Sometimes this industry makes you chuckle. Finally it's come out: Matt Cutts has been editing the entire Google index all along. How else to explain that search relevance has been dropping like a stone since he went on vacation? ;)
Hey kids! Bored at the bus stop? Why not watch "Reality TV's hottest women" on your new Moto Q device?
Google Video is gaining momentum with more premium videos being added to the roster. Usability seems strong. It's easy to preview and buy (or buy a day pass to) the video of your choice. "Reality TV's Hottest Women" will set you back $4, or $2 for a day pass, for example.
No wonder Google needs Net Neutrality. How are they going to help you download stuff at the bus stop unless they can be your wireless Internet provider of choice, everywhere you might be?
So anyway, Google informs us that user-generated videos will continue to be free. And free is what most users are looking for... right? That's where sponsorship comes in. Google is currently running a test where a sponsor like Burger King can bid on a video sponsor slot. If they win, they receive the following:
- The ability to run a 15-30 second post-roll video ad
- Persistent branding while the video is playing through a text and icon above the video player
- A listing on the sponsored videos page
This is win-win-win. Users still get free content. Big sponsors find extra online places to put their ad inventory, since there isn't enough of it. And Google diversifies its revenue stream, monetizing video content in a revenue share deal with the owners of the content.
Just imagine the turnout at Adam Sandler's next movie if it was free admission, and all you had to do was watch a four-minute ad at the end and look at the sponsor's logo across the top of the screen. That'd be like a $12 savings! (But don't worry about the movie theatre -- they'll make it back in popcorn.)
Thursday, June 22, 2006
The resident king of my house, Walter (pictured here), makes a lot of noises. He purrs when you go to the grocery store and get the Iams so he isn't choking back that Meow Mix junk food. He meows to go out. He meows a different way to scare imaginary critters out of corners. He even does that weird bird impression cats do when they're trying to befriend Tweety before eating him.
One thing Walter will never, ever do is bark.
So what's that got to do with your web site? In the view of Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg, everything. Their new book, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark, offers more than twenty short chapters of deep-seated exploration of customer motivations when they're online, through the whole process from research and purchase consideration through to interacting with your company on the site and beyond.
Too many marketers fail to study and profile their customers. They fail to understand the frame of mind the prospect is in when they first engage with your company from "driving points" like paid search clicks or word-of-mouth referrals. So, they're speaking the wrong language to the wrong people. They're expecting prospects to do things they aren't wired to do, whether that be to buy at an inappropriate time, or whether that be to buy a product they have zero interest in. Throwing good money building sites and driving traffic to pages that don't convert (for the above and other reasons) is indeed like waiting for your cat to bark. (And maybe even paying him 50 cents for every meow, and 2 bucks for each fake birdcall, while you wait.)
In this book, the Eisenbergs marry long-standing intellectual traditions and business wisdom with newer imperatives of online communication, as they cover persuasion architecture scenarios, psychographics, and other elements of research and implementation of a website redesign. In complexity, this task is a 10 out of 10, which makes it even more improbable that an author could convey the concepts in a straightforward manner. These authors somehow pull it off.
Probably even more telling than reading the book might be looking at examples of websites these authors (through their company, Future Now) have advised on or completely redesigned. Taking a multitude of priorities and a variety of potential customer profiles, and reducing this to (in the end) a single finished website, is very much a task of priority-setting in science, reducing complex goals and multiple variables to a much cleaner subset of navigational elements for the benefit of users.
For my company, the highest compliment you could pay to a related agency would be that their work related to ours in a "plug-and-play" manner. Does their effort to improve communication, usability, and ultimately, conversion rates interface well with (for example) our effort to run the most efficient and eminently measurable traffic driving campaign through a Google AdWords? Does it result in a site that is search-engine friendly, yet amenable to further development of content and easy tweaking for better placement in search results on key phrases of importance to the client's best customers? From our experience, that's what you get when you "plug in" to a site that Future Now has advised on (I'm sure they'll be happy to hear that - but they already know it, because, like my company, Page Zero, they quantify their success).
For a book that doesn't get too far past 200 pages, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark is encyclopedic. Rather than offering textbook definitions of concepts like the sales funnel, the authors offer debate and deeper explorations of basic assumptions. There are numerous engaging anecdotes and examples, but more case studies and even screenshots would have helped the material to affix more tightly to my brain cells, I admit. But all in all, I'm surprised that it was possible to convey this often complex material so accessibly. This book should be read patiently, and right through to the end. It's well worth the effort. I doubt this will be the last time I'll consult this one. I expect to re-read several chapters in short order.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Google's testing of a cost-per-action network is certainly as newsworthy as the blogosphere makes it out to be, but let's not get carried away. Cost per lead models are certainly nothing new to many industries. We've had our share of clients who have come grumbling to us from fields like real estate and insurance, dissatisfied with the mysterious lead generation processes and deteriorating lead quality from services they typically refer to as "the usual suspects."
Cost per sale? If I can literally run my ads on a pure affiliate model, then I'll happily offer that payout to the publisher. No problemo there.
But there are going to be bumps in the road here in spots, for sure. When "actions" become currency (just as when impressions and then clicks became currency), then there are incentives to either emulate those actions or to generate them through unscrupulous techniques (poaching from other affiliates, spamming search engines, spamming inboxes, etc.) - as affiliate networks have long known.
