Friday, February 27, 2009
Sorry for the autobiographical tone, but this is navigational in nature. Not exactly a 301 redirect, but I am vowing to take the first baby steps towards sanity by seriously limiting blogging for the month of March. As a crutch, I'll need another drug, of course, and that drug will be Twitter.
A little bird suggested I try it, and now that I have, I am digging the logic already. I admit: I resisted the lure of the 140-character microblog up to now. Where's the substance? Will I get distracted? Etc.
But my hope is that blogging less and tweeting more will save time and also put me in touch with the thoughts of a highly select group of people who can help me think faster (and have fun doing it).
Catch up to me at: http://twitter.com/andrew_goodman
Blogging "less" here means that I will be making a conscious choice between serious writing, and the type of writing I do to stay fun and connected, rather than just have it all jumble together.
- Maybe someday, more work on "books" (never say never)
- Reports, emails, proposals, internal Page Zero communications, website copy and white papers now and then, and the day to day written work that focuses on the needs of our clients!
Fun and connected writing:
- Twitter - necessarily pithy observations and pointing to the best most useful stuff
- A city blog: it's my dream to find the time to start a blog in the area of citizen photojournalism for my beloved Toronto, something that would capture a more varied flavor than existing entries such as Torontoist. This is very much on the back burner and would likely work better if I lived in a tiny village. :)
- Just a personal blog. If I get around to it, I'll probably set up a personal blog as Danny has done with Daggle. I've meant to do that for years to discourage me from putting personal stuff here. Again, that's on the back burner but as with the city blog, I have the domain name picked out.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
In an old Yahoo Mail account, I just stumbled on Yahoo's announcement that they'd be closing the Briefcase file storage service as of March 30. I was immediately curious if I actually had anything in my old briefcase. Perhaps a couple of non-working pens? Pennies? An old Hubba Bubba gum wrapper? Scribbled 3 a.m. notes for a visionary new business model, illegible to the naked eye or the sane mind?
As it turns out, along with a few seemingly random email attachments, I had an old email address book. And as I looked through some of my correspondents from then, I got a bit nostalgic. A good old Topica-Editorial-produced email newsletter from 2001, Dot Com Winners and Losers, caught my attention. A Jenny Baker would review winners like Flooz (got funded that week) and losers like DrKoop (took it on the chin that week). (So much more polite than F***ed Company. Of course, in the usual bout of self-referentiality, Jenny saw fit to review F***ed Company one week... labeling it a "winner.")
One day, as part of the usual endless feedback loop of 2001 dot com irony, Topica told Jenny to stop writing that column; she was told to focus "her writerly resources elsewhere, to help us advance toward our goal of profita.... Ah, you know the drill."
Labels: dot com, infinite regression, Yahoo Briefcase
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Popular Made-for-AdSense site, finance.google.com, persists in showing these lookalike headline style ads in the upper right slot.
Is Google desperate for revenue, or just disorganized? Where's that little principle about not deceiving users? In no way does the advertisement in question resemble a "Top Story." Of course, the ad looks like a top story... so the deception is on purpose.
Labels: google finance, monetization
Yahoo offering more targeting options for keyword-targeted ads -- including search retargeting and demographic overlays -- is welcome news; however, it's ironic that VP Joanne Bradford disparages the scale of some networks and individual websites. Her argument that "size matters" just underscores the need for Yahoo and Microsoft to pool resources in this area.
Monday, February 23, 2009
No, newspapers and other old media aren't dead.
But the wave of bankruptcies over the past year may just be the tip of the iceberg. Refusal to change fundamental assumptions has been the hallmark of many companies in dying industries, of course. But now, you can go back and look at the many ways in which companies of this nature have "stuck to their guns" and yes, given that in this case they are media companies, the relentless scare tactics (never-ending stream of news stories trying to scare us away from online life) they have employed against their new media competition.
Those who acted like titans just a few short years ago have been felled by economic recession and the utterly predictable decline in subscription revenues, print advertising, and classified ad revenue.
The wake-up calls came long ago, but many of the titans failed to heed them. Others diversified and survived. For those that continue to cling to the status quo, it'll get worse before it gets better.
A couple of underlying principles seem to be at work here.
Online, there is no shortage of potential advertisers lined up. What they lack is quality "programming" (content) to show the ads against. Ad rates are very low on similar types of content to the stuff that gets consumed offline. Does this mean online ad rates are too low, or that much of the offline advertising world has been wildly overpriced?
