Does that big red message look familiar? If your non-profit received a Google Ads Grant (if not, apply here), you may have noticed a major change in Google Ad Grants policy in 2018. Here is a summary of the new rules from Google, and here is a more comprehensive writeup. (Note: Neither list is perfectly accurate as these rules are not 100% enforced.) The bottom line with the 2018 rule changes is that you must have relevant, narrowly-targeted, high-performing ads with conversion tracking and relevant landing pages or your Google Grant account will be suspended. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Google removed the $2 bid limit, so you can bid more per click and compete for keywords that were previously off-limits. Below are some points for what I’ve learned for surviving and thriving with the new Google Ad Grant policy: The main success criteria for an Ad Grants account are:
High click-through rate – low (< 5%) CTR is the main reason accounts get suspended. If your account does not maintain a 5% rate for two months, you will get suspended. Loophole: AdWords Express accounts are exempt from this rule.
Low landing page bounce rate – visitors immediately navigating away from the ad page is another reason accounts get suspended.
A high percentage (75% is my goal) used of the monthly Grant budget.
Conversion tracking: clicks are a start, but you should also be tracking on-site conversions (i.e. leads and purchases). This is not just valuable to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns, but is now required by Google.
In the process of managing FEE’s $40,000/month account, we were suspended three times, and learned a lot about the new rules in the process. It is possible to maximize your spend, but the game is a lot harder, and you will have to put a lot more thought into the process. There are three strategies for being successful with a Grants account:
Well defined audiences: this includes both narrowly targeted search keywords, demographic filters, and retarding (if possible)
Relevant landing pages: landing pages should be specific to the search phrase and have enough information and call to action so that user can complete their search
Enough campaigns targeting high-volume keywords with > 5% CTR to maximize the Grants budget. For example: with an average cost of $2/click, hitting 100% of a $10,000 budget requires 5,000 clicks*5%CTR = 100,000 searches, or 50 ad sets with 2,000 searches each. These are hypothetical numbers, but 50 campaigns targeting 100K searches seems like a reasonable target to hit a $10K budget. Here is FEE for comparison: about 40 campaigns, 272,000 searches, 22,563 clicks, $28,000/month current spend. That is: 8.3% CTR, $1.23 per click, 1092 leads generated, or $25 per lead.
The three key build-out steps you should take to implement to an effective Grants campaign are:
Build customer personas: work with your team to build profiles of the demographics and interests, and potential search phrases
Research search phrases: use the Google Keyword Planner, Moz Pro and other tools to find the intersection of
high-volume search phrases
suitable landing pages on your site
low keyword difficulty
Build out Ad campaigns: using the keywords and landing pages previous identified, build out
The following practices will be needed on an ongoing monthly basis:
Review campaign performance, stop low-performing campaigns (important to prevent Grants account suspensions) and replace them with new ones. Campaigns may also experience fatigue for some phrases and require rotation.
Research and recommend new landing pages to take advantage of target keywords
Implement business goal tracking to optimize for lead generation and bounce rate/session duration in addition to click-through rates
Review and implement with Google Ads feedback (Google provides ongoing feedback and optimization suggestions) and resolve account suspensions.
Finally: landing page considerations:You must have relevant landing pages with clear mission-specific, non-commercial content. One way I did this is by creating “essential guides” for the topics in various campaigns. Another strategy which works great for both organic and paid traffic is to compile pillar pages. Do not expect to be successful by sending all your paid clicks to your homepage. Google states that “your homepage and frequently visited web pages may not be used for Destination goal types”
Is your account suspended? Once you’ve complied with all rules above, request reactivation here.
People are shocked when I tell them that prefer living in a one-bedroom, furniture-free apartment with my wife and two kids, even though I can pay cash for a McMansion or two in the ‘burbs. Why do most people need more space?
