Do companies taking sneaky or heavy-handed actions not stop to think about the context of radical transparency in which they compete, sometimes too hard, for victory?
Because I work with a consumer review site, I know about how prevalent it is for some companies to try to fake reviews, post negative reviews on competitors, etc.
What's even more fun is that these efforts are often easily traceable to the head offices of the "anything to win" companies.
(This is something you can also do for click fraud, theoretically.)
Recently, a major North American provider of home repair related services - a real "poster child" for rapid growth with a very respected and hard-working rank and file staff - was caught posting false reviews not only on themselves, but malicious ones designed to harm competitor businesses.
We won't tell. We simply remove the reviews and warn the offender.
But honestly: we could tell. It could become national news. What were they thinking?
Ever noticed that in some public bathrooms [/restrooms/washrooms/toilets/WC's], there has arisen a motley array of three or more generations of soap dispensers? The aesthetically pleasing one that is integrated with the sink isn't being refilled anymore, so you have to reach up and get your soap from the new, improved, highly functional yet somehow out of place dispenser that's been stuck onto the wall or mirror.
One way to look at this is that it's logical. The old ones weren't doing the job, and it would be too hard to remove them, so just tack up the new improved version and go with major dispenser overlap. And hope the new custodian fills up the right one.
Another way to look at it is that it's also vendor-driven. There was nothing wrong with the old one(s), but someone talked someone into buying the new one(s). Out with the old, in with the new. (OK, maybe not out with the old, but definitely in with the new.)
In my perfect world, there would be one soap dispenser option to reach for.
Apply this logic to thinking about third-party web analytics & ROI tracking, bid management, and other accoutrements of online marketing, if you wish!
The buzz about Amazon MP3 made me think about when I'll actually pay close attention and shout "thumbs-up" to one of these competing-with-iTunes store announcements. I thought hard... and thought about what I'd want to pay in this day and age to download 500 favorite songs. The answer came quickly, just as soon as you can say "guess my weight." $177. That works out to 35.4 cents per song.
Postscript: I just used the Google calculator functions in the Google Search toolbar in Firefox, and the answer came up *as I typed* -- no extra step! How cool is that.
Advertisers have become accustomed to a number of promotional messages appearing in their AdWords campaign dashboards, but does anything speak to the search ads behemoth's near-term expansion priorities better than the appearance of "Print Ads" as a tab in the interface?
It was inevitable that in some form, Google would introduce automated rule-based or goal-based bid management, to offer a similar functionality that has been offered by third parties for years.
Their new Conversion Optimizer is in beta. I recently gave it a spin. From a limited test, you don't get much information, but FWIW my result was poor, in the sense that we got worse results with the optimizer "on" than we did with it "off" compared with the same days a week before, and immediately preceding days. Because it was a high volume account, I only left it on for about two days before shutting the experiment down. What particularly concerned me is that we had lower conversion volume as well as higher costs per acquisition. That's both of the key metrics going in the wrong direction.
That may be because of the stellar way we manage our campaigns, or it may be because the Conversion Optimizer does roughly what it says it does, but no more. It'll get you clicks for around what you should be paying while keeping you under your target CPA. In a hotly competitive market, this might be worse performance than you could get by using some other method of managing your bids (automated, or manual).
I'm sure they'll refine the product, but for now, it looks like it's probably going to deliver only so-so performance for many advertisers; much like the confusing Budget Optimizer tool.
Recent news in VR-land suggests that the Muskoka Tourism Association is proposing that its member innkeepers levy a 3% "tourism tax," that would then be funneled into marketing efforts to bring more visitors to the region. It seems someone has put the idea in someone's head that there isn't enough being done to "sell" the region's "brand."
Nonsense. The brand isn't hurting. Many individual businesses are, whereas quite a few thrive. What should that tell you? Some win, some lose -- for good reason.
This type of business development fundraising is not completely unheard of, of course. Many cities have Business Improvement Areas, whereby businesses pool their efforts and money to spruce up a district, in the hopes of picking up business fortunes for everyone in it. Some sense of a united, friendly front is sensible, of course. Your district or region as a whole have to be cohesive enough that people can refer to it in a sentence, and it must be remembered as a place that has a commitment to quality and fun times.