It's interesting though. And it comes at a time when eBay seems to be launching a similar model.
For francophones: Winning Results with Google AdWords is now out in a French version (titled Generer du trafic et du profit sur son site avec Google AdWords). I was offered tangible proof of the release a couple of days ago when a visitor from Paris happened by my office with his friend, carrying the book with an odd new cover I hadn't seen before. After chatting for awhile, they asked if Andrew Goodman was around. I gave them a card. :) Although this is a word the publisher (for this edition, Pearson Education) came up with, I'll admit it: I kind of like being a "gourou."
It's also worth noting that I worked with this publisher to provide several updates to the material to reflect recent trends in the AdWords platform, as this edition came out seven months after the first.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
In 1961, Yale political scientist Robert Dahl published a landmark study of power, Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City. By analyzing who seemed to hold sway over important local political decisions (who "won" on key issues), Dahl's analysis laid out what would later be called "Power 1" by political scientists -- a kind of simplified study of power based on clearly identifiable "wins" on contentious issues. Dahl's conclusion was sanguine. Even at the local level, American society was blessed with enough checks and balances that decision-makers were kept on their toes. No one faction "owned" the town.
Ten years later, Dahl began to change his mind. By the end of his career, his position on the relative power balance in American society had changed radically, though his interest in democratic process had not.
Recently, questions have arisen about Google's ability to win share in any product category but its core search areas. Google Finance, for example, is #42 in the business information vertical, while #1 favorite Yahoo Finance garners fully 35% of user activity.
In Local Search, even, where Google has a very cool product with considerable momentum, they are up against serious competition against older listings businesses. It's by no means a foregone conclusion that a cool product will win. So here again, yellow pages businesses act as a countervailing force, ensuring that no one player gets too powerful. Users and advertisers alike can shift their dollars and eyeballs, keeping the leaders honest and spurring innovation.
Can this "stalemated" or "competitive" environment last?
I suppose we might draw two conclusions. First, that the various checks and balances involved in having a variety of successful Internet giants are proof that no one holds sway over consumers' choices to an unhealthy degree. The second, related conclusion might be that consumers are choosing products based on this healthy competitive atmosphere.
I think both conclusions might be hasty.
To take the second first: Google's dominance in search, as well as its laggard position in things like email and business information, may be proof that consumers only "choose" to a certain extent. Once a product or service satisfies a need, extra research and a decision to switch are simply not warranted. Many simply find Yahoo Finance good enough. All Google does by releasing a new product full of "AJAXY GOODNESS" is to give Yahoo ideas as to how they might perfect their own offering.
Popular lore has it that another web site or another web service are "only a click away." From what I've observed, a lot of people are more inclined to switch cars or dishwashers than they are web services. The "one click away" thing is a bit of a red herring. A car (or a dishwasher) actually cost quite a lot of money, so the extra research is well warranted, to say nothing of a lot of fun. Doing more research on "how to use local search" is for many like pulling teeth. If something seems easy to an intermediate-level user of web services, and they remember it was actually a bit tedious to get up to speed on it in the first place, I'm betting they'll cling to it like a barnacle. So sure, it's easy enough for the very young to play with new services like MySpace. But in general, as we've seen from the GMail rollout and so on, there isn't incredible volatility in people's web habits. Switching one's routines and rituals is like moving house -- you'd rather not do it every year.
Now - about that healthy "stalemate" type competition, where Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google (and Amazon, and eBay, traditional media and traditional listings/classifieds businesses, and, we hope, plenty of up-and-comers) all have leadership in different areas. Yes, that's sort of true for how things currently stand, but it's a status quo most of these competitors wish they could break out of, by going up a level or two and gaining unfair distribution advantages. Microsoft is legendary for it. The others are going to be thinking about how they can do it. That's perhaps why debates about Net Neutrality are important. It's also why companies like Google and Yahoo are looking for deeper and deeper platform advantages. You still wonder why they haven't made more powerful overtures to traditional companies in sectors like hotels, autos, home building, and so on. Not to have them as advertisers, mind you, but as distributors.
In large part, the stalemate is about valuations. If someone (or a couple of the leaders) can break from the pack financially to the extent that they're able to consolidate with very large partners and competitors on favorable terms, suddenly the $200 billion giant is beating the tar out of the little $25 billion companies in the space. I do think some kind of shocking consolidation moves still make sense in the "info space." Companies like Google will someday need to admit that they don't have all the answers or all the assets, and other companies out there do. Consumers, meanwhile, are craving simpler answers... they do not, by and large, want to become expert searchers, schooled in figuring out where "else" to go when their search engine or key vertical app doesn't quite measure up.
It's interesting to watch the stubbornness of Microsoft, still believing it can "play catchup" in search, as it did with Internet Explorer. Can it? And is Google now falling victim to the same optimism in the many verticals it's gone into, thinking it'll catch the leaders but finding itself languishing?
Perhaps the takeup of the new GBuy service -- until we hear otherwise, this is still taking direct aim at PayPal -- will be a real bellwether as to whether Google really merits that big "S" it seems to wear on its metaphorical chest.