Consider my closet: When I decide what to wear to work in the morning, every shirt in my closet is a good option. I’ve gotten rid of anything that for whatever reason is not a viable choice. Most people have filled the majority of their closets with clothes that don’t fit, aren’t stylish, too old, etc. My shirts are dividend into dress, casual, and workout shirts, and I can choose any shirt from each section without a second thought.
By only keeping possessions that continue to add value to my life, I eliminate the physical, financial, and mental drag that comes along with keeping useless possessions. I apply this principle to every aspect of my life:
Toys: The toys that many parents choose for their kids reflect a fear of real life. Their toys represent, a safe, “nerfed” plastic version of adult responsibilities. Kids don’t need fake plastic houses, power tools, cooking appliances, cars, or phones because they don’t need to fake adult responsibilities: they can assume them one at a time. Our daughter got her first sharp knife and her kid-sized broom at three and helps out cleaning, preparing her lunch every day, makes her bed, etc. She acquires adult tools and responsibilities as she becomes physically and mentally able. When she becomes an adult, she will have been doing adult responsibilities and using adult tools for decades. Note: I’m not against toys, just toys which are “nerfed” versions of work that kids are capable of, or providing a plethora toys in an effort to isolate kids in a “play universe” which distracts them from assuming real responsibilities. For example: A doll or construction blocks are productive toys, fake plastic eating utensils are generally not.
Professional projects: Is this project a success story I want to tell about my career? Does this contribute to the goals I set for this quarter? My digital data: I fit my life on a single SSD by using visualization and de-duplication tools to see the entire of my digital life and delete what I no longer need.
Relationships: Do you add value to my life now? If not, why am I spending my time on you?
Furniture: We only keep furniture that improves our lives. Some of our furniture, like our floor-seating dining time, is custom-made to fit our needs. We have no chairs or couch in our home because we decided that our health would be better if we let our bodies do the job of holding us up.
Finances: I can tell you how much assets or debt I have in each account, and how all of my investments are distributed. I avoid unnecessary financial commitments, combine/rollover my investments, and use a single app to visualize my entire financial life over my lifetime.
Daily time: I jealously guard the commitment and habits I make each day. I use five tools to visualize my the locations I visit, the software I use, and the websites I visit.
Television: I don’t watch TV (though I spend too much time on YouTube), but if you do, track and re-evaluate whether you can be doing something more valuable or rewarding with the time you spent on specific shows.
Social media use: I use HabitLab and Apple’s ScreenTime to set limits on how much time I spend on social media sites/apps. Old hobbies: most people have a bunch of junk from abandoned hobbies in their closets. Sell it and focus on what you do now. Books: I sold or gave away all my books and put everything on my Kindle when we moved to China. I have never thought “I wished I kept that book.” Unfortunately, I keep getting new free books – what can I do with used books in Atlanta?
Emotions: We carry emotional baggage in the associations between places, people and situations, and the ingrained emotional reactions they have developed habits around. Separate your rational-evaluative self from your reactive-habitual self and consider whether your emotional responses are productive for the situation you are in.
Insecurities: Over a lifetime, we accumulate fears and insecurities about problems we used to face and inadequacies we used to hold about ourselves. Focus on the person you are becoming, not who you were in the past.
And that’s why a small apartment works for us. An extra room (at this time) would only add unwanted and unnecessary costs and obligations: the cost of higher rent, the cost to clean it, and especially the daily mental overhead of keeping the room neat and organized, etc. To keep up with an entire house is an enormous responsibility. To whatever extent is possible to me, I want to limit every aspect of my life to the things that continue to give me value and lead me to become the person I want to be – not things that reflect who I was in the past.
Here is the actual reason we grow old and die. Are you ready? It’s brutal:
Let’s say there is a 2% chance that any given primitive human will die from external events each year. He might get eaten by a bear, starve to death, have a bad fall and get left behind by his tribe, get clubbed in the head, lost in the woods, etc. We can get the probability of not having been killed by an external event as (chance of being alive)^(age)
For example, at age 10 that is .98^10=81%, age 30 is 54%, 70 is 24%, 100=13%.
