Sunday, 13 November 2011

Who Does Google Think I Am?

A while back I started running some Google Adwords ads on my website. Specifically two types: the tall tower ads and the biggest box ads that they offer, and only in visual format (no text-only ads).

I didn’t do this to make money. I have no illusions on that. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t make more than $5 or $6 a year running ads on No, I did it as an experiment…

You see, I’ve been learning a lot about the process Google uses to serve ads on websites. They have a very advanced and complicated algorithm that on-the-fly scans a website to get the gist of what it’s about, then selects ads that best match the subject matter of the website and displays whichever ad wins a very complicated bidding war for position and frequency and a whole mess of other factors.

That got me wondering. What “gist” does Google get from What does Google think my website is about? What is its subject matter?

So I decided to place those two ad options on my website to see what Google’s live algorithm would come up with. For the past 10 days I’ve taken screenshots of the ads that run on the front page of the website and 4 additonal random recent posts. That’s 10 ads a day for 10 days equals 100 ads.

Here they all are, broken down by how many times I saw them. I’ve added commentary to select ads when something struck my fancy about them.

1 time:

ADL Uncompressor

Amoro Fine Jewelry

Betty Ford Center

Commentary: why would there be an ad for the Betty Ford Center on my website? It took me a couple of seconds to figure it out, and then I realized it’s because I’ve written so much about The Jesus Rehab in the past month or so. The Jesus REHAB. Google thinks my site might be about drug and alcohol rehabilitation!

Big Fish Games

Commentary: Interesting note – I applied for a job at Big Fish Games once. They never got back to me. Well, not that interesting of a note after all I guess.


Battlestar Galactica Online

Campbells Soup

Commentary: This is a video ad that ran for Campbells Soup (it actually said “Campbells Soup on the bottom of the ad, but it faded away before I could get the screenshot). I didn’t watch it. It’s the only video ad that ran on the site. I do post recipes now and again…

Christian Mingle

Commentary: Again, I think I have to thank The Jesus Rehab for getting this ad to show. The JESUS Rehab.



First Love Church

Commentary: The JESUS Rehab.

Fred Meyer

Harbor Freight

Jillian Michaels

Commentary: I haven’t talked about weight loss once in the past couple of years. I wonder how this got through?

Kodak Gallery


Mamba Jamba Plumbing

Music Converter

Open Sky

Commentary: I have no idea what Open Sky is, and this ad gives me absolutely no clue. It wants me to blindly click and get 60% off of… something. What, though? I may never know.

Peter Gabriel

Social Media Boot Camp

The Superbook DVD Club!

Commentary: Superbook! I’m so excited that there is a Superbook DVD Club! If you don’t know what Superbook is, you’re missing out. If you’ve never seen Superbook, you’re very, very, very lucky.

Unjury Protein

Commentary: There’s a medical-quality protein called UNJURY!? What the eff? That’s one of the most frightening names for anything you consume ever! Also, why is this on my site? I have nothing to do with fitness or medical stuff!

The Vermont Country Store®

Hanson Volkswagen

Commentary: I assume that Hanson Volkswagen is somewhere near where I live. Google does have some pretty good location resources after all. But I’ve ne’er heard of it! And I didn’t click the ad to find out.

Wellness Resource Center

Commentary: Thank you, The Jesus REHAB. This looks like some sorta posh rehab clinic to me.


2 Times:

Google Adwords

Commentary: I’m surprised I didn’t get more ads from Google Adwords. After all, it costs Google absolutely nothing to run them. Free advertising! But then again, they don’t make any money (directly) if someone clicks on them.

Beavis and Butt-Head

Commentary: A new Beavis and Butt-Head series premiered a couple of weeks ago. I guess they want to get the word out, and I write about pop culture enough for them to put it on my site.

Big Time Rush

Commentary: I do write about musics an awful lot. But I’ve never heard of these guys. And based on this rather douchey picture, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to.



Commentary: I hope they teach you how to draw more appealing illustrations than this at classesUSA. I also hope they teach you how to layout ads better than this one. You’re not making me wanna join your shool, people!

Deal Find


Commentary: I have no idea what this ad is for. Some sort of game with a free trial, I assume. But who knows? I wonder if this was supposed to be an animated ad but they forgot to animate it. ‘Cause this is all it ever showed on my site. No info!

Hulu Plus

Commentary: I’m not sure how I got this one, considering I talk about having a wife. Although my link of the month is GameCenter CX from Japan, so that might do it. Well, I guess if I have to have pictures of hot Asians on my site then there’s nothing I can do about it.

Political Ads

Commentary: There was an eating contest thing on Tuesday, so a couple of political ads got in before then. I’m actually very careful to be as minimally political on my website as possible (because who cares what I think), so these were probably based solely on location since I-1183 was a Washington State issue (it passed by the way).


3 Times:

Deal or No Deal

PDF Converter

4 Times:


Commentary: Once again, thanks to The Jesus Rehab for making Google think my site is about treating addiction!

5 Times:


Commentary: I have a feeling that the only reason I have ads for Progressive Insurance on my site is because they have a huge advertising budget. I can’t think of any recent posts that have any keywords that would trigger an insurance ad.

Seventh Generation

Commentary: Do they sell this at Target or something? It looks vaguely familiar, but I have no idea why it got plastered all over my website so much. Oh, wait, yes I do: they paid a buttload of money to have their ads run as much as possible.

9 Times:

Full Sail University

Commentary: Now these ads seem very well-tailored to my website. Graphic Design, Web Design, Video Games, Music Business, and genre Creative Writing? Well, yes, I am all about these things in fact. Bravo, Google! Your algorithm hit it outta the park with these.

20 times:


Commentary: And the winner is Netflix because they have a hugenormous advertising budget and their ads can consistently out-bid anybody else’s ads. Seriously, one out of every five ads was for Netflix! True, I do talk a lot about movies and TV shows on my site, but this is just ridiculous. Money talks.

In Conclusion

I think it’s pretty interesting to see what the Google algorithm thinks of my site. I really think it’s hilarious that so many ads for rehab clinics (also the handful of churchy stuff) got displayed just because I had a couple of posts about The Jesus Rehab. It becomes clear, though, that money is one of the more important factors in the algorithm, otherwise how else would youe explain a 20% display rate from Netflix, and so many Progressive Insurance and Seventh Generation ads when my website has so very little to do with those topics?

Finally, I’d like to present the ad that is my all-over favorite of all of the ones in this experiment:


Perhaps the best-ever name for a company, and certainly the best-ever Adwords ad that has ever been—or will ever be—created. What do you think, Ocean Shores Pirate?

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