and “heath ledger joke”. The last two cost 6 cents a click-through, but “heath ledger” by itself was 50 cents. Murdoch’s news.com.au was already advertising their own story on Google too, as were some celebrity gossip sites.

I burned off $20 in about half an hour, showing the advert to 2,758 people. 41 of them clicked through to my page. That’s a click-through ratio (CTR) of 1.48%.

I threw more money into the pot at lunchtime, but the price of a “heath ledger dead” click had gone up to 38 cents. Still, another 7,279 views generated another 168 readers, a CTR OF 2.3%. Interestingly, they all came from searches for “heath ledger” rather than “heath ledger dead” — a reminder that most people don’t think very hard before typing in their search terms.

Another 19,319 people were shown the ad on Google’s “content network” — that is, non-Google sites which show Google AdSense advertisements. That generated another 41 clicks.

For a total spend of $115.25 I got 254 new website visitors. That led to more than 40 comments posted.

Let’s put that into perspective…

My page was visited by 254 people who wanted to know about Heath Ledger. It happened in under an hour, and cost me less per person — just 45 cents each — than sending them a letter. That’s as an absolute beginner, with no planning and certainly no fine-tuning.

I’d like to have brought another batch of punters to the page once there were a few jokes online but, 8 hours after I started my experiment, the price of “heath ledger dead” hit A$6.50, and it’s still there. Too expensive for an initial experiment, but perhaps worth it if you were selling expensive Heath Ledger memorabilia.

So, the initial lessons:

  • Yes, Google AdWords deliver traffic fast. Very fast. Have everything ready before you start.
  • Have a clear goal in mind, and tailor your “landing page” appropriately. My goal was “Let’s see how this works,” so I didn’t think too hard. If you have a commercial goal you’ll need to think more clearly.
  • General search terms like “heath ledger” are usually more expensive that more specific ones. Like “heath ledger joke”. But more specific terms can tailor traffic to your exact needs. Specific terms can change price rapidly if they’re part of an unfolding news story.
  • You can monitor it, and tailor things on the fly. Google’s reports can be a couple hours behind in giving you data, but that’s still “immediate” in most business timeframes.

None of this is new to anyone who’s used Google AdWords before. But most small businesses aren’t even aware that you can even advertise on Google! So as I orient some clients to all this I’ll share my lessons.

More details as I dig through the numbers. Any questions?

6 Replies to “Lessons from tacky Heath Ledger jokes, Day 1”

  1. You have to allow for those who can’t spell or are terminally stupid – check out the second fastest rising search term.

    I wonder what price you could have got that for until those results came through?

    Reminds me of being told, “dood its speld ‘digimon’ ur gramr sux go back to skool” (I should stay off MySpace)

    Google Trends: Fastest-rising search term

    1. Heath Ledger
    2. Keith Ledger
    3. Michelle Williams
    4. Heath Ledger found dead
    5. Rotten Neighbor
    6. Kate Voegele
    7. Brokeback Mountain
    8. Oscar Nominations
    9. Matilda Ledger
    10. Michelle Williams Heath Ledger
    (As of Tuesday, January 22, 2007)

  2. @Simon Slade: “Fastest-rising” can be from 0 to 1000 though, but yes I agree that the lameness factor there is very high. The base price for Google AdWords seems to be A$0.05, but I didn’t explore deeply enough to confirm that.

    Mind you, when I first set up my ad, I accidentally entered one search term as “heather ledger”. It still generated a few page-views before I realised my mistake.

    Also, Technorati has recently changed its emphasis from a mere search engine for blogs to tracking the rise and fall of hype in the blogosphere. I haven’t explored it properly yet, but will do so and report back.

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