For any given unit of energy and nutrition, the genome can either invest in current reproductive potential or preserving the body for future reproductive potential.
For a 10-year-old, his reproductive potential is in the future so the body will invest most resources in self-maintenance.
For a 30 year old, the genome will balance the energy directed to self-maintenance and for preservation for future reproduction.
Since most humans will die by 70 due to an external event, the self-preservation mechanisms will not optimize for either.
The genome just doesn’t “care” at this point, since most of the hosts carrying its instructions are already dead. That’s when (and why) the body begins to rapidly fall apart.
One key mechanism for this process is in the cellular tumor antigen p53, mutations of which cause the majority of cancers in humans. There is a tradeoff between anti-cancer mechanisms and energy expenditure since cell-malfunction detection uses energy. Species which obtain an evolutionary benefit from long lives have much better cancer-prevention mechanisms. That’s why the naked mole rat (which lives in underground colonies) is resistant to all forms of cancer and can live for many decades while mice (which are food for many predators) live for two years.
So, the reason that we die from old age is that your genome expects you to be dead from an external cause after a few decades and does not care about keeping you alive.
Applying this logic, here are some ideas for living longer by manipulating your genes:
We can’t change our genome, but we can influence gene expression by manipulating environmental inputs. As previously stated, if your genes think that your reproductive years are in the future, they will allocate more resources to self-maintenance than reproduction.
The simplest way for men to do that is with castration: a study of Korean eunuchs showed them to live 14.4- to 19.1-years longer than the lifespan of non-castrated men of comparable social standing.
An easier strategy of signaling to your genes that your reproductive potential is in the future is to adopt youthful behaviors. The body does not have an odometer, so the genome must rely on proxies for age, and by acting like youths, we might trigger age protective factors in the genome. Common behaviors of primitive children might be: plenty of sleep, physical play, taking care of small children, lack of stress, and learning new skills.
Sending my daughter a Montessori school costs about $15,000 per year. We have two daughters and plan a third child so we may be paying $45,000 per year for some time to send three kids to private school. The cost is worth it because I do not believe that public schools are capable of preparing children for success in life. My own experience as an honors student in a “quality” public school made me hate learning, failed to prepare me for college, and was a miserable social experience.
I don’t mind paying for my children’s education. What I mind is that I still have to pay for government schools that my children will never use.
Imagine if we applied this reasoning to food:
“People must eat to live, so we will force everyone to pay for Golden Corral buffets.
If you don’t like Golden Corral, you can eat somewhere else. You still have to pay for everyone else to eat Golden Corral though because Food is a Right.
If people could choose which restaurant they want to pay, Golden Corral might not have enough money to keep its buffet stocked, and people would go hungry.
Anyway, since you can afford to pay for Golden Corral *and* Five Guys, you must be rich, so paying for your and other kids meals must not be a problem for you. Also, Five Guys must take a portion of what you pay them and send it to Golden Corral, via property taxes on their building.
By the way, you can try to make food at home, but if Golden Corral’s Food Inspector does not like it, he will abduct your family and force feed them Golden Corral. After all, Everyone Must Eat.”
Are pencils useful to criminals? They can be used to write down schemes for robbing banks, kidnapping letters, etc.
What about guns? Weapons give criminals an edge in committing crimes.
Of course, pencils and guns can be used against criminals as well. Most people would agree that it’s a good idea that weapons exist (even if you think that only the policy and military should have them) — otherwise, the strongest bullies could force their will on everyone else, and society would collapse.
So what you should really ask is – will Bitcoin lead to more crime or less?
Arguments for more crime:
The quasi-anonymous nature of Bitcoin makes it very convenient for extortion payments, bribes, etc.
Stealing Bitcoin can be easier than stealing cash given that it is portable, easy to transfer, the transactions are irreversible, etc.