Offline, in, say, the television world, the advertiser base is declining but there is an absolute surfeit of content. In many ways, TV programming is becoming cheaper to produce. When it comes to newspapers, there are still plenty of advertisers, but they are slowly coming to the realization that the ads aren't working as well as they once did because fewer people are paying attention.
There are no shortcuts; no easy answers. But to unravel some of this puzzle, let's posit this much: you can't just shove ads in people's faces, crammed in next to other people's ads. Advertisers are getting savvier about actually knowing if their ads are being seen, having an impact.
So the true challenge is creating large swaths of unique "content" or "apps" or "environments" that delight consumers enough to be willing to look at ads.
That means huge investments from visionaries who have other means of making an income, or who are just willing to take a chance on building something new.
Those are the folks who succeed. Those who focus just on the ad side of it, those who keep on coming up with new ways to charge advertisers for things that don't have an impact on customers, will ultimately plateau, as they either annoy viewers or advertisers.
In light of the fact that the old media titans did make these kinds of heavy investments, and were the visionaries of their day, it seems only fitting to thank them, and to hope that they will try again, with new visions. Thanks to them, we had the benefit of huge news organizations. They did have the right idea at the time. That time may be past, however.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Perhaps the most heavily digitized conference per capita in SES history, with a variety of videographers and fancy photographers (you know, those people with the real cameras with big lenses) doing their bit... but to feature just one, check out these photos from Day 2 by Microsoft's own Mel Carson. I can't help but point out my favorites are the ones of me autographing copies of the 2nd edition of my book and handing them out to people on the exhibit floor. Thanks for the pro quality shots, Microsoft boy!
We gave away 250 copies and the rest of the attendees will just have to buy a copy! Thanks to the guys over at Acquisio's booth I had plenty of company for the grand psychological experiment in "the best way to give stuff away for free in the UK."
OK... I'll give up the secret. I was surprised that many attendees asked politely whether the book was actually free. (Some began pulling out cash to pay, and I stupidly refused. :) ) Many also wondered if I was actually the author. And then finally, many seemed to think there was a catch of some sort, with a "salesman" standing there (that'll teach me to wear a suit). When I went upstairs to speak on a panel, I left thirty copies all by their lonesome, with a note: "Yes, COMPLIMENTARY. Yes, FREE! Please help yourself. -- Andrew." They went much more quickly. So I tried it again. Left 25 copies out, went to get a coffee. Bam, books gone. And again: went for a glass of wine and some runny cheese at the cocktail reception, left out 25 books ... again, whoosh, people flocked over to grab their copy. After awhile, word seemed to get around that there was no catch, so as books were close to running out, of course a long lineup formed.
At least when it comes to giving stuff away, I have just proven that I am a topnotch salesman... when not physically present!
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Yesterday we heard the sad news of Andy Bourland's death at age 54. In co-founding ClickZ Andy left an enormous legacy to the marketing world.
I had the great privilege of working with Andy for a brief time as he acquired a series of marketing discussion publications (i-sales, i-search) from Audette Media (Adventive). There is not much more to say. Andy will be greatly missed. If he were still here, I would want to thank him for everything.
To pick just one piece he wrote while at ClickZ, I suggest reading this item - It Takes a Happy Employee.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Sure, Facebook has reassured us that certain Terms of Service changes don't mean they'll rip off our original content.
But users' concern about Facebook as it matures should be much broader than that. Facebook has attracted quite a few ex-Googlers -- among them Sheryl Sandberg, instrumental in promoting the standards Google continues to uphold in the advertising program, on consumers' behalf. Sandberg is joined by a number of other prominent Googlers, who surely had a sense of pride working for a company that protected users from some of the web's worst evils.
But have a gander at all the things you're left vulnerable to as a Facebook user. Third party apps are inherently fraught with potential spyware, privacy invasions, and other mayhem, given the openness of the system. But then again, Google indexes the whole Internet, and attempts to warn users from even landing on known spyware sites.
Currently, Facebook has very low standards for both third-party apps and display ads. Display ads claiming to offer services with "no spyware" attached in fact redirect to spyware and nuisance-ware sites.
Google was a precocious adolescent only three years after its founding. By comparison, Facebook is playing the game like an ADD-riddled pre-teen.
