The Topeka, Kansas, tourism board began investing in paid click campaigns last January, with a budget that sometimes had leftover funds in it. But by 10 or 11 Central Time on Thursday morning, the tourism board's budget for April was gone.
"All of our allotted AdWords had been clicked on, used up this morning," says Shalyn Marsh, communications and marketing manager for the Topeka Tourism Board.
Marsh had read a rumor the night before on a Topeka community Facebook Fan page that Google would pull an April Fools' prank, but never expected Google.com to change its name to Topeka. That change sent searches for "Topeka" sky high. By 8 a.m. Pacific time searches for "Topeka" had peaked.
Traffic on the tourism board's Web site increased dramatically. Page views jumped from 1,184 on Wednesday to more than 4,000 on Thursday by noon, Pacific time. Many of the clicks originated from paid search ads on Google while others from searches, as people tried to find Topeka Google.
To take advantage of the surge in traffic generated by Google's prank, Marsh called Alissa Sheley, social media director at Jones Huyett Partners, which manages the paid-click campaigns for the tourism board on Google, Microsoft Bing and Yahoo Search. Sheley quickly changed keywords to the tourism board's online campaign, adding "Topeka Kansas," Topeka Google," and "Google Kansas" keywords. She also added the text "the perfect place for you" to ads. "It took us about 10 minutes to put up a new ad with very specific keywords," she says.
The campaign generated 713 clicks on ads and nearly 183,000 impressions by mid-day Thursday, Sheley says. Last month's total buy in Google, Bing and Yahoo generated 145,000 impressions.
The tourism board did have one major challenge: it didn't have a way to determine the return on investment for its paid search campaign. Sheley hopes to change that by initiating a call to action to account for conversions. The plan is to drive people to the tourism Web page and prompt them to download a visitor's guide or book a vacation on or through the site.
Google's April Fools' joke was prompted by Topeka's proclamation to temporarily rename the city "Google, Kansas" for one month in an effort to secure a place on the list of cities where Google will build and test a fiber-to-the-home Web service. That project was announced in February.
"It was neat to take advantage of something that changes so quickly in a short amount of time," Marsh says.