Commentary

How Topeka Capitalized On Google's April Fools' Joke

Topeka

 

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.

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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.

10 comments about "How Topeka Capitalized On Google's April Fools' Joke".
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  1. Benjamin Watson, April 2, 2010 at 4:16 p.m.

    Did Topeka tourism really capitalize or did it give money more quickly to Google for unqualified visitors?

  2. Laurie Sullivan from lauriesullivan, April 2, 2010 at 4:36 p.m.

    Benjamin, when you get a chance could you share with us what you would have done? Perhaps pulling in people to the Web site brought awareness to what the city offers?

  3. Alissa Sheley from jones huyett Partners, April 2, 2010 at 5:13 p.m.

    Benjamin - You ask a valid question.

    We're able to review VisitTopeka.com's web analytics, as well as, the analytics from Google AdWords so can see what people do when they visit the website. We can tell that our bounce rate for the day was low, with visitors looking at multiple pages and spending quality time on the site.

    All of those things increase awareness of Topeka and the attractions and entertainment our community has to offer. This helps keep Topeka top of mind when site visitors think about planning their next vacation.

    Thanks for your question.

    @AlissaSheley
    jones huyett Partners

  4. Benjamin Watson, April 2, 2010 at 6:29 p.m.

    @ Alissa that's great. I clearly have no insight into your marketing objectives or results. Sounds like your copy attracted that slice of engaged users who were intrigued by the Google stunt and had a genuine biding interest in learning more about Topeka. That's the key right?
    @ Laurie, I'm sure it did, every marketing initiative has some impact. It's just with any limited budget it's about priorities of which which segment of the population is better to reach to achieve your marketing objectives.

  5. Stephen Dann from Stephen Dann dba Stephen Dann, April 3, 2010 at 2:14 p.m.

    This really struck a chord with my son, part of a "new generation" that wants to tell the world that "times are a changing" and the Internet can do anything if you just believe in it. Truly surprised though that there were "only" 4,000 clicks, or four comments yesterday to this thread on it. Are April Fools' jokes out of fashion?

  6. Stanford Crane from NewGuard Entertainment Corp, April 3, 2010 at 2:16 p.m.

    Yikes, you guys are serious. Let's just have some fun now and then. In my mind it repositioned both Google and Topeka. Wait, what am I saying. Let's just have fun.

  7. Kevin Pike from Kevin Pike, April 5, 2010 at 10:32 a.m.

    I tend to think it's the latter Benjamin.

    As a PPC Guru in the great state of Kansas, I read this story and imediatly thought poor management by the tourism board, but great for Google's pockets.

    I'm surprised someone on the Adwords team didn't email PPC managers bidding on Topeka related broad match terms for a little customer service heads up.

    No ROI tracking = great way to make Google money, not Topeka. I would find it very hard to believe the board is going to get the money they spent on ads. Bounce rate aside, considering the keywords mentioned in the article, they are looking at poor tourism conversion rates from this day.

    The argument could be made their marketing budget is targeted for awareness, and they are not concerned with ROI.

    But, if awareness is the goal, Google just hook them up big time regardless of their PPC ads. If there was ever a day to dial back spending instead of up, it would of been April 1st. - Just my 2 cents.

  8. Kevin Pike from Kevin Pike, April 5, 2010 at 11:03 a.m.

    The argument could easily be made their marketing budget is solely focused on awareness. If this is the case, we can all walk away happy from the days events, and you can stop reading the rest of my comment.

    I personally agree w/ Benjamin, Topeka likely didn't "capitalize" from a ROI standpoint. Really, it was Google who capitalized from an unsuspecting PPC campaign.

    I'm surprised someone on the Adwords team didn't email them before April 1st to give them a little customer service heads up. If it was significant dollars wasted, I would assume someone called Google for a WTF conversation and asked for a credit.

    I see fault on both sides. No ROI tracking = great way to make Google money, not Topeka. I'm not sure how much their costs wereon the 1st, but considering the keywords they "optimized" for that day, they could be looking at poor tourism conversion rates from the days spend.

  9. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, April 6, 2010 at 2:42 a.m.

    Agreed. The title of this post may as well have been "The real Topeka quickly lost its April web marketing budget to unqualified tourism site visitors too dumb to recognize an April Fool's Joke."

  10. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions, April 9, 2010 at 2:48 p.m.

    How long before other Google AdWord advertisers start complaining that Google didn't give THEM this sort of publicity?

    Amazing that they just happened to use the name of one of their AdWords advertisers.

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