Me and you? We'll survive. It's the hundreds of millions of less savvy users that appreciate a company that's looking out for them by shooing away malicious partners and advertisers.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Of all the ticklish challenges being faced by digital marketers today, especially those buying search keyword exposure, one of the recurring points of debate appears to be the attribution problem. As more and more seasoned offline and online marketers compare notes in what is an increasingly cooperative effort, they all lament the fact that the "last keyword search" typically gets 100% of the credit for a sale or lead.
While Yahoo has tinkered with a means of crediting prior keywords with "assists," we're still far away from closing the loop on this issue. It will never be fully closed, of course. What influences me to purchase cannot be a 100%, slam dunk, exact science... and I hope it never is.
The problem is: once we accept that our attribution models aren't perfect, we're left stranded on Assertion Island. Seasoned offline agency types will simply asssert that offline ads are vital for "demand creation" and that search is "well down the funnel." The latter is by and large true. As for the former, sometimes offline ads are good at demand creation, but at what cost? How much is enough? Too much? Shouldn't the parts further down the funnel, the ones that don't fumble, and indeed "close the deal on," nascent awareness and demand, get more than their apparent share of credit for that ability to take the pass and put the puck in the net? And don't some kinds of demand and awareness "creation" actually do more harm than good?
Sticking to what we can know more about, you wonder who will come out and leapfrog Yahoo's basic assist measurement functionality, towards offering a product that attempts to estimate the contribution of a variety of media buys, and a variety of keywords, on a purchaser's ultimate decision. I suppose much of that would require significantly more acceptance by web users of the practice of being "followed around" throughout their entire online lives. (Panel studies that do look at "cross-attribution" issues do follow people around, as they volunteer to be followed. But that's just a sort of dog and pony show to attempt to prove a certain point about the power of different kinds of campaigns, with a relatively limited sample size. The real sticking points lie in getting past that point towards following nearly all users more closely. On that issue I am neither pro or con, or maybe I am con.)
And even then, being an industry where many entrenched interests are at stake, alternative scientific hypotheses are unlikely to be fully explored. Causation is subtle. If apparent causation is really just a spurious correlation, is the seller of weakly-effective media exposure likely to admit that? Even sellers of strongly effective media are likely to arrive at an entente with their less-effective brethren, in a compromise type of pitch that essentially says: "It's all good." (But is it?)
What spurious correlation, you ask? I'm still wrapping my head around the data showing that online display ads create a long term lift in sales volume, especially in combination with search campaigns, etc. But how much can we attribute that lift to the advertising, and how much to the fact that the ads show to users who are signaling a prior interest by visiting appropriate content sites? If we're attributing causation to impressions, as opposed to clicks (which are more reliable), what about the impressions of the written editorial contents of the visited sites? What about the impressions of written reviews, comments by friends behind the social network's wall, the very presence of like-minded friends in that milieu? The result -- more sales of goods in that channel to those people -- is surely not purely attributable to the ad impressions as opposed to participation in that milieu and digestion of (unpaid) content in that niche. Seeing a disproportionate lift in sales of one brand of (say) jeans or cameras over other brands not showing ads there would be stronger proof of that causation, of course. Unless the content, sites, or networks were expressly devoted to those brands (SonyLoversForums.com), which again nullifies any attempt to measure the ads' independent impact. Ads on brand-focused sites that pull buyers away from sites devoted to other brands would be very strong proof of causation, IMHO (you see a Toyota ad on AudiLoversForum.com, and buy the Toyota, for example).
Perhaps the uncertainties associated with full-blown causation models in purchase behavior is why we tend to cling onto what is most certain: what ad or link did the searcher or online application user click on most proximally to their purchase?
No question about it: as a keyword search advertising guy, I'm much more impressed by goals than by assists. And assists from keywords are easier to credit than assists from other media, in terms of both extent and cost.
Let's see if any analytics vendors are willing to take a stab at improving what vendors like Yahoo have already contributed to so-called "conversion tracking." It sounds complex enough that it probably can't be expected to roll out in 2009.
Recently, I wrote glowingly about Google Finance. Check out this screen shot from today:
Look a bit more closely, and you'll see that the "headline" on the right is fake. It's an ad.
The ad doesn't annoy me by blinking, but it lies to the user's eyes. As if we haven't had enough deception in the financial arena lately.
Punch the monkey, anyone?
