Saturday, November 28, 2009
Adbusters. No Logo.
Buy Nothing Day.
Various guilt-ridden middle class people doing their best to march in solidarity with imaginary downtrodden, non-materialistic brothers and sisters, say the darndest things about brands, advertising, and when you come right down to it, the joy of shopping for, thinking about, and buying, stuff.
A typical gambit in their mission statements reads like something out of a formal revolutionary theory paper: "reduction in all (x, y, or z) to zero." So, reducing "all advertising to zero," along with reducing all exploitation to zero, all poverty to zero, tuition fees to zero, all greenhouse emissions to zero (well actually, I've never heard anyone say that), etc. And those are the nice examples. Bad examples, needless to say, might entail ethnic cleansing, enforced codes of thought, or being forced to settle for last year's handbag.
In social and political thought circles this can be nicely called "utopianism," but the habit of thought is called "reductionist." It's also tempting to render it as "totalitarian." When you remove a whole cultural or economic layer because it somehow seems superfluous to an elegantly-designed system, chances are you're forgetting that freedom, economic incentives, and cultural pluralism (that sometimes create messy things like being interrupted, the need to borrow for an education, etc.) are pretty acceptable messes in contrast with the alternative.
So how does an otherwise smart guy like Jerry Neumann, an "investor in marketing companies" with a quietly efficient blog called Reaction Wheel, come out with:
"Someday, somebody will discover a way to do away with advertising altogether, reducing that particular cost of transacting to zero. That company will be bigger than Google."
Well, one interesting distinction is that unlike the poshly-housed "anti brand warriors," he doesn't lament too much advertising as a blight on humanity or an assault on our right to peace and quiet (arguably you might say, too much of it indeed is). He's concerned that it is wasteful, from an economic standpoint. There's very little doubt about that, but this may be more of an empirical question of how to find customers and grow your company in a wide variety of industries, through a wide variety of methods. "Reducing all advertising to zero" is a pretty blunt way of expressing that.
Because he seems to work with a lot of smart people, and maintains a keen interest in ad exchanges and the like, I can only assume that Neumann's formulaic statement was a mental glitch, or maybe part of the vernacular of venture capitalists, who like to make vast, sweeping statements about revolutionary business models and technologies, many of them connected to efficiency, pricing models, etc.
Efficiency at what? Giving people what they "already want"? That's a sliver of our task. And I love that quest. Reducing friction in fulfilling demand is a big part of what my company helps companies do when someone searches for "organic quinoa" on Google.
We live in a culture. "Already want" is supplemented by an incredible amount of "hey, by the way, I think you might really really want...," and "did you see the great episode of...?"
Neumann's post was called Eliminate Advertising. For a mature executive not toting a can of spray paint, that's pretty childlike. I guess the purpose is just to get attention. It's valuable, after all! And in an attention economy, can you logically even conceive of no advertising? Not even remotely.
Friday, November 27, 2009
This ad appeared in my GMail account today:
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Can you believe GMail is 5.59 years old? Google AdWords (Select), by contrast, is only a bit older at 7.76 years old.
I'm sitting here looking at one email thread in GMail that has 41 messages in it over the past 15 days. Like a mini-Basecamp masquerading as an ordinary inbox.
GMail has its quirks, but I don't let them derail me. As I am highly dependent on the power of GMail.
Conversations I have with "ordinary email users" often result in them saying "I can't find..." or "can you re-send..."? I honestly don't know how people cope when they can't refer back to a message or attachment in a matter of seconds.
Where would I be with that project with the 41 messages right now, if I were using old-fashioned email methodology?
I now see it as a foregone conclusion that GMail market share will overtake the #2 and #1 players, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, eventually. Main reason: the others aren't very good. They release new features and more storage - but they're not as fast, not as cool.
Some people hate the threading thing, and don't like to change their routine, but that is offset by the ongoing flood of new users.
Google has always prided itself on its "unmarketing".
Release products in beta, quietly. Don't buy mass advertising. Let people discover your offerings organically, through online discovery, word of mouth, and a little bit of presence at the key trade shows.
But things seem to have changed. Has Google stepped up the urgency of their outbound effort, at a time when they seem to have reached unprecedented profitability anyway? What if 1,000 Googlers quietly doing their jobs all hit you (quietly) over the head at once? Does it feel like a relentless onslaught of Google this, and Google that? When is it too much?
Recently I was struck to notice Google's presence rivaling that of companies like global financial institutions... they had purchased a whole row of big billboards in the airport, to promote their enterprise software division (www.google.com/gogoogle).
