The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Targeting Advertising

The feature is live (and if you are reading this entry via the RSS feed, you may want to click over to the site to see what I'm talking about).

Okay, sure, it's just a block of advertisements from Amazon and you may ask “You had bugs just adding some HTML to your templates?” But you see, it wasn't just some HTML to my templates that I added. Nope, there's a bit more going on behind the scenes than just that. And to describe what that is, I have to digress a bit.

When I first wrote mod_blog, I was on a big kick to add metainformation to every page on my site. And part of that metainformation included keywords embedded in the <META> tags. So mod_blog supported, pretty much from day one, a list of keywords for each entry. That was five or six years ago and while I've kept up the process of adding keywords (or “tags” as the concept is now called) since the start, I haven't really done much with the information.

The intent originally was to have the ability to list entries based on a tag—something like but you can see I never got around to doing that. I also discovered, over the years, that I had way more tags than actual entries.

One of the problems I see with multi-faceted classification is the proliferation of classifications. My own blogging software allows for the classification of each entry; in fact, it allows multiple classifications for each entry (and although every entry of mine has such classifications, there isn't support yet for using the data for anything).

Out of 1,514 current entries (nearly four years worth) I have created 2,671 distinct classifications—1.76 catagories per entry). Part of that is unintentional duplication (five different typings of “Cue Cat” for example); silly classifications are another reason (“dead zombie languages rising from the dead” anyone?). It's what you get when you allow free form classifications.

I suppose you could go through and automatically pull out relevent words but there is an art to indexing; “Dave Weiner” should not only be treated as one word for indexing, but it should instead be “Dave Winer” (typos and mispellings are another problem).

myself in a comment on Wikis Aren't Enough

Be that as it may, time went on, I kept up with adding tags for each entry, and I still hadn't had a use for them, until I came across this web page about a week or so ago:

Yes, indeed, amongst Howard Tayler's readers there are a lot of computer geeks. I know I am not a typical web user, but I am a pretty typical web developer. And I have zero desire to “Boost XML app performance.” I also have all the “ODBC drivers” that I need.

Many of you, my readers, are bloggers or have regular web sites with AdSense ads. Look at them. How many you'd say are “inefficient, dishonest and a total waste of people's … precious time”?

I say—about 99.5%. And clickthrough ratios are pretty horrible. People try to tweak them by playing around with ad types, look and feel, positioning and excluding advertisers, but it's all rather ineffective.

In short, I feel that even though Google's ads are a step in the right direction, AdSense sucks, especially for a blog with a smallish audience, such as mine. The useless, stupid ads that clog AdSense are a waste, even though they might generate a few “pity clicks.” Only half of my ad revenue for the site came from AdSense last year. The rest came from my experiment that I think will be of great interest to everyone.

I believe that my 1000 readers are a lot like myself. And what do I spend a huge amount of money on every year? Books, movies, cds and gadgets. Also I purchase some rather esoteric items on eBay too, but the majority of my spending happens squarely at My wishlist there is humongous, and in fact, I spent my advertising revenue there.

Luckily, Amazon has a pretty generous associate program. You can link to any of the products they sell and get a cut of the sale price, if the sale happens as a result of your clickthrough. In fact, you get a cut of the entire shopping cart amount (I am not sure, this could be only the items that were added after the click). In any case, it's decent money, and most importantly, a great selection of new and even used items to sell.

New Billboard Day Effect : How to Advertise More Effectively on Your Blog

I already belong to the Amazon Associates Program. And it's already netted me $200 for a few hours worth of work (I was given that site and the previous owner suggested the Amazon thing—glad I did). So why not?

And in playing around with the Amazon ad layout, I discovered that one can select the catagories one wishes to display ads for.

Hmmm …

Every entry I've written has tags associated with them.

I can choose which catagory Amazon will display ads for.

Hmmm …

Then problem then came one of implementation. And a few hours of thought on that produced the simplist solution: for each entry being displayed, collect all the tags and pick one at random. Feed that tag to Amazon. I do not weed out duplicate tags—if say, all the entries being display (say, the front page here) all have the tag “programming” (among other tags) then the catagory “programming” has a higher chance of being passed to Amazon.

In a way, I'm targeting the ads myself, instead of relying upon the advertiser (and Google, I'm looking at you).

Sure, there'll be some stuff Amazon can't deal with properly (say, “dead zombie languages rising from the dead”) but overall, the targeting of ads from Amazon will be much better than from Google AdSense.

Google AdSense™ Online Standard Terms and Conditions (emphasis added)

But I'm keeping the ads from AdSense, until I'm told otherwise. I'm not sure how to interpret the Terms and Conditions about this, given that I'm the one doing the targeting, not Amazon, and that back in May when I was initially talking with Google, I was told:

To: “Sean Conner” <>
Subject: RE: Google partnership
Date: Sun, 13 Mar 2005 16:44:59 -0500

Hi Sean,

Other affiliate programs are fine, all we ask is that on any given page, we are the only ‘text based’ ads running.

How does you schedule look tomorrow? I can be reached at the below number at your convenience.

Best regards,


And the ads from Amazon aren't pure text—they include graphics as well. I've written Google to solicit their reaction to this, and to suggest they allow hints as to the type of advertising people want—like Amazon does.

Obligatory Picture

[“I am NOT a number, I am … a Q-CODE!”]

Obligatory Contact Info

Obligatory Feeds

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

You have my permission to link freely to any entry here. Go ahead, I won't bite. I promise.

The dates are the permanent links to that day's entries (or entry, if there is only one entry). The titles are the permanent links to that entry only. The format for the links are simple: Start with the base link for this site:, then add the date you are interested in, say 2000/08/01, so that would make the final URL:

You can also specify the entire month by leaving off the day portion. You can even select an arbitrary portion of time.

You may also note subtle shading of the links and that's intentional: the “closer” the link is (relative to the page) the “brighter” it appears. It's an experiment in using color shading to denote the distance a link is from here. If you don't notice it, don't worry; it's not all that important.

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