Google’s AdWords may be one of the most successful products in Internet history, but it’s fair to say that most small and medium-sized business owners aren’t exactly experts when it comes to writing their ad copy or picking out keywords — in fact, there’s a whole industry of consultants and firms who specialize in doing just that. Enter Trada, a startup that launched in March that’s looking to help turn the industry on its head with the power of crowdsourcing. The company just closed a $5.75 million Series C round of funding led by Google Ventures, with participation from previous investor Foundry Group. Google Ventures Partner Rich Miner will be joining the board. And yes, this means Google’s VC arm is taking a dip into paid search marketing, which is sure to raise a few eyebrows.
The basic premise of Trada is to make running an online ad campaign as easy as possible: specify a budget you’re willing to spend on ads, decide which advertising platforms you want your ads to appear on (the site currently supports Bing, Yahoo, and Google), and enter how much you’re willing to pay-per-click or per acquisition. Finish those steps and you’re done — the site sources the heavy lifting, like choosing thousands of keywords to target and writing ad copy, to its community of experts.
At first glance, the fusion of crowdsourcing with online advertising campaigns sounds like a terrible idea — it’s easy to throw away money when someone clueless is managing your account. But Trada CEO Niel Robertson says that the company goes to great lengths to ensure that their “crowd” consists of a group of vetted, seasoned advertising experts. Each expert must be AdWords certified, and they also have to pass Trada’s own 45 minute exam. And users tapping into the platform can see the track record of each expert, so it should be fairly easy to tell if someone isn’t up to par.
Each ad campaign actually has multiple experts working on it, which Robertson says can help diversify the number of good keywords your campaign is targeting (an average campaign on the site has over 6,500 keywords and 110 ads). Each expert is incented to create ads that perform well, because they get rewarded for each click/acquisition their ad receives in the wild (Trada takes a 25% cut of this reward). Trada is also experimenting with incentives that will encourage experts to work together — for example, experts could receive a bigger cut of the proceeds if the aggregate click-through rate of a client’s campaign hits a certain threshold.
Given the fact that this directly involves Google’s bread and butter AdWords, the Google Ventures connection is obviously going to draw some scrutiny. Robertson says that Trada fully expects this; to stay as above-board as possible, it has gone through its policies and practices with Google account managers to ensure that everything is in order. That won’t silence the critics, but it’s a start.
Trada plans to use the money in part to grow internationally and also to work toward launching support for display ads. When the time comes to launch display, Robertson says that Trada will likely help solve another piece of the puzzle: you’ll be able to outsource both the placement of your ads and have another set of professionals working on creative.
Including this round, Trada has raised a total of $7.95 million since it was founded two years ago.