Can Dell Fix Their Google Ad Campaign?

Posted by dcparris on May 18, 2007 4:33 AM EDT
LXer - Editorial; By D.C. Parris (Charlotte, USA)
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LXer Feature: 18-May-2007

LXer inquired about Google's advertising program to find out why Google ads show up with the words "Dell Linux Desktop", even though Dell hasn't yet launched its line of Ubuntu-based computers, and whether Google considers the practice misleading. Can Dell fix the misleading advertising problem?

As I begin writing this, there is currently a Google banner ad at the top of LXer's home page. On the left side of the banner is the phrase "Dell Linux Desktop", followed by a brief marketing message about buying desktop PCs from Dell. The problem is that clicking the link will take you, not to a page about Linux on Dell's website, but to this page, where there is no mention of the word Linux at all. It's a bit like seeing an advertisement for a Ford Stationwagon, only to be taken to a site offering Hondas. It confuses and irritates users.

I have noticed, too, that Dell is not the only company facing this problem. HP's Google ads produce similar results. In discussing the issue with Diana Adair, a Google spokesperson, I learned that this is considered standard industry practice. So, computer manufacturers and retailers selling desktops and notebooks, will use those keywords. Thus, a person using those search terms, along with "Linux" will be presented with offerings from Dell and HP. In order to prevent the term "Linux" from being included, companies would have to essentially block that keyword. Thus, ad campaigns like this are geared toward people looking to buy a computer, rather than specifically targeting users who prefer a particular operating system.

Another factor in Google ads is that users determine the relevance of an ad. Clicking an ad is kind of like voting for it. It keeps the ad visible and drives up the advertiser's click-through rate. Given the prominence of the Dell ads lately, that might be an indicator that people are actually looking for Linux computers. On the other hand, users really cannot determine whether the ad is relevant unless they click on it. Sure, they'll find computers - just not the ones with GNU/Linux pre-installed. On the other hand, the fewer people who click on the ads, the less likely these ads are to appear to begin with.

Although Adair could not comment on the specifics of Dell's campaign, she did say that Google's policy on bait-and-switch tactics (which is how some in the GNU/Linux community view Dell's campaign) is very specific, with a need to demonstrate malice. That will be difficult to prove in Dell's case, since the company is set to launch a line of Ubuntu-based computers. And, although Dell has promised to work on the problem, indications are it will not be adequately resolved until they launch the Ubuntu line-up.

So, where does that leave us? Well, for now, it's buyer beware. If you don't know the difference between GNU/Linux and Windows, you need to be sure you find out before you actually buy one of those shiny new computers from Dell, thinking you're buying Microsoft Vista Linux or something. Buyers do still have some responsibility to understand what they are buying, because some vendors are, in fact, unscrupulous. Even when you shop with a reputable vendor like Dell, you can still run into problems. Still, be sure of what you are buying.

Can Dell fix this problem? That is likely an extremely difficult task. On the other hand, it seems to me they do have at least two options, both of which I believe are viable. The first is to place a link, on their home page, to a page - any page - where they offer GNU/Linux, or at least link to an informational page where Dell can help potential customers learn about their current preparations to launch their Ubuntu Linux PC line. The other option would be to set the ads appearing with "Linux" as a search term to link to Dell's Ubuntu page. Either way, people are more likely to get the right idea (that Dell is on the ball), instead of the wrong idea (that Dell is using a bait-and-switch tactic).

As an example, links such as, "Learn about Linux on Dell" or "Linux PCs coming soon: Learn More!" are much more helpful and will certainly reduce the frustration a user is likely to feel after they have been through the "Customize it" links trying to find the Linux offerings. And for the more novice users - don't think they're not out there; I've met them - Dell certainly doesn't want them thinking they've been sold a bill of goods. Sending potential customers to the Ubuntu announcement page is another fantastic way to put users on the right track. So, maybe Dell can't easily fix the key word problem. They might be able to address where certain key words send people though. And that would go a long way toward helping potential customers and earning the good will of an ambivalent community.

» Read more about: Story Type: LXer Features; Groups: Linux, LXer, Ubuntu

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Just curious bigg 9 1,586 May 21, 2007 7:27 AM
Problem solved next Thursday schestowitz 3 1,750 May 20, 2007 12:27 PM
Dell's reputation jrm 1 1,481 May 19, 2007 9:01 AM
News flash 2009: Dell gets it right. Aladdin_Sane 2 2,061 May 18, 2007 1:30 PM

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