They also have a major presence in a lot of airports right now because they're sponsoring the free wi-fi.
When you get back to your desk, you notice that a house ad on Google Finance is promoting the Google Chrome browser.
Entering my GMail account today, I got an offer sent to me as a CafePress shopkeeper. (This was positioned just below the ad in GMail encouraging me to use Google AdWords, as you can see from the attached screen shot.) A coupon for use in a new Google AdWords account.
I have a pile of unused, similar coupons sitting on my desk, sent to past tenants at my office building.
Does 1,000 earnest voices quietly whispering "Google" add up to a shout? Not quite, but it's an eerie sound, isn't it?
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Google has been up front about their upcoming ad format releases, so this doesn't come as a bombshell. Nick Fox shared the news at SES San Jose, and we were offered examples previously, posted here.
Today, VP of Product Management Susan Wojcicki officially describes a variety of the new formats, with appropriate screen shots.
One reaction might simply be, "OMG another nail in the coffin for SEO!". I'm sure some in the SEO community will be afraid that more and more paid screen real estate will make it harder to drive organic traffic, and to some extent that's true. Whether elements of "universal search" take away organic traffic by one mechanism, or whether big local (paid) units take away organic traffic by another mechanism, it's an ongoing shift in the works.
And yes, it's a shift we said SEO's should get used to even back when we wrote about paid inclusion and paid search in the period 2000-2002. It's not easy news to share; never has been.
Google will no doubt protest it isn't turning into the Yellow Pages entirely, and certainly there will remain a huge amount of "unmonetized" inventory.
Susan Wojcicki makes another point worth noting, though, and that's "remaining loyal to [Google's] core principle" of "getting the right ad to the right person at the right time." Perhaps that's a core principle, but it's one that was invented and then emphasized by Wojcicki as a "core principle" in a blog post in 2008.
That implies that the new ad formats are, well, sort of an incremental, evolutionary change. On the face of it, this is disingenuous. In fact, if you looked up disingenuous in the dictionary...
I mean, look at some of the units. Hey Pizza Hut. Want to take up 50% of the screen real estate above the fold, on searches for "pizza hut"? You might have already, but with our new "pay us more" plan, you can sort of control how we display your listings.
Don't pay? Well, it might look something like the screen shot below, when a Toronto native searches for "pizza hut." Oh sure, you show up nicely in the organic results. But doesn't it really stick in your craw that the top sponsored listing is for Pizza Pizza, the leading pizza chain in Canada? Arrggghhhh! Pay up, Pizza Hut.
It naturally occurs to us, then -- given Pizza Pizza's success at "brandjacking" in this instance (largely legal in North America, though often subject to trademark litigation) -- that Pizza Pizza could scoop up the whole area above the fold, even on a search for "pizza hut," if they paid enough. I'm not saying it will happen, but while we're massaging core principles, what's a nuance among friends? Why not go all the way? I'm sure a few users will want to find a Pizza Hut, but they'll quickly lose interest when they see that Pizza Pizza has more locations anyway, to say nothing of seven flavors of dipping sauce.
It may well be significant that Nick leaned towards the word "revolutionary change" in his keynote. He wanted the community, and advertisers, to know that every assumption is on the table for discussion. Implying, in a way, that Google was adopting a new "open for business stance." While Google isn't about to throw its users under a bus entirely (at least if anyone remembers the Google Paradox that made them as wealthy as they are), it's hard to agree that this shift squares with Google "staying loyal to its original principle," unless that principle is a malleable, made-up principle that started making the rounds fewer than two years ago.
Are these significant enough changes to be unsettling, at least to the large contingent of longtime punters who thought they understood what Google's core principles were in the advertising realm? Absolutely. It's way beyond just rattling a few cheapskate SEO's. It's going to shake you up even if you liked buying the paid listings in the past.
Those who will be most comfortable with the changes may well be old-school big brand marketers, and agency veterans from the interruption marketing, big media buy era. Curious. Google spent ten years deriding that paradigm, forcing its adherents to play inside of Google's platform. Now, it's "you got money? let's talk."
They're radical changes, but naturally, Google is painting them as gradual. (Well actually, Nick Fox was honest. He used the word "revolutionary" at one point.)
Here are the key differences between New Google Advertising (2009-) and Google Advertising Classic (2001-2008):
- Google is doing paid inclusion! In several ways. If this is just the beginnings of it, as it probably is, then Google is moving into paid inclusion in a major way. Almost all of Google's competitors have been lambasted for muddy ways of monetizing that didn't firmly explain what should go where, and whether it's paid for or not. Now that it has a monopoly position, Google is angling to do more of this muddy inclusion than any of its rivals ever did. Danny Sullivan, one of the only people in the industry who has followed the details of all forms of relationship between monetized and unmonetized search inventory, from Day One, of course called this right away in a column last week on Nov. 16, "Google Experiments with Paid Inclusion". And called "BS" on any attempt to deflect attention from this major shift in approach.