If Bitcoin is properly secured (on hardware wallets, in a vault, in your head), it can be harder to steal. Again, most theft is committed by governments, especially in the developing world, and cash is a lot easier to find that properly protected cryptocurrency.
What emerges from looking at these and other markets is that network effects lead to a dominant player, a secondary minor player, and about three competitors with marginal market share.
However, if you expand the definition of the market, the picture can change dramatically. For example, if you include mobile device in the “operating systems” market, Android is #1 at 41. Likewise, Facebook’s dominance varies from 60% to 99.8% based on how strictly you define “social network.”
Let’s apply these insights to cryptocurrencies:
A single dominant cryptocurrency is likely to emerge with 90%+ market share. Given the strong network effect of money and the probable lack of nation-state restrictions on adoption (unlike the USD), the dominance may be over 99%.
However, if we expand the market definition to “cryptographic assets” or “digital assets” then we need to include tokens and securities such as Ethereum and ERC20 tokens. This expanded definition may see the leader’s share drop to 60–70%.
The free movement of labor across borders is the single most beneficial variable in the US economy:
“According to the paper Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk? (2011) by Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development, open borders could lead to a one-time boost in world GDP by about 50-150%.
” typical workers in developing countries would see annual wages more than double, from an average of $8,903 today to $19,272 with open borders. That is, the typical worker in the third world would end up making about double the individual poverty line in the United States today. “
A car drove by today with the words “wealth is just stuff” plastered all over it. There is nothing wrong with “stuff” but this claim is wrong. Wealth is mostly made of love.
Most wealth is business ownership, not iPhones, Porsche, and private jets. Rich people stay rich because they invest the majority of their wealth in companies rather than fritter it all away on material possessions. Most business value comes from the relationships and goodwill it generates, not “stuff.”
For example, why is Apple worth $500 billion?
If you sold all the land, buildings, and computers that are the property of Apple Inc, you will not get back 1% of Apple’s value. The “stuff” behind wealth isn’t worth much.
Apple is valuable because of the relationships that its employees have with each other.
Apple is valuable because its employers love their jobs and the company they work for.
Apple is valuable because its customers (like me!) love its products.
Without loving employees or loving customers, Apple would be worthless – just a pile of “stuff” on dirt lots.
Capitalism is (mostly) made from love.
While part of the impetus for the changes is the “fake news” scandal, much of it has to do with the rise of “clickbait” publishers which profit from low-quality, sensational or salacious stories which get high visibility and are highly addictive but do not result in an enjoyable or informative experience overall. The battle between content discovery platforms (i.e. Facebook) and publishers who try to game the rules is currently playing out on Facebook just as it did on Google in the early 2010s.
Facebook’s 2017 – 2018 changes can be summarized as:
The visibility of activity from friends and a user’s community is prioritized relative to online publishers. Also, content which sparks conversation and reactions from friends is prioritized.
“High quality” stories are prioritized over “clickbait.” Quality stories include longer videos, comments, web pages with substantive content and other criteria.
Many publishers who formerly received a large percentage of traffic from Facebook have seen significant drops in traffic. FEE was especially affected as we received nearly 43% of our traffic from Facebook in early 2017 and subsequently saw that drop to 23%.
Are these changes bad for publishers?
While sites like FEE.org have been somewhat unfairly punished as a publisher of “quality” content rather than “clickbait,” it is overly simplistic to see Facebook as the “bad guy” taking away traffic from publishers. Facebook has made a business decision to prioritize content from friends and family. They want to be a social network, not a news discovery platform. It is up to the market to decide whether Facebook becomes more or less valuable as a platform as a result.
Furthermore, in general, publishers of “quality” content will tend to compete in a meritocratic fashion with publishers for users’ organic reach. There are a lot of disclaimers here, but people generally accept that Google’s algorithm is mostly fair (and I believe it is) despite many claims of bias and ruined business models when Google had to adjust to “black-hat” SEO tactics. I believe that Facebook News Feed algorithms will probably come to be seen the same away some years from now.