Unfortunately many of the marketing funds seem to be used mainly for shouting at us.
In fact, many cities that sell a lot of accommodations have a "DMF," or "destination marketing fee," tacked right onto the cost of the room, which is what appears to be what the Muskokans just twigged to. The really interesting question about these fees (that we so rarely question) is how they are implemented. As consumers, we should be nonplussed about contributing to a regional marketing fund... but what about business owners themselves, especially the ones that are taking the most risks and creating their own brands already? Don't they have questions?
Some of the self-pitying business owners quoted in a local TV news report on this Muskoka initiative smacked of the growing trend towards everyone wanting to be a marketer (qua shouter), without really knowing how. With such gorgeous fundamentals (pine-scented air, beautiful lakes, luxury accommodations, golf resorts, etc.), presumably you don't need to turn up the volume too high on promoting what is already good. What's really lacking for many of these businesses is something else: the drive and risk-taking outlook to improve their own internal fundamentals (upgrade, beautify); topnotch service; etc.; all of which will lead to positive word of mouth; savvy about how you might promote online word of mouth; savvy about taking and holding bookings online; and an understanding of how to market directly to target customers, using for example this online channel you see before you. Once you get all these ducks in a row... sure... come up with a collectivized scheme to improve the overall message conveyed to the public. But first things first! Stop getting so many of your micro fundamentals wrong.
Collectivities attempting achieve overall regional gains face a firm-level motivational issue. If you're busy praising the fundamental strengths of all of your competitors' businesses, too, are you really going to be as driven as you should be to become outstanding within that region; to have "he was the consummate promoter" on your epitaph? If you're all consummate promoters at once, do you all win? Or do you just raise the noise level?
To her credit, Robyn Scott of Muskoka Tourism has been quoted as saying "we need to build a culture of service." Not that she's exactly proposing to risk her own money on said effort.
At this point I'll resist the inevitable comparison with SEMPO.
I've come across some wacky advertisers using the term "WTF?" in ad copy in an obvious attempt to get noticed by using this obviously offensive verbiage. You might want to do a sweep.
While you're at it, though, please don't false-positive a company called the WTF Group. They are my office building landlord. I don't know what the WTF stands for in this case, unless it's a prefix to "...is the deal with the elevators?"
Summary: "WTF" in ad copy - not good for users. "WTF Group" - a real company.
Today Google is announcing the wider availability of Google Gadgets in ad format, something that has been in testing for months. Several advertisers are cited as happy beta partners, including Intel, Six Flags, and a fizzy beverage company.
They're considered "non-traditional ad units with rich, interactive capabilities." Google further explains that you might want to think of these as "mini versions of your website" in any AdSense ad size.
At this early stage, I wonder if the poster examples - Pepsi, Intel, Six Flags - really make the most sense as "gadget oriented" or "widget oriented" players.
Also, positioning widgets/gadgets as paid ads puts a new spin on something that no doubt cropped up in the grassroots as a tactic for viral marketing. I come up with a widget that gives your website something unique & cool, like relevant content or a customizable toy of some sort... your users enjoy themselves... I get traffic and brand awareness in return.
The new math would be: I as a creator of said unit have to rely less on the compellingness of the widget/gadget to your user base, because now I'll be willing to actually pay you to put it there. Where does Google come in? Well, they have a content network, so they're facilitating the distribution of the ads, as usual.
Recall, flash and video ads were already part of the AdSense menu. So a gadget takes it up another level - offering custom functionality of some sort.
There are editorial policies governing Google Gadget Ads. These include "not exceeding 50% utilization of a user's computer" through things like "heavy animation sequences."
Sharp-eyed readers may notice that in very recent posts, I sung the praises of underrated social networking companies, urging them to hang on for their fair valuations. I then agreed with Steve Rubel that some of these companies' ad inventory is near worthless.
