Predatory Online Advertising…and not from Google for a Change

Angie's List

I learned something the hard way awhile ago. There is a big difference between search engine advertising and social site advertising and just because someone looks up front and helpful does not mean that they are.

Search engine advertising is affordable, configurable, reports a return on investment, can be turned on and off quickly, is readily available and makes sense for businesses of all sizes.

Social site advertising… not so much. My experience with advertising on Angie’s List is a good example. And, just because Angie looks like a swell person who claims to want the best for us in her TV ads doesn’t mean that trickles over to trying to grow a small business with ads on her very lucrative website. I’m not sure if it should be called advertising or preferred placement. The first clue should have been the use of ad sales people who are not the account managers once the deal is done. So, they can say anything to close the deal.

Either way, when compared to the transparency and flexibility of search engine PPC, Angie’s list falls short on so many levels, starting with:

  1. Poor user experience: At Angie’s List, the small business owner selects the categories for their ads. The ads are presented at the top of the search results (based on keyword search that is limited to preset categories). There is no obvious distinction between paid placement ads and  organic results. I am guessing those at the top of the category list paid for that position. It is hard to tell how or why Angie’s List puts the service provider in a certain position and so hard to tell if they are there because they’re good or because they have money to burn.
  2. Year-long commitment at a fixed cost not tied to performance: The advertiser buys placement at a set amount per category. Once the number of categories is decided upon, the amount is added up for a monthly fee that becomes a year-long contract. The advertiser pays the same amount every month regardless of whether the ad (or placement) generates customer activity.
  3. Tacit rather than explicit agreement acceptance: I guess that I expected a lot here. When asking someone to commit to a one year contract with, what some might think of as an onerous, cancellation fee (a significant percentage of  balance due on the contract), it would also be “cricket” to have the specific terms and conditions of the specific agreement spelled out on a page for final review. Instead, I got the contract for review as a PDF download separated from the specific requirements folded into a long, scrolling Terms & Conditions document that had a  check box to indicate acceptance. How about putting that check box at the end of the actual Terms & Conditions? Sheesh…even Apple provides  “Are you sure?” moments. Both Google and Bing, with lots to hide most of the time, are up front and simple with their online advertising sign up processes.
  4. Lackluster reporting:  There’s not a lot to go on here. The very nice account representative (and I am not being factitious here) did indicate that the category in question was one of their most popular and my client received 3 clicks in 30 days against a total ad spend of $202 for all categories on that month and zero indication if the folks who clicked on the ad (placement) actually did anything.

If you want to use the Web to drive traffic to your small business, use a reputable online resource and….

  1. Call in a professional to help you set up the right campaign in the right channels for your business and your customers. The search engines have directories of certified professionals and there are Linked-In groups where you can ask for other recommendations. You should not need to spend a lot and the money that you spend will come back in strong ROI on the campaign developed by a professional who really knows what they are doing and takes the time to learn what you want to do. There are scads of reasonable programs out there. Portent has one that starts at $250 a month without the hard sell, Don Corleone tactics described above.
  2. Start with search engine advertising, then social media advertising: Bill Murray was asked in an interview how it was to be rich and famous. His response was something along the lines of “try rich first and see if that does not solve your problems.” So it is with online advertising. Try running ads on the search engines first where you can pick the keywords you want to buy, the amount that you want to spend, stop and start when you want to stop and start and get actionable performance data. People go to Google to look for information and they click on the ads to help them make a decision. People go to social sites like Angie’s List to supplement a decision that they’ve likely already made.
  3. Read social site advertising contracts and agreements very carefully, every. single. word. There is no reason to enter into an advertising agreement that does not justify its existence with a pay for action model and the ability to start/stop and adjust at no cost or penalty.
  4. Demand metrics, metrics, metrics. You will never know the return on your investment without rich reporting on who did what. If the channel does not offer that, what are you paying for?

There, you’ve been advised and I feel that I got my money’s worth from the experience just for that.

Now, if only I could buy my way out of Angie’s darn newsletter…That is something I would willingly pay for.

Start call to action

See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

End call to action


  1. You have your point here. And I definitely agree with you on #4 about using a reputable online resource. Yes, it’s all about metrics, and if they can’t give you the numbers to assist you with making an analysis, then it’s not even worth trying.

  2. I recently got back into PPC on behalf of a friend who needed me to set up an Adwords campaign and I was struck by the level of hand-holding Google reps offered us. A few years back, they didn’t do anything like that.

  3. Social media sites typically aren’t places of commerce which is why social ads don’t perform well. People go to the search engines because they want something specific. If an ad there suits their needs they will click on it. People don’t go to a social site looking for an answer, they typically go to browse.

Comments are closed.

Close search overlay