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Saturday, November 05, 2005

SEM as Mass Tourism


"Gibberish doesn't sell" didn't exactly convey the theme I wanted, so my Big Idea for ad:tech has been tweaked slightly to "search is like mass tourism." Not to reveal the whole 62-second bit here, but the idea has a long history: advertisers tend to drift towards overthinking or "skewing their creative towards the highbrow."

Using the mass tourism analogy: my friends came to visit Toronto. Even though they've been to all four corners of the world, and would be considered sophisticates, their search for things to do while in town involved "CN Tower" and "Niagara Falls." Although "authentic" travel experiences are increasingly in demand (which is why I took my friends on a 3.5 hour drive to see the "real Canada"), the main volume of tourism business is driven by consumers whose standards for "what counts as authentic enough to have a good time" are a bit looser than that of experts and intellectuals. (Thanks to Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter's The Rebel Sell for this insight.)

In search marketing, we are often priced out of the mass market, super-popular keywords and concepts at the big end of the Long Tail graph pictured above right. But the bulk of the business can't come from the rare, esoteric long-tail queries, as romantic as that may seem. If you work in a midsized company or an important division of a larger company, you have to think scale, and that means targeting not the most general audience, but something akin to a "mass niche" audience.

So need to remind ourselves that we'll be writing ads to a broader audience, and even a slightly mindbending twist in an ad headline can result in weak response. While it is important to write ad copy that filters the wrong prospects, there's no sense in writing overcomplex headlines that tend to filter more "random searchers" than they should - whether they are good prospects or bad. The Web 2.0 marketer's conceit of "extreme granularity and audience sophistication" can simply be overdone. So the "SEM Zone" may tend to be in the middle of that long tail. The ads we write and the tone we take need to be straightforward, navigational, and nonjudgmental. By writing an unpretentious, direct headline like "Email Accounts," instead of one like "Get an Email Inbox for Life" or "Get Your Own Email Domain," you let people place their own meaning on your offering, rather than trying to box them into one.

If this post has become just a shade too clever, to boil it down, I'm trying to warn against creating inappropriate ad headlines due to overthinking... the kind of overthinking that comes from being too exposed to your own industry. Your audience may be increasingly sophisticated, but that doesn't mean you can or should burden the searcher or user with everything that lurks under the hood in your offering... especially not when they're quickly scanning a page of SERP's or content.

At the end of the day, your numbers will guide you. Even a slight brow-furrow for your prospect will lead to unnecessary filtering.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Algos Gone Wild: Google Exposed!

This Google patent application speaks volumes... literally. As I understand it, the SEO junkies are rightly going over it with a fine-toothed comb to discover how exactly Google plans to fold personalization into the rank-ordering of search results.

But overlooked in that discussion is the fact that Google sees its algorithmic thinking increasingly as applying to all "placed content." This can mean organic search results, ads near organic search results, ads or related headlines near email, or ads on content pages.

Personalization potentially creeps into the way that ads are displayed, then. That'll eventually have a dramatic impact on the opportunities available to advertisers, and the price they may pay to gain visibility.

For now, some of this application does a very interesting job of describing ("for the sake of illustration") exactly how Google AdWords and/or Overture worked in their past incarnations. And then it adds info about how AdWords might work in the future.

For anyone deeply interested in search, these patent applications offer a crystal-clear view of how Google's top scientists would describe exactly what their technology does, and how it fits in with commonly-understood categories of search technology, and how certain "embodiments" of certain features might look. For example, to guard against changes in user interests, a personalization-enhanced search engine might choose to show the "generic" index results in positions 1, 3, 5, and so on, and the personalized results in position 2, 4, 6, and so on.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

That Index Updates *How* Often???

From zero to "about seven" instances in three days: "gibberish doesn't sell."

If you're looking for a practical example of this principle, guess which of these four text ad titles gets the highest clickthrough rate (CTR). Which comes second? Which generates the best ROI? There is a right answer. :)

- Get an Email Inbox for Life
- Get Your Own Email Domain
- Email Accounts
- {KeyWord: ----} (in other words, a title that automatically matches the user's Google Search query if feasible)

And what does any of that have to do with the principle that gibberish doesn't sell? Basically this: a clever ad to you (the advertiser, if you will) might seem somewhat clever to a reader who is closely reading a page. But the average reader is neither fully aware of the nuances of your business, nor reading closely. Instead, it's someone scanning quickly, deciding who's relevant to what they want. Testing ad copy thoroughly over hundreds or thousands of clicks (and sales, ideally) is the only way to prove anything. Then, it's fun to speculate on the meaning or cause of what you just discovered.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Monday, October 31, 2005

Gibberish Doesn't Sell: The Elevator Pitch in a Ballroom

Along with a stellar cast of dozens of online advertising's best and brightest, I'll be offering about 62 seconds' worth of wisdom in the upcoming "Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That" panel at ad:tech new york as the conference winds down on Wednesday Nov. 9.

The title of my minute will be "Gibberish Doesn't Sell." You'll have to attend the session to learn exactly what I'm going on about, but it's inspired by experiences with a certain type of ad copywriting.

The reason I'm cryptically blogging this in advance is to stake my claim to this phrase. If you look it up right away (searching with the quotation marks included), you'll find zero Google results for this phrase. In a day or two, one result should be visible. Next year, I expect this search to be right up there in the Google Zeitgeist. :)

I kiss you,

Andrew

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Best Job Board: Craigslist


Craigslist wants us to know that their traffic far outstrips the leading job boards, and guess what, they also come up on top in terms of job search effectiveness, according to a Forrester Research study. (All the boards seem pretty effective. Craigslist gets the nod slightly ahead of Careerbuilder. It's not clear from the summary how many of the top 25 or so job boards were included in the study.)

I guess the next question for anyone in that business, and anyone interested in the rapid growth of sites like Craigslist, is "why."

A cursory sift through the company's history gives us a clue as to why. In 1995, when the "company" was founded, they weren't in a hurry to make money. The idea was to make something useful, and democratic, and community oriented. A list, basically. The "company" didn't lose the quotation marks until its incorporation in 1999. At that point, and again if you check in with snapshots of Craiglist in 2001, there was still no rush to make money. By 2005, they had mega-popular sites for many cities around the world, and still only 18 employees. By late 2005, they're 25% owned by eBay, and the world's largest job board. It looks like there's plenty of room for growth in their concept, too -- capturing odd, category-defying requests and queries from either buyers and sellers (no problem too small, no Long Tail query too obscure) -- and putting them together.

Might even be that Google's new auction concept, Google Base (however it may turn out), owes a lot to the Craiglist ethos.

Are you thinking your online startup needs to be more "businessy"? To make money sooner? To ramp up to 50 employees by 2007? Maybe you're looking at the wrong things.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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