AdGrok Emerges from Beta, Simplifying Search Engine Marketing on Google

3/7/11Follow @wroush

San Francisco-based AdGrok is one of those companies that takes something that used to be hazardous for non-professionals—in this case, managing keyword-based ad campaigns on Google—and makes it into a self-service task that average businesspeople can handle without fear. The startup’s CEO, Antonio Garcia-Martinez, compares his service to TurboTax in the tax preparation arena or Charles Schwab in investing.

Strangely enough, though, a lot of large companies and ad agencies that could afford to pay someone to figure out Google’s own search engine marketing tool, called AdWords, are signing up to use AdGrok instead (or, at least, in addition). “This was going to be a long-tail, Mom-and-Pop strategy, but it turns out that most of our biggest users are not small,” says Garcia-Martinez. Eventbrite, Kiva, and smartphone case maker Coveroo are all using AdGrok to manage their search campaigns. The company’s signature service is the “GrokBar,” a friendly little pop-out window that appears above the page for which you’re trying to drum up search-engine traffic.

It’s one more data point in the “consumerization” trend—business users’ tendency to go for a no-hassle, user-friendly, cloud-based service, when one exists, over a complicated piece of business software. Other classic examples include Salesforce.com in the salesforce automation area, and Box.net in business document sharing. AdWords itself is cloud-based, and after years of seeming neglect Google is beginning to spruce it up, but it still lacks basic functions available from AdGrok, such as the ability to quickly find out how a given keyword-based campaign is working on the level of a single Web page within a site (for one product in an online catalog, for example).

AdGrok emerged from the Y Combinator venture incubator last summer, and until this week you needed an invitation to join its beta testing program. But today AdGrok emerged from beta, opening up the site to the general public and explaining how it plans to price the service. It’s free if you manage less than $500 per month in AdWords spending. Above that level, you can sign up for basic service at $50 a month or pro service at $150 to $250 a month; the main difference between these levels, says Garcia-Martinez, is how much customer support you get from AdGrok’s team. The average customer spends about $2,000 per month through AdGrok, and the biggest spend upwards of $70,000, he says.

AdGrok is also talking for the first time about its funding. The company says it has raised $470,000 from Triple Point Capital and a group of individual investors including former Googler Chris Sacca, former KPCB partner Russ Siegelman, and Triple Point partner Ben Narisin. “That’s a pretty small round by today’s standards, but we are going for the gusto and hoping to break even pretty quickly,” says Garcia-Martinez, who co-founded AdGrok with Matthew McEachen and Argyris Zymnis. “So we didn’t want to put up with that much dilution.”

Garcia-Martinez says he is only mildly surprised that many of the 300-plus customers using AdGrok are big companies. It’s easy to set up an AdWords campaign—you merely choose a set of keywords, then tell Google how much you’re willing to bid to make your text ad appear near the top of the stack when Google users do searches related to those keywords. But the complexities multiply rapidly if you’re not sure which keywords to use, or if you’re trying to drive traffic to a large website with lots of pages. That means beginning users need some handholding, but at the same time it means that … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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