Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Is All Yahoo Advertising a Rip-Off?

Last week, one of the ads that was cluttering up my Yahoo e-mail was something about gun shows. I don't know what about gun shows; I don't actually look at the ads. I just chuckled at the idea that this was supposed to be a "targeted ad," matched to the contents of my e-mail. The word "gun" does appear in my e-mail fairly often, almost always in the context of legislation. Books about the history and statistical success of gun legislation would interest me. Gun shows are, to me, a guy thing. I support my menfolks' right to go to gun shows about as enthusiastically as they support my right to go to knitting conventions.

Anybody who's paying a higher rate to have Yahoo "target" this gun show ad to me is, obviously, being cheated. But as I think about it, the question becomes: Is anybody who's paying to have Yahoo advertise anything to me being cheated?

Currently, the answer is yes.

Recap for new readers:

  • Yahoo is the company that bought out my former publisher, Associated Content. At the time Yahoo claimed to be operating under the same contract that had been working for AC writers for years.
  • Yahoo continued to use the computer-generated warble about how any material we allowed Yahoo to use without actually buying it would still generate "limitless" page-view royalty payments, while in practice capping each month's payments at $15.
  • Yahoo offered insultingly low payments, well below the minimum hourly wage, even for short bloggy-type articles that could be written in an hour.
  • Yahoo specifically offered me a writing assignment for a specified payment, then stalled the publication of the article so that it ran over into far more hours than the payment was worth, and then offered an actual payment of less than one-tenth what Yahoo had offered (and no, none of this had anything to do with the requirements for the article specified in the contract).
  • Yahoo failed to resolve the issue, tried to claim that the free article in which I explained the facts of the situation was "hateful" (the article was objective but Yahoo undoubtedly hated their chicanery being publicized), and then tried, with limited success, to block contact between me and over a hundred Yahoo e-friends...some of whom have found this blog, some of whom haven't, and some of whom have apparently just blinked out of cyberspace.
What Yahoo has done well enough to make the company successful has been to offer free, reliable, anonymous e-mail...but Yahoo has been lowering its standards on that, too, recently.

Trust me, advertisers: from a company that's done this much to lose users' trust and good will, you don't want a recommendation.

A free e-mail service could potentially generate good will for sponsors and their products, if it met the standards Yahoo set for free e-mail service back in the 1990s:

  • Don't clutter up the e-mail system with annoying ads. Instead, put one link to one sponsor at the top or bottom of the page. Only the link. Leave it there, not blinking and not calling attention to itself, until the e-mail user wants to check it out. Naturally a lot of users won't check out the link...but the sponsors won't be plagued by inadvertent "click fraud" as users try to open their e-mail while an annoying ad blinks up and down the page, either. If and when users do click on the link, they'll be interested in supporting the sponsor.
  • Don't even think about trying to scan the contents of anybody's e-mail.
  • The e-mail host should have a firm policy of not storing any information that could bring anyone closer to real-world contact with any user than the city and state. Forms should not have fields that could contain telephone numbers.
  • Don't waste your money sending out e-mail ads to people who've not requested them. If people want to read your "newsletters," they'll ask.
  • Don't change the way the e-mail system works unless the user specifically requests a change. Once people have learned that the "delete" button is at approximately the ten o'clock position on the screen, keep it there.
  • Avoiding changes and clutter is a good way to keep e-mail service fast and reliable. If users find that it's taking several minutes to get to a stored message, that buttons aren't working, that messages are arriving in incomplete forms, etc., then the e-mail service is not building the kind of good will you want for your products.
  • Don't try to second-guess users' decisions about what kind of e-mail they want to receive. Don't classify correspondence people have requested (from Members of Congress, yet!) as spam, and don't allow anything from any source a user has flagged as spam to sneak back into the "in-box" folder.
The market is ripe for a correction...Yahoo would have to make a lot of major policy changes to recover the good will it's thrown away, with me, and (as of today) with at least four other users who had in fact logged into Yahoo during the past year but whose e-mail accounts Yahoo chose to deactivate anyway (apparently trying to grab more unpublished cell phone numbers--Yahoo seems to want to believe that everybody on Earth has a cell phone, which isn't the case).

Currently, as far as people I know are concerned, any association with Yahoo other than having an old established e-mail address there is bad public relations.