My experiences with ad.ly

 

ad.ly is a relatively new, well-funded startup that puts ads "in-stream" on twitter, and is supposedly expanding to Facebook, MySpace, etc. Such expansion may be wise in the wake of Twitter's TOS changes, but that's another story.

This story is about what happened when I tried to spend money on ad.ly. In a nutshell:


adly2.png
I tried to spend $130 three times. The first two campaigns (bottom) resulted in no spend. The third attempt resulted in $25 spent, i.e. about 20% of my intention.

So what's going on here? It's this:

adly.png
Pretty much everyone I tried to advertise with Denied me. Except, they actually didn't. It ominously says Denied, but apparently Denied also can mean expired

I ended up getting so frustrated that I contacted everyone who supposedly Denied me and asked them why. It turns out most people never even got notified of the ad request. Each campaign has an expire date, and when it hit that date, it just said Denied for everyone that didn't respond. Not sure why they never received notification--ad.ly doesn't have emails or something? I didn't press this point. 

Those who did get notified either said a) they never intended to take ads in their stream or b) they didn't want to do my ad because they didn't know the product, which incidentally I imagine would be most ads. 

My hunch is ad.ly got a lot of people to sign up who either didn't realize what they were doing or said, sure, I'll make money off my Twitter but when it comes time to actually do so, they're like wait, I don't want to show ads to my followers...

Let me back up a bit.

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Ad.ly got a lot press for signing up celebrity accounts. Trouble is they're not cheap.

But that's OK--as lead investor Mark Suster said somewhere it's more about the long-tail of the twitter stream. That, is buying $3 tweets instead of $3,000.

I wasn't going to spend for a huge celebrity just to test out the platform. Additionally, I wasn't going to spend for just anyone. I wanted to get people who actually had influence on Twitter--people that have followers that listen to them to the extent that my messages could possibly be retweeted.

Unfortunately, ad.ly's current UI makes it really difficult to find good people to pick. All they tell you is the above two data points (followers and price). If you click on someone you then also get their avg tweets/day, their about description, categories & a link to their profile page. 

This still isn't enough info. At the very least I want to know how many people they follow to weed out those people who have 30K followers but are also following 30K people. So now just to pre-screen people, I have to click once to open this detail view (which is a slow JS fade-in thing btw), and then again to get to their twitter profile page (and we all know twitter can be slow...).

But that wasn't enough for me anyway, because it doesn't tell me anything about influence. So initially I also searched twitter manually for RTs and divided price/follower count to get a sense for how good a deal it was. Needless to say, it was a lengthy process.

For my first campaign I ended up targeting CaliLewis. It was of course Denied. The tweet was "Check out Duck Duck Go, a cool new search engine http://duckduckgo.com/ RT! (Ad)" btw.

For the second campaign I didn't want to spend all the manual effort, so I spent (probably more time) hacking something together :). I ended up doing this:

  1. Downloading the full list of top influential twitter users from trst.me (~22K users).
  2. Hacking ad.ly's URLs and then downloading a big list of people you can advertise with.
  3. Cross checking with the trst.me list to only keep top influencers.
  4. Cross checking that output with the twitter API to only keep people recently retweeted.
  5. Taking that subset and downloading ad.ly info including price, followers, & avg tweets.
  6. Filter out people > 10 tweets/day and then sort by price/follower count.
I didn't want to put all my eggs in one basket so I did 12 people at lower cost and 3 different tweets. The tweets were:
All Denied. At this point I got pretty frustrated and sent out the emails I talked about above. Are my tweets really that onerous? No. It's just apparently hard to actually find people on ad.ly to advertise with.

So for my third campaign, I went with even lower priced people, but still influencers. I figured if I tried it with enough people I would be bound to get some hits, and perhaps smaller fish would be more likely to respond (and actually get the notification). 

I did 20 people, 5 of which were approved. The end result was what you saw at the top: 71 clicks. Was it worth all of this effort? No.

For the record, I used these three ads:
  • Duck Duck Go is the new Google http://duckduckgo.com/ (Ad)
  • Duck Duck Go is a new search engine http://duckduckgo.com/ (Ad)
  • New search engine Duck Duck Go http://duckduckgo.com/ (Ad)
I had approvals in each category (1, 2, 2) and unsurprisingly the first performed best, though the sample size is way too small to be meaningful.

One other annoyance worth mentioning is ad.ly charged my card for the full possible spend even though I only ended up spending 20% of it. That's just annoying.

In the end I got .35CPC. I suppose that isn't bad compared to some other platforms, e.g. Facebook. I'd be interested to know if you try it if the traffic converts well for you.

And of course I didn't try the celebrity strategy, which may actually work a lot better. If anyone has tried that (high price) I'd also love to know the results.

 

If you have comments, hit me up on Twitter.
I'm the Founder & CEO of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn't track you. I'm also the co-author of Traction, the book that helps you get customer growth. More about me.