We all know the power of code, and how software is eating the world. But coding itself seems like such a binary activity — forgive the pun — either you code or you don’t.
I’m not a proper coder or a programmer and I don’t claim to be. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy coding and sometimes do it for professional ends.
I’m going to share a great example of how I’ve done this. I hope it will inspire you to do something similar.
At Efficient Frontier our sales approach was pretty simple:
- Who was spending big money on Google AdWords?
- How were they doing it wrong?
- Show them how we would do it better.
Answering the first question was easy. Go to Google and search for high volume, high CPC terms and see who’s advertising. Then phone them.
The second one was harder. Unless they were doing something obviously wrong, what could we tell them? What could we figure out just by looking at their ads?
Right click to find out more
The clue was in the URL that took the user from Google to the advertiser’s site. It was often stuffed full of redirects, parameters and variables. They told us exactly which bidding technology (if any) the advertiser was using. Then we could deploy a line of attack to show them how they were getting it wrong.
Great. Except a typical URL on AdWords looks like this:
I’ve put the important bit in bold. You can see that this advertiser is using DART Search to manage their campaigns.
But there’s an lot of irrelevant stuff, and this is a very simple example. Seeing
dartsearch.net in the URL was a giveaway. But who the hell was
Sometimes there are chains of URLs to feed ad servers, bid tools and analytics platforms the parameters they need.
A salesperson’s solution to this challenge was simple. Walk over to my desk and ask me.
I had to figure out a way of stopping them.
Squeaky wheels get the grease
Firefox was the dominant browser at the time, and I knew of an extension called Greasemonkey. People were using it to reformat web pages to their own liking, such as blocking ads or customising how Gmail displayed their email.
I realised that I could use Greasemonkey to collect AdWords URLs from a page, parse out the juicy bits, and compare them against an array of known bid technologies. Then I changed the Google results page to list the bid platform against each ad. My tracking detector script was born.
Extending its usefulness
Greasemonkey was great, but it wasn’t easy to distribute to everyone in sales. First they’d have to install the extension and then the script (which wasn’t intuitive). In short, I’d have to do it for people, and repeat it when I updated the script. This was still better than right-clicking on ads, but not by much.
Extensions don’t have this problem. Install it once and it can be updated automatically. However, I found compiling the extension to be far more difficult than the code itself!
But it did allow me to expand the list of recognised bid platforms easily, and add tools like JQuery to make life a little easier.
All good things
For a long time the extension helped the productivity of the sales teams, providing an extra pick to unlock deals.
Google changes the code and structure of its HTML frequently, so the current version of the extension doesn’t work. I don’t have the inclination to update it (after all, who would use it now?).
I hope this will give you some inspiration to get coding and find those pockets of efficiency in your day-to-day work.
srtk.net was SearchRev’s ad server. SearchRev was bought by AKQA for $50m in 2007, and never heard of again.