Many Web 2.0 businesses fail to grasp the fundamental guiding principle of media and publishing over the past century: you're delivering an audience of "buyers" to paying advertisers. So says Steve Rubel in a thought-provoking post "Why Some Web 2.0 Sites Will Never Attract Big Ad Dollars," arguing: "Quantifying eyeballs is not the answer." Brilliant. I agree with Rubel wholeheartedly.
Naturally, some commenters were given to disagree with him, on the grounds that the web is not a direct response medium and that many of the blogs, social networks, etc. are hotbeds of value for advertisers (the "just trust us!" economics of painting certain online properties as "hot places" without any real proof).
A great way to prove whether your inventory is valueless or valuable to an advertiser is to put it to a harsher market test. Let's just say that there are some valuable online properties that never needed to persuade anyone they were valuable - not even advertisers. They made money because people really kept returning to these sites, and frequently enough, clicked on links while engaging with the content, and really did something, like booked a holiday. The accompanying referral revenues were 100% proof of value.
[Does that mean I think every advertising transaction should be CPA-based? No, of course not. Advertisers can see value without needing to complete transactions in that manner. But focusing on the direct referral model is a great way to simplify the debate: what if you had to give up all display advertising that had a CPM-based "brand" rationale, to earn all of your money from clicks that led to someone buying something from your partner?]
Not long ago, a great friend and educator who has been lucky enough to own a piece of a major dot com vertical site in the travel industry gave a private whiteboard talk roughly titled "Why TripAdvisor got bought for $200 million." In this informal chat, lines were drawn, consumer intent was graphed, and the fact that consumers at a point very close to purchase were using this site was clearly shown to translate into value to advertisers. The case was made that even without advertisers, the referral links to bookings engines were making money, and pegging a certain value on all that traffic. TripAdvisor, on the strength of this alone, was no doubt quite profitable. The referral partners (IAC), in the end, wanted to own TripAdvisor directly so they bought the company.
This example and quite a few others bear out what Rubel is saying. At the other end of the spectrum, there are huge swaths of online activity with zero commercial intent and thus, nearly no value. You can try to persuade someone of that value with fancy brand talk and WOM magic, but as the advertising market gets closer to being a true exchange, I think the low value of some of this online inventory will only become more evident.
Case in point: Google's contextual matching tech recently thought it had accurately seen a fit between a friend's (product oriented in a high tech field) keywords, his 40 cent bids on content targeting, and the published content on a huge number of pages on one of the major social networking engines (let's just say it was one of Bebo, Facebook, or MySpace). The traffic suddenly came fast and furious. 50,000 clicks and about $8,500 later, no one had bought a thing (zero conversions). 50,000 clicks on other swaths of inventory in that same account would usually bring about $30,000-50,000 in revenue. ($8,500 worth of clicks might have brought in $15,000 in initial revenue.) That's a very long way from the $0 achieved on that inappropriate inventory! Yes, arguably that inventory would have been appropriate for some advertiser. But I'm going to say: not very often, and not worth very much.
So often publishers see things only from their own distorted perspective. Look how big, respected, and impressive we are! Advertisers care a lot more about... you guessed it, direct response. Ad industry people selling things other than direct response often try to change the subject, and often there is a great case to be made for public relations impacts and other lifts that are harder to measure than direct response. But there's this thing about direct response... you can prove it. ROI-positive campaigns will end the "debate" about value and turn it into an ongoing ad buy.
There is some value to everything, but I'm looking forward to the furthering of models that give quality publishers a fair CPM rate for their commercially-relevant properties. Unfortunately that will also have to mean the poor quality inventory will continue to be classed as "remnant" until proven otherwise. Hopefully, the upcoming online ad downturn will actually be favorable to the proven properties who have a track record of relevance not just to readers and users, but to advertisers.
Rich Skrenta of Topix and dmoz fame was the writer of what was for all intents and purposes the first effective computer virus 25 years ago, AP reports. (Sorry for the late notice on this one - the story got picked up in my daily newspaper this morning.)
Ah, it seems like eons ago, doesn't it, the days of the "boot sector virus"... and if you got one, you probably had only yourself to blame, for borrowing that floppy disk full of games from your neighbor's uncle's friend.
