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What is eBay Smoking (or Maybe Drinking)?

In order to bring you this amusing and puzzling anecdote, I must admit something. I google Vinography occasionally to see what comes up. OK. I've gotten that off my chest. Of course, I'm not super embarassed about that because everybody does it. C'mon. You know that at least once you've typed in your own name into Google just to see what comes up. If you haven't, you probably should, if only to make sure you know what's out there to find.

Those of you who do that regularly, I wonder if you've ever found yourselves for sale on eBay?


Now this is not just sort of an amusing coincidence. It is downright creepy and bizarre.

Let me explain. In order for that little ad to show up on the right hand side of my google search results, someone had to purchase the keyword "Vinography." This means they need to have a Google Adwords account, and that they need to type that keyword into the interface, decide how much they want to pay for every time that someone clicks on that ad and press a button that says "buy this keyword."

Obviously eBay has some level of automation that results in some rather silly ads being automatically generated with words that don't quite make sense, like the one that occasionally shows up for Used Pinot Noir. But the keywords still need to be purchased by someone. Some real person had to actively make the decision that they wanted to buy Vinography as keyword. Pinot Noir I understand. But Vinography?!?

Which leads me to the title and point of this post. What in the world is eBay smoking? If I owned eBay stock, I'd sell it on Monday morning, because any company who spends money advertising things that they could never possibly sell is too big, has too much money, and doesn't keep track of its cash well enough to make me confident as a shareholder.

Besides, I don't appreciate the implication that Vinography can be bought and sold quite so easily, thankyouverymuch. A blog has its standards, dontcha know?

Comments (18)

Melanie wrote:
11.12.06 at 7:48 AM

Well, you'll be happy to know that an ebay search revealed these results:
"0 items found for Vinography."

Maybe you could sue Ebay for false advertisement. *grin*

sam wrote:
11.12.06 at 8:08 AM

I'd bid a couple of dollars for you, Alder

Jack wrote:
11.12.06 at 8:44 AM

My only question: What's the BUY IT NOW price?

(And this is not the first time I've seen an eBay google adsense ad for something eBay can't/doesn't sell.)

Alder wrote:
11.12.06 at 10:05 AM

I think the Buy it Now price would have lots of zeros after it. At least seven.

Jimmy wrote:
11.12.06 at 11:45 AM

a bit o hubris? it is just a simple script that picks up the term entered in to the google search box... not a premeditated attempt to buy or sell you or capitalize on your name...

Alder wrote:
11.12.06 at 11:59 AM

Jimmy, perhaps my sarcasm didn't come across very well.

Ebay is wasting a ton of money on such ads if people click them only to get zero results.

11.12.06 at 1:56 PM

It probably isn't eBay who placed the advert, it is probably an affiliate. You can read about it here: http://pages.ebay.com/help/sell/affiliate-program.html

Clever affiliates can make money off of Google advertisements. Let's consider your Amazon affiliates. Right now, you have a link to Kitchen Confidential on your site with "alderyarrowbooks" as the affiliate ID. Pretend you make 30 cents off of each sales of this book. (I don't know the number, of course.) You could place an advertisement for this book directly going to Amazon with the affiliate ID. For example, you could buy the AdWords "vinography recommends" for 2 cents a click and then link to Kitchen Confidential at Amazon. You would lose two cents every time someone clicked on the advertisement, but if they bought the book on Amazon, you would receive 30 cents for a profit of 28 cents. Let's say only ten percent actually bought the book. Then for ten people who clicked on the advertisement, you would pay 20 cents and receive 30 cents for a profit of 10 cents.

In fact, Kitchen Confidential is a great example. Someone with the affiliate ID bookstorenow600-20 is already doing this with the AdWords "Kitchen Confidential." Who knows if they are making money.

Hope this clears up your confusion!

Alder wrote:
11.12.06 at 2:04 PM


Thanks for the lesson in two-tier affiliate marketing. So your claim would be that some affiliate is creating random google adword ads for eBay using the search string in the hopes that when people click through they buy something on eBay and then the affiliate gets a commision? And they're presumably betting that they will come out ahead even if some percentage of their keywords are nonsense words like vinography with zero hits on eBay.

Ken wrote:
11.12.06 at 7:30 PM

Remember, too, Alder, that in Search Engine Marketing, eBay only pays for the clicks, not the impressions. So, they are getting both free advertising, and the occassional lead, when someone clicks on the ad. And some percentage of those ads will get clicked, and some percentage of the "clickers" will buy something. And eBay will pay about $.10 for that click, so maybe they're not that dumb...

11.12.06 at 7:34 PM


That's exactly right. Keep in mind that Google adverts are generally sold on a cost-per-click basis. If nobody clicks on the advertisement, the advertiser is not charged. The advertiser still has an incentive to place a good advertisement; in the affiliate scheme they only make money if someone clicks on the advertisement and purchases a service or item on the other side.

In this case, I wouldn't necessarily call the string "Vinography" random. My guess is that the advertiser generated the list of keywords by crawling a web page about food blogs or somesuch.

Also, depending on how eBay's affiliate program works, it may not matter that there are no hits on the word Vinography. I haven't researched the topic at all, but I wouldn't be shocked if eBay's affiliate program is somewhat sticky. In other words, perhaps the affiliate gets money if the customer does anything on eBay after a referral.

11.12.06 at 8:58 PM

You might save some time by subscribing the RSS feeds of your favorite searches. I have one (for my name and the names of my projects) for Yahoo, Google Blogs, and Sphere. Microsoft's Live search also has RSS feeds, as does Technorati's search. For some reason Google's main search doesn't though.

11.13.06 at 10:53 AM

Let's start the bidding!

FYI-Not only does Ebay do it, but have you ever noticed how many time Amazon comes up when you're searching?

Sarah wrote:
11.13.06 at 10:58 AM

I'm not sure exactly how it works, but I've googled people's names and seen ads on where to buy them. For example, Walmart has a wide selection of Sarahs:

Sarah at Wal-Martâ„¢
Wide Selection, Always Low Prices.

I don't bother googling my own name now since it's so common (and at least one actress has the same name). :)

Randy Sloan wrote:
11.13.06 at 3:26 PM

Darn! I ordered 3 vinographies and have been waiting for this cooler weather to ship.

Julie Tucker wrote:
11.15.06 at 11:38 AM

Alder - that one seriously hits home. I have Google Alerts set up for all our products and am so surprised where they pop up. For example, basically one or two days after our newest title, BabySmarts, started shipping it appeared for sale on eBay - Canada. I have no idea how this seller could have gotten their hands on the product so quickly. Not that I'm complaining - it's good for your brand to propagate throughout the Net. I guess it's the whole "Long Tail" concept.

Julie Tucker wrote:
11.15.06 at 11:39 AM

Alder - that one seriously hits home. I have Google Alerts set up for all our products and am so surprised where they pop up. For example, basically one or two days after our newest title, BabySmarts, started shipping it appeared for sale on eBay - Canada. I have no idea how this seller could have gotten their hands on the product so quickly. Not that I'm complaining - it's good for your brand to propagate throughout the Net. I guess it's the whole "Long Tail" concept.

jeff wrote:
11.15.06 at 9:54 PM

wow - not only can I get Twisted Oak from eBay, I can get "Discount Twisted Oak"

Such a deal!!!

(On the other hand, kind of sounds like something you would take for... oh, never mind...)

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