* Atlas Solutions: P4P Failure Modes I’d Never Considered

Atlas Solutions (formerly AtlasOnePoint, formerly GoToast) keeps coming up with creative ways for their system to fail.

I use Atlas Solutions (formerly AtlasOnePoint, formerly GoToast) to manage pay-for-placement (P4P) advertising campaigns on Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing (formerly Overture, still commonly called Overture). Atlas keeps coming up with creative ways for their system to fail. They have the most non-intuitive user interface for a web-based application that I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot. Here’s the latest example.

I set one Overture ad campaign to start at 9:30am and end at 5:30pm (Eastern Time). I have my Atlas account set up so that it logs on to my Google AdWords account and Yahoo Overture account twice per day to make changes. Lately, I have been using Atlas to manage only Yahoo Overture, not Google AdWords, but that’s another rant for another day. So, I made my new rule in Atlas for my bids to be live from 9:30am – 5:30pm. I checked my email the next day to find that no changes have been made to my Overture bids. I asked support what the problem was, and to their credit, they told me the answer, namely that my review times were 10:30am and 10:30pm, so the new rule that I set up wouldn’t properly unless I manually changed the account review times. But don’t you think their system should prompt you to say, “You have just set up a bid rule to start at 9:30am but your account review time is 10:30am. Should we also update your bid review times so that your new rule will work?” And then I’d happily click the “OK” button and be on my way. But no! Atlas lets the rule go through, and if I wasn’t smart enough to check it to make that sure it was working properly, it wouldn’t work properly. Isn’t this called “defective by design” or something like that?

But wait, it gets better. After having manually set my review times to 9:30am and 5:30pm (I didn’t dare set them to 9:00am and 5:00pm, and 9:01am and 5:31pm did not appear to be options), I checked it the next day, and it was still not working. Another email to support. (More rants. Atlas has no customer-facing trouble ticketing system, so there is no way to tell if your issue is open or closed, or if anyone is actually working on it.) This time, I am told that I have to wait a full cycle (i.e. a full day) for the change to take place. Imagine if you had to wait a full day for your computer to reboot. A full day? Really? OK.

Day three. Still not working. I am still getting the review status emails at 10:50am and 10:50pm (don’t ask me why they are arriving at 50 minutes after the hour). The change that is supposed to occur at 9:00am is not happening. I have to login to Yahoo Overture and manually update my bids for my keywords. Keep in mind that this is what I’m paying Atlas to do. And their service is not cheap. Just last month, I got this notice from Atlas:

Subject: Important information regarding your Atlas Search account 
Date: Fri, 7 Jul 2006 22:49:48 -0700 
From: "Search - Support"  

Dear Client,

I would like to make you aware of a few changes within the Atlas
Search subscription service. Effective July 21, 2006, Atlas Search
(also formerly known as Atlas OnePoint) monthly subscription rates
will increase by 15%. We are committed to providing the most
efficient and effective Search marketing technology available and
this first-ever rate increase is necessary for us to continue to
support Atlas Search as fully as possible.

We understand that you may have questions resulting from the
changes in the subscription price. For any questions or concerns,
please contact CustomerCare@AtlasSolutions.com. 

Alison C. Kane
Vice President & General Manager, Atlas Search

Yes, that’s right, a 15% increase out of the blue. Oh yes, it also appears that the message was sent using BCC, not a real mailing list program. Only because I have really good spam filtering did I actually receive the message. I wonder if this actually counts as legal notice since my email address did not appear in the “To:” line. That’s another rant for another day.

Where was I? Oh yes, Atlas’s system was still not working as advertised. More email to support. More lack of tracking numbers. More helpful answers. This one is too good to believe:

Subject: RE: bids not updating - rule group not working 
Date: Wed, 9 Aug 2006 10:25:00 -0700 
From: "Customercare"  
To: "Erik J. Heels" [DELETED]

Hello Erik,

I just spoke with our IT Team regarding your latest status email.
They informed me that the bids are being updated, but they are
occurring one hour later due to the fact that our system runs on
EDT and your account is set for EST. So, to correct this, set your
review times to 8:30am and 4:30pm. The bid reviews will then occur
at 9:30am and 5:30pm EST.

Yes, that’s right folks, their system lets me choose EST review times, and I (foolishly) assumed that 9:30am and 5:30pm meant 9:30am and 5:30pm LOCAL TIME, but their system runs on EDT. So it appears that their system is only designed to work for six months of the year. Kind of like the clock in my car. But seriously folks, this is programming 101 we’re talking about here. Your customers are supposed to keep track of the fact that your system lists EST but runs on EDT, and so that if you want 9:30am EST you really need to choose 8:30am EST? Really? That’s how you designed the software? I’m so glad that I’m paying 15% more now.

I am not a clueless customer. I know a thing or two about search engine marketing <https://www.giantpeople.com/503.html>. And my law firm’s biggest client, search engine marketing company Inceptor, was just sold to Verizon <http://newscenter.verizon.com/proactive/newsroom/release.vtml?id=93619>. So if this stuff is hard for me, then imagine what it’s like for folks who don’t have an engineering degree from MIT.

Somewhere it’s 9:30am EDT, in the Bizzaro world of Altas Solutions.

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