Another tidbit that came out in the item: Skrenta's "stealth startup" is called Blekko. As far as I can tell, that's all we know right now about the project.
Facebook's in trouble if they hold their "poker hand" too long. Or so say smarmy analysts in the press, worried that the "fate" of Facebook may resemble that of the "failed" Friendster and the "who cares anymore!?" Orkut of Google origins.
The thing is, those who own these companies have long stopped caring what analysts say. No wonder they plan to cash out at only appropriate valuations, or just keep running these communities as they continue to grow and develop.
Caveat: you'll have to believe the Alexa numbers - Alexa gives me the prettiest graph on demand (see below). I believe these numbers when the ranks are below 100 or so. Especially when they are below 10! (When you're in the top 10 or 20 websites on the planet, who's counting?
"Failed" Friendster is, admittedly, only in the top 100 or so websites in the US. Its regional strength ("but" 9 out of 10 users are in the Asia Pacific region, says a news story) in the Asia Pacific Region puts it in the top 10, or even top 3, sites in several countries.
Forgotten Orkut is still the #1 website in Brazil. Weird, but I've heard of worse fates. It's also in the top 5 in India and Pakistan. It's in the top 50 in the US.
I could go on, but I think you see the point. Social networking is hot, and what the press call risks, or also-rans, or failed, are not only doing well, they're doing incredibly well - just not always on the same timetable, or with the same founders, or in the same places, as planned.
So, Friendster's "decision not to sell" (for the $30 mil Google supposedly offered) is touted as "one of the biggest blunders in Internet history." Moreover, the current valuation is pegged by at least one pundit at $1.5 million (?). While it's certainly too bad that Friendster was ahead of the curve and had frequent outages, and too bad that Jonathan Abrams was shoved out, the broader point is: the present ownership of this class of sites is playing their cards right. Hang on. You're worth it.
If you're wondering about the development of the web analytics industry, and how we got so far, so fast, you might want to take a look at Jim Sterne's History of the E-Metrics Summits (reaching back to the proto-days all the way back to his traveling the world talking about the Internet back in 1993). The explosion of this event into a multi-track three-day event has really opened my eyes -- I'll be speaking here in October, but at least as exciting for me is looking forward to attending many sessions.
The trick will be, how to manage the rapid growth of the field while still maintaining that feeling of "a few pioneers in the lobby bar talking about the future". At this rate, we might have to kick a few people out of the lobby bar just to maintain that feeling.
Are advertisers nonplussed with current ad networks and contextual ad platforms? Yes, I think so. And I think a generational shift is coming. Here's the first leg of my take on the topic, over at Search Engine Land.
Valleywag believes Yahoo hasn't done much, a couple of months into the "100 day" plan put forward by new/interim CEO Jerry Yang. Maybe summer isn't the best time to start the clock on something like that, though.
Without second-guessing whether these were good ideas in the first place, here's the update on what Yahoo has or has not done from my list of random big ideas posted as An Open Letter to Jerry Yang on June 19:
* Yahoo has not acquired any hot little search startup; * Yahoo has not acquired Yelp; * Yahoo has not acquired GoDaddy; * Yahoo has not acquired Research in Motion, but Microsoft was rumored to be interested; * I am not aware of whether Yahoo has downsized inefficiencies in management -- I'll leave that to Valleywag. However, some key Yahoos have left for startups like Veoh. This probably means Yahoo will need to show it is serious about attracting good people, by showing the door to less effective managers, and recruiting some high-profile people. Jeremy Zawodny showed good initiative by jokingly attempting to recruit Matt Cutts through his blog. Matt was jovial enough to reply in comments. * No sign of a partnership with Microsoft; * The home page is as uninspiring as ever (if you like that sort of thing, MSN.com is better);
One key move has been to acquire an ad serving company, BlueLithium, to follow on the acquisition of Right Media. Although the latter is not a major deal, the trend is important.