Labels: google finance, yahoo finance
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Aaron Wall, well-known SEO guy, has a lengthy interview with PPC guy (me).
Labels: aaron wall, andrew goodman, paid search, seo
Monday, February 09, 2009
Back in the day, it was popular to contrast pro golfer Bruce Lietzke with the younger generation of well-coached, pure-hitting "Clones" on the PGA Tour. (Today the examples used are Jim Furyk, with that funny swing, and Carlos Franco, who never practices.) Lietzke, listed at 6'2" and an unmuscular 205 lbs., is known for rarely practicing. His golf swing, a natural fade bordering on a slice, reminds you of, well, your own swing. Lietzke, faults and all, finished in the top 10 an incredible 127 times, winning 13 times, and making a comfortable living with $6.5 million in total prize money. (On the over-50 Champions Tour, he has made over $7 million playing one-third the events for senior tour purses...which doesn't say much more than, man, were those guys underpaid in the old days.)
Thinking about how the Lietzkes of the world always seem to give way to the Clones is always cause for lament, in any profession. As things are professionalized, people learn to do the right things, follow best practices, to be "above reproach (to sheepwalk)." And there is less and less room for the Lietzkes of the world with big personalities, big talent, and time for everybody in their lives... not just their swing coach.
Lietzke himself says it best: "If I had the motivation and the work ethic of Tom Kite, I could have been unbelievable or maybe you would never have heard of me. Everybody has to make those decisions on their own."
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Why is search marketing holding up, relatively speaking, as so many other areas of the economy come crashing down? Gord Hotchkiss explores seven reasons. One in particular caught my eye: "search is category-agnostic."
In many consumer categories, you're locked into a single logic. Selling more high-end perfumes is your goal, if you're a high-end perfume company. Selling more Hummers is your goal, if you work in the Hummer division. You're going to look pretty silly, and have an awfully difficult time of it, selling the same perfume for $20, or switching the dealership around so that you turn into a Toys R Us type environment selling only $100 toy Hummers or $500 battery-powered ones. The economy as a whole may switch gears, but those particular actors aren't typically nimble enough to profit or even survive.
The point might be reinforced by looking at patterns of ad spending and sponsorship in areas that have relied on a booming economy, such as the PGA Tour. When people are no longer buying Cadillacs (or settling for a Buick because Tiger likes it), and when financial-sector sponsors are no longer able to afford these marketing budgets, that advertising venue takes a hit. These ad budgets were more a product of overconfidence than of measurable ROI, so they can be cut.
To be sure, a drop in spending on high-ticket items eventually has to trickle through to search ad revenues. Bids would have to stop rising on certain keywords as margins shrink on luxury items. But search has a hard core of measurable ROI, and the emergence of new industry categories, to counteract that trend.
So the hit isn't as severe because search engines and search marketers can take a portfolio approach. Whereas individual sectors are hard-hit by chaos in the economy, search is resilient.
Once, in a long ago debate about "broken" indexing and ranking technology in the search technology business, an incoherent critic accused "people like me" of being "chaos pimps." (If you Google hard enough, you can dig up that accusation, though some of the attacks on me in particular seem to have been relegated to the dustbin of history. Just goes to show... Google's broken and doesn't index everything ;) ).
The argument suggested that because search marketing experts, writers, consultants, and agencies benefit from frequent changes in search technology, we deliberately try to promote an atmosphere of chaos, and from this we profit. That's taking the notion of "chaos pimp" in its worst sense. It's an unfair accusation in the sense that you have to work very hard to keep up, and the return on that investment of time and commitment is only about fair as compared with, say, commodity speculation with large sums of other people's money. Commodity speculators need to study trends, but as a group over the past decade, they made off with a lot more booty per hour spent in deep study than the comparable gang of search marketers.
In a much more important sense, search marketers are comfortable with chaos, and that beats the heck out of putting your head in the sand. We didn't create it; it's not a clever ploy. The global economy is what it is. Yet few search marketers would recommend that you deviate from certain fundamentals; not if they're true professionals.
To be sure, we would also agree that rapid change in the requirements of online visibility is ongoing. It's a primitive sort of pipe dream that suggests we could build a "simple system" where the "rules never changed"... once and for all. Someone recently wrote to me angrily denouncing some poor search results, suggesting that a "five-year-old could get it right" and that the company displaying the "poor" results "should hire a five-year-old". Hmmm. Have you noticed that people denouncing the quality of search results often have an ax to grind about one specific result they don't like... such as their own inability to rank well, or shortcomings in their own company's reputation?