The impact of social media on FEE.org
FEE.org saw substantial and highly volatile growth in social traffic starting in early 2016. This growth continued until late 2017 when it fell to 2015 levels. Facebook’s algorithm seems to have been responsible for nearly doubling social traffic, before falling back to the 2015 baseline. In other words, Facebook giveth and Facebook taketh away. FEE.org’s success with Facebook was largely due to its popularity with younger audiences that tended to push stories to go viral by repeated sharing. However, the “quality” of this engagement was low: for example, FEE.org’s bounce rate for Facebook referrals was 90%. As of October 2017, the bounce rate has been under 4%. It’s likely that many people who shared or liked our stories did not actually read them.
3-year sessions vs bounce rate for Facebook.com referrals:
(Note: The changes are not as stark as this graph shows due to measurement changes but the overall trend is valid.)
If we look at sessions which came from Facebook.com, we saw fee.org sessions grow from 159K in December 2015 to a peak of 386K in February 2016, before falling back under 100K in September 2017. We speculate that this drop is in part because Facebook lowered the value of sharing posts relative to the value of genuine reactions (likes/comments). (Note: Facebook implements strong and ever-adapting anti-cheat measures to ensure the integrity of “genuine” reactions.)
FEE.org saw a long-term lift of about 300K sessions per month from all sources from 2015 – 2018 — such as external referrals, organic search, and email.
FEE.org traffic follows a strong seasonal pattern (much of our traffic is from students performing research during the school year).
Illustration: 3-year performance — social versus all traffic:
How FEE is Responding to Facebook Rule Changes
The loss of FEE’s #1 traffic source requires adapting our strategy to maintain our business goals. Our primary means of doing so is to replace lost organic reach with paid reach (ads). The team at FEE has learned to do this with some effectiveness, despite ongoing algorithm changes:
Organic vs Paid Reach: January 2017 – April, 2018:
We believe that paid reach should have different business goals than organic reach. In other words, we do not believe in merely paying to replace organic readership with paid readership. This is both expensive and does not generate returning traffic. Instead, FEE’s marketing team had focused our paid reach on specific business goals that serve our organizational priorities, such as email leads, event registrations, market research, and new audience outreach.
Finally, while Facebook has moved away from a focus on publishers, there are other platforms which are focused on story discovery. FEE has experimented with Apple News, Quora, Flipboard, Medium, Reddit and other platforms which may surpass Facebook as content discovery mechanisms.
Reacting to Facebook Ad Strategy Changes
We’ve also had to adapt to ongoing changes in Facebook’s ad platform in response to events such as ads by alt-right extremists, the Cambridge Analytica leak, and intense competition from other businesses who were “exiled” from organic reach by algorithm changes in 2018.
We’ve noticed a significant change in the effectiveness of our paid lead generation ads. We ran the same ad for our Essential Guide to Health Care Reform in November and April and had wildly different results. In November 2017, we paid on average $0.72 per email address. In April 2018, the cost per email rose to $5.07.
Our current strategies include:
Experimenting with landing page view ads instead of lead gen ads.
Relying more on popups than Facebook ads to collect email addresses.
Boosting content that gets great organic reach (>80% usual reach) to try to “ride the wave” of the organic traffic.
Focusing on Quality of Interactions vs Quantity
As explained above, in the last two years, both Facebook and Google have made efforts to limit content reach to the subset of users with “genuine” engagement or interest. The downside for us is that fewer people see our content. The upside is that the people who do see our content, are more likely to pay attention to it. Furthermore, we have a chance to be rewarded for more meaningful and useful content.
To measure meaningful engagement, we will try to prioritize meaningful engagement: active time on page (provided by Parse.ly analytics), longer video views, email captures on FEE.org, Facebook Ads, and landing pages, and Facebook/YouTube subscriptions. We will also try to improve the quality of our content by sharing fewer stories from other sites on FEE.org and writing more in-depth analysis and practical career/life guidance.