As long as advertisers are disgruntled with current ad networks and "contextual ad platforms," this is an area that new product development needs to focus heavily on. That, plus gobbling up more inventory in a variety of verticals (personals, home, travel, social networking, etc.), will have to be the focus for Yahoo for the remaining few days of this 100-day segment, and the 100-day extension we'll have to give them, because the wheels grind slowly when it comes to turning around a multibillion-dollar company.
It'll be interesting to see if Yahoo can integrate new ad buying features (and more relevant inventory) into its Panama platform, or whether they'll create separate automated platforms for buying ads online based on the emerging "exchange" paradigm that will eventually largely eclipse the old networks and traditional media buying functions.
Litigants in anti-Google keyword cases such as this latest in Australia speak in one-sided "baby talk," acting for all the world like Google has set out to deceive and wrong them personally. I'd call it "food fight tactics," if I'd ever witnessed a food fight mostly involving applesauce, but I haven't.
This complainant blithely accuses Google of sneakily "selling off top spot" in spite of its reputation for ranking results based on relevance, not money. The sponsored results supposedly appear "in the same format" as search results. Car dealership Kloster Ford was "outraged" by its competitor's conduct... and hence, the ensuing lawsuit and brouhaha. Too bad for the complainants, but the outrage was not backed by, at least, brussels sprouts, or other food you can whip at someone, because applesauce thrown in anger is still applesauce. It was also not backed by facts or sound argumentation.
The overinflated sense of outrage and weak argumentation reminded me of my penchant for the helpful if opaque works of Jurgen Habermas, particularly his late work Between Facts and Norms. If the ideal for better understanding and progress in any problem-solving exercise is what Habermas might have called a "discursive situation," Habermas can argue that "communicative power" is merely pushy coercive power based on bluster and sometimes backed by money or illegitimate influence. "Real" power as embodied in the law (as it should be) would emanate from a discursive situation. Winning in a legitimate court case based on a proper weighing of facts and ethics as generally agreed in legal codes would be "legitimate power."
Luckily, Google wins most of these cases. Apparently, in many jurisdictions, "I was outraged" and blatantly manipulative descriptions of how Google "sells off top spot," are trumped by the more accurate argument that accurately describes the real workings of Google's advertising program, and the legitimate right of advertisers to buy space online.
At the entirely opposite end of the spectrum, I then read a nice piece by Mike Grehan in Larry Chase's WDFM newsletter that focuses heavily on trends in search and how Google Universal Search presents results to users based on search history or apparent intent. There is far from a single "list" of "most relevant" results in a given format. So kudos, Mike, for presenting deep-seated facts which lead us towards a "discursive situation" about search and ads, thus staying on Professor Habermas' good side. In an ideal society, the legal system would take account of such facts. Most modern legal systems attempt to do so, fortunately.
So as Facebook announces it'll no longer be only on Facebook anymore (allowing search engines access to public profiles, similar to a recent move by LinkedIn)... it makes you kinda wonder.
1. Robert Scoble predicts Google will meet its untimely demise, at the hands of Facebook, in four years.
2. Facebook opens up a whack of pages to be indexed by search engines, hopes for a real lift in new user adoption by virtue of organic love from Google;
3. Google decides just how relevant those pages seem to be;
4. We wonder what will happen next.
Fair and balanced coverage by Technology Evangelist gives us some clue. Although it's possible to scoff at the idea that a large number of pages indexed will lead to traffic ("where will they rank?!"), TE is quite right to point out the near-inevitability of it in this case. On many people's names there are so few quality results that these profiles are likely to rank reasonably well... well enough to give Facebook another growth spurt.
I've noticed that in certain circles there is an inordinate fascination with stopping click fraud, arbitrage, and so-called "Made for AdSense" sites. The fun folks discussing clamping down on these things are often cheek by jowl on the same forums as the folks who create and profit from the MFA sites. Did I read right? There are 130 comments on some forum about this topic? You'll forgive me if I'm too busy to read even the first ten.
Gang, if you ran the type of respectable business I do :), these things wouldn't pop up on your radar nearly as often as you would think. I'll admit it... I think I went six months of reading about MFA's without knowing or caring what they were. When I found out, I realized I already knew what they were, and had gotten my ire off my chest long ago, and then went back to doing stuff.
