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January 17, 2008

Google Launches Contest To Help Themselves

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Google finally began publicizing the Online Marketing Challenge they launched a couple of months ago. The Challenge is designed to introduce students to the exciting world of search engine marketing through Google products. I wonder if they were slow to announce because the whole thing is kind of creepy and puts a totally self-serving taste in your mouth. No, I’m sure it’s just getting coverage now because a brand new academic semester is starting. Right. That’s it.

The way this whole "challenge" works is that Google hands over $200 worth of AdWords credits to participating higher education institutions. Students are then put into groups and instructed to pair up with a local business that has a Web site but "does not currently use AdWords in any capacity" and work with them to create a marketing strategy using Google’s ad platform. (The business can obviously veto the students’ recommendations.) Over the course of three weeks, the students will outline their marketing strategy, create and run their campaign, assess the results and then offer up some kind of business recommendations for improvement. Their work is then submitted and judged by other professors around the world, with the winning global entry receiving a trip to the Googleplex to meet the creators of AdWords. Of course, according to Google, the real prize is all the learning about search marketing that will have occurred over the three week contest period.

Yes, of course.

Google says the goal of the Online Marketing Contest is two-fold (emphasis mine):

  • The primary goal is for students to work with the selected businesses to create a practical and successful campaign. It’s not just about people clicking on your ads – it’s about setting up the right campaign that fits with the objectives of the business. Students should aim to maximize targeted and relevant traffic to the business’ site, using optimization techniques to refine and improve the effectiveness of the campaign over the three-week competition period.
  • The second goal is demonstrated learning. Student groups submit two reports – Before the campaign, they submit a Pre-Campaign Strategy. After the campaign, students assess their results, what they learned and how the business can improve their online marketing campaigns in the Post-Campaign Summary.

Okay, but isn’t the goal really to get students using Google AdWords before they enter the real world, and to encourage local business not yet using AdWords to start? Not even just a little? I don’t really like the spin on this.

We’re obviously in favor of any search engine optimization and pay per click training opportunity that comes around, but c’mon Google! If this is all about educating young search marketer-wannabes, why do they have to find local businesses not already using your product? Can’t they work with a company already using AdWords and try to improve an established campaign or marketing strategy? The winner could have been chosen based on percentage of change instead of "who made more money".

And if it’s about education, why are we only educating students on one online advertising option? Being the big dog in the industry means it’s okay for you to highlight the smaller guys. I personally think you have a responsibility too. I’d like to think the professors will supplement the contest with some information on Yahoo! Search Marketing and adCenter but that’s probably not too realistic. So these kids are going to graduate, find jobs, and then start pimping out their Google AdWords knowledge. Ah, Google, just one step closer to total market domination.

To be fair, in the Challenge’s FAQ Google says that the contest isn’t about using AdWords and that it’s just the "vehicle" and "platform" for getting data. Yes, my mother once told me she wasn’t punishing me by making me raking the leaves after I came home late that one time, I was just the "vehicle" and "platform" for getting the job done.

I’m a little disappointed in Google here. I think as an industry leader you have a responsibility to encourage diversity and competition and they failed to do that here. At least leave it open-ended so that if students want to use a different platform they can. I understand that causes a conflict with Google handing out $200 in AdWords credit, but if this is really about education, give the groups cash and let them decide what platform to invest in. You have enough of it. Or give them money and mandate that each group try a different platform and so they can experiment and then compare the results later as a class. This way everyone gets to learn about all their options and the different features included in each.

The point is there are plenty of ways Google could have run this Challenge to promote SEM education, but they chose to run it the way that makes them look kind of brainwash-ish and self-serving.

Don’t get me wrong. Major kudos to Google for bringing search engine marketing education into an academic setting, but let’s not wrap the Challenge up in a big altruistic bow. Careful, Google, your colors are showing again.

[Oh for the love of little fuzzy puppies, of course Google is going to encourage people to use Google Adwords. So what? Being the market leader doesn’t mean that they have to pimp other companies’ products just to be nice. Shockingly, when you sponsor something, you’re getting something out of it. It’s a boost for both the students and the businesses. If the students and the businesses are stupid enough not to realize there are also other options, that isn’t Google’s fault nor is it Google’s job to educate them.

For Pete’s sake.–Susan]

Sweet heavens, go chew on a Xanax or something.

I’m perfectly aware of how "sponsorship" deals work but I find this one to be a bit over the top. Requiring that students ONLY partner with companies Google hasn’t yet sucked into their cyborg? That seems outright nervy to me, especially if they’re doing this for "others" and not themselves. And I totally disagree that this will provide any boost for the businesses who will have a bunch of college kids with no experience in search marketing suddenly giving them advice on how to use their brand new AdWords account. All it’s going to do is leave them with a half started project to clean up when the 3 weeks end. This whole thing is badly thought out. If Google wanted to educate, this program would be a lot longer than 3 weeks and it would highlight the SEM industry, not Google. But it’s not about education, it’s about market share. Let’s at least call a spade when we see one.

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One response to “Google Launches Contest To Help Themselves”

  1. Kate Morris writes:

    I’m going to disagree with you for the first time. I see this as a great thing. Google can only do this with their program (and yes its a marketing thing, but really … what isn’t?). Maybe Yahoo and MSN will join in. I for one would LOVE to see more students get into using PPC at the college level. There is no better way to learn. And the small businesses get a small boost. No one said they had to CONTINUE the campaign. But if it works, then they know that is does … and they figured it out for free. Most of us got the same thing when we started, but it came in the form of $50 coupons … but with no time or experience or help.

    I see this as a great opportunity. Wish I’d gotten it when I was in school. Great move by Google.



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