What is happening in the economy right now will always be happening. That is, business conditions change rapidly and periods of relative stability are followed by periods of rapid adjustment. In that sense, search engines and search engine marketing are "chaos pimps" in the best sort of way. They capture and respond nimbly to rapidly changing business conditions. When their needs change, consumers search for different things. (A B2B example I can think of right now is an HR consultancy that formerly did a lot of volume based on the assumption of an expanding economy and the need to recruit and hire people, and now helps companies deal with the fallout of layoffs and other ugliness. As some aspects of their business fell and ROI on some aspects of paid search dropped, other areas picked up, to balance things out.) The best search engines, the smartest companies, and the nimblest search marketers are there - working in concert - to efficiently connect people to what they're looking for, in good times or bad.
Labels: search marketing
After a slow start, GMail is on a raging pace to overtake Hotmail in the next 12-18 months. GMail posted 43% year-over-year growth last year.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why. (1) On a standalone basis the Gmail product rocks and innovation is ongoing. (2) GMail integrates with other (better) Google products as well; Google is thus the new portal/monopolist in the space, replacing Microsoft.
When GMail was first released, it was "Game On." Now, it's looking more like "Game Over."
Labels: gmail, hotmail
Friday, February 06, 2009
Job-seekers can dream of "Six Figure Incomes Without a College Degree" anytime a mag like Forbes decides to run that perennial feature.
Some of Forbes' dream jobs:
1. Real Estate Broker. 75th percentile income: $151,000. Well, you don't apply directly to be a broker. You have to work your way up. Also: those are past years' numbers. How's that working out now? For many of these "occupations," the sample is biased towards the survivors. (The survivor bias in history.) If we count those forced out by a numbers game, now the number includes whatever they're making now... if anything. As with all of these figures, you might also ask what is the 40th percentile income. Who says you'll be one of the winners?
2. Air Traffic Controller. 75th percentile income: $156,000. I can sure see why they pay pilots handsomely. Comparing comments from Sully Sullenberger and air traffic control... Sully: "I think we're going in the Hudson." ATC: "He says he may be going in the Hudson." (Tongue in cheek, of course. Air traffic control must be one of the most stressful and demanding jobs you can have, hence the high pay.)
3. Small Business Owner/Operator. 75th percentile income: $119,000. Sounds like a picnic, doesn't it? To reach that level all you'll have to do is work seven days a week, for 10-15 years. Unless you don't make it, in which case you might very well be, well, just bankrupt. Here again, those who make the grade are worth every penny. They're the survivors. You can't apply for the job of "successful survivor." You make it happen.
4. Fashion Designer. 75th percentile income: $104,000. Once again, a dream job for which you often need to be self-employed to be hired. For comment, see under "Small Business Owner." Your ascent can be a little faster in fashion, and failure tends to be faster, too.
5. Plumber, pipefitter, steamfitter. 75th percentile income: $93,100. In a hot economy that figure is probably right, if you work the overtime. You're definitely working for a living. In a down economy, when they shut down big construction projects, that figure plummets, of course, so in that case the money starts to look really ordinary, especially for those at the 40th percentile.
6. Construction superintendent. 75th percentile income: $97,500. As long as there are enough construction projects, you'll be in work. Not so anymore, needless to say. The figure is an artefact of the financial and real estate bubble.
And the list goes on. The point seems to be, high incomes don't exactly grow on trees. There's a distribution curve. Make good choices, understand the appropriate politics and economics in your industry, and be good at what you do, and you'll wind up in that 75th or 90th percentile, in an area that actually survives. As I said above, you can't apply for that position. You make it happen over time. And you've got to love what you do. Just because it sounds like a radiation therapist makes good money... is that they type of work you want to do for the next twenty years? No? Then their income is irrelevant to you!
Thursday, February 05, 2009
[hat tip Christopher Cemper] If Google experiments with AJAX presentation of search results, it could have a profound effect on the current generation of referral tracking, rank checking, competitive intelligence, and other search marketing tools.
More coverage by Matt McGee over at Search Engine Land... complete with official Google statements that it is only a minor experiment... implying that they don't intend to do much with it and implying that the intent of the experiment is not to counter rampant scraping. Do we believe them?
Labels: ajax, google search
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