I have to wonder why some of you have this stuff on the brain, sometimes under that guise of "clamping down" on it. Could it be that you're tipping your hand to the fact that you are actually making money from it in private, while trying to appear upstanding in public?
Basically, what I'm saying is if I find one of you in an airport restroom stall with a laptop, MFA'ing your butts off, I won't be too surprised.
I recently enjoyed the chance to chat about our new friend, quality score, with my old friend Dr. Ralph Wilson from Web Marketing Today. Some of these insights won't be totally new to you, but in video form you can guess what I'm thinking, as well as seeing what I'm saying. :)
(OK, I'll end the suspense - I was thinking - when can we get a shot of the Montreal Canadiens t-shirt I'm wearing with that jacket?)
Eric Goldman sums up four years of pointless litigation by American Blinds: "I think American Blinds' complete capitulation is the latest reminder to plaintiffs that it's often irrational to bring lawsuits over keywords." The result was worse than neutral for the plaintiff: they found that some of their trademarks are, in fact, unenforceable.
(I am not a legal expert. This is a settlement agreement, but looks like it would have been a loss in court, had the case concluded.)
Adding this landmark case to the growing pile of other high-profile losses by litigants (in particular, a case brought by Geico against Google having been tossed out) on the question of keyword triggering as trademark violation would seem to insure defendants against capricious or misinformed lower court decisions, because the precedent is now so clearly established.
From the standpoint of marketers bidding on "competitor words," a practice we've long adopted for purely practical reasons, we sometimes think we see more stringent quality scores being applied to some "brand" or "trademark" words. However, it's difficult to tell whether that relates to poor CTR's or a relevancy assessment, or whether there is an additional factor Google may add related to "trademark or brand risk/hassle". If the latter does exist, maybe this latest decision will allow Google to relax or eliminate this unnecessary additional component of quality score.
I also think the decision makes it bad timing for Microsoft to have just released what looks like an unnecessarily sticky trademark policy for adCenter advertisers.
Thanks to Phillipp Lenssen for this account of Marissa Mayer's and Paul Buchheit's debates about ads in email, and the timing of product development. The timing does seem a little bit incredible, but maybe GMail was in development for a long time. Lenssen is checking.
Take one part Dvorak-style sensationalism, one part Calacanis anti-SEO demagoguery, and one part tedious Facebook cheerleading, and what do you get? A prediction that Google is doomed, by someone who refuses to contextualize the whole mess.
Humans do it better? Been there, done that. Agree. Disagree. ??? We're way past that now, surely. We're all working on all kinds of stuff. Google included, surely.
Recommendations by peer groups? Online word of mouth? Preferably, in the context of a vibrant community in a vertical that matters economically and emotionally to those in it. Sure, great, and Mahalo won't be that, any more than many of the other contenders have been that.
Facebook is teaching the world a few things about how to handle peer interactions online. That doesn't mean it's going to be or has to be the platform for all interactions or all intelligent research or all buying decisions -- four years from now, or sooner, or later. I will concede this much: it's cooler than iwon.com.
Remember deja.com (when it wasn't newsgroups but a shopping review site)? epinions? Mobshop?
How about About.com?
Site of the Day?
The Drudge Report?
The Powtoweeken Online Hot Stove Recommendation Club for Good Stuff by Good People to Other Good Folks, average age 44.5 [fictional]?
No, Google isn't any of these, can't do exactly what they said they'd do, either. It's much, much more.
Why does Scoble ramble off into anti-everything-else-Google-does territory in the middle of his weak critique of their search? No one uses GMail? 1. Wrong. 2. Relevance, your honor?
Scoble's incredibly tedious sortie into the world of search doesn't even prove that he's considered the difference between a business model and a few seconds of messed-up REM sleep, which he apparently enjoys while talking into a webcam.
Welcome back to school!
P.P.S. My friend, Jill, alerted me to Scoble's nonsense within the random confines of, yes, Facebook. This proves what?