- Google is ramping up a direct ad sales force and turning into the Yellow Pages, where it suits them. Folks, you can't buy all these various ad formats through a platform, and you don't have to adhere to an algorithm or an auction. Arguably, if you want to throw more money at Google, bunches more, for innovative forms of exposure and attention -- so innovative that they impact how Google manages the user interface, not just where it puts your message -- you're free to do so. Hello deep pockets, goodbye level playing field and transparent pricing.
I'm sure more bullet points could be enumerated, but that's the heart of it.
- Google, the search engine, is now heavily dominated by advertising and thinking about advertising. If you're into information, we suggest you consider Wolfram Alpha, or the local library.
Heck, as a search advertising specialist, I should be thrilled. Maybe, but I'm also a search and information geek. Media buying is at the heart of what SEM geeks do, so I'll survive and so will our corporate clients, who seek ways to buy digital exposure on search engines and elsewhere. But I'm not entirely sure how anyone at Google can talk about their new ad formats cleaving to Google's "original principles" with a straight face, unless they're referring to an "original" principle that's all of two years old.
No one's holding a gun to anyone's head, of course. People love to shop. They love movies, and they love to compare mortgage rates. Hey, many consumers willingly watch infomercials. It's still a free country and you're still free to use or not use the engine and free to look or not look at the ads. But make no mistake, it's a significant change, and it comes at a time when the only significant challenge to Google's monopoly on commercial search in many markets is a search engine run by Microsoft.
Google's early experiments with blended search results made it seem like they never planned to charge anyone for appearing in a whole diversity of (often commercial) forms of listings. Viewed from a certain angle, it now looks like they're cooking up ways to charge everyone for everything. The free ride is rapidly coming to an end.
Labels: advertising, google, google adwords
Thursday, November 19, 2009
2003 seems to be the earliest anyone seriously had the stones to predict that Google would work on an operating system, but even then, most prognosticators referred to Google's combined properties being "like an OS"... metaphorically.
We at Traffick are proud to be among the earliest Google-OS-watchers who actually identified an actual operating system as a potential Google project, as opposed to "OS-ishness". In November 2003 we said it wasn't happening anytime soon, so we weren't 100% wrong.
Rich Skrenta was also hit-and-miss in his visionary post of 2004, which said absolutely nothing wrong, and helped quite a few readers grasp Google's defensible advantages. He also pointed straight to the smoking gun of Google hiring OS researchers. But then he didn't come out and predict that they would actually work on, and release, an actual OS.
That prediction became easier and easier to make as Google released Docs, Chrome, Android, etc. But it is safe to say that the world was never really buzzing about the possibility that Google would release an actual OS, until it was, well, safe to say.
The "have's" and the "have nots". My friend Mike Grehan has always talked about that divide in terms of link love. People with websites have (at least the chance) of voting for someone else's page or site with a link. People who don't, don't.
Yet search engines have focused a lot on linking behavior as a measure of quality and reputation. They've done so ever since Google bust on the scene with PageRank, in 1998.
But now that terrain has exploded. Signaling approval comes through reviews, mentions, and social media sharing, especially tweeting.
But the websites at the receiving end of all this have always had, and still do have, their own have-vs.-have-nots divide.
Great, content-building SEO's have always needed to come up with ways of taking a commercial website -- let's say one that sells "industrial varnish" -- and encouraging the owners to create some pages of useful content, so "the search engine spider" would have something to eat.
That's now an expanded mandate. As traditional social linking (come on, can we stop parroting the non-scientific Google sloganeering from 10 years ago that assumed that a "link is a vote for a page"?) has faded, all sorts of inbound link loving, mostly in different forms of social media and peer sharing, has exploded.
To supplement the "build content" piece, the content-SEO-experts' off-page SEO counterparts, the link-building coaches, might then give a traditional vendor website some tips on how to get more of the inbound link love that PageRank so loves.
But that's very tough if you sell "industrial varnish" (example picked at random). You will not have thousands of customers rallying around you cooing about your product: "Oh Dolores, did you see the fabulous new NG733002 over at www.varnishicco.com? I got the heads-up from Daily Candy. It's fabulous!"
So, a leading retailer in the industrial paints and varnishes space goes the sensible route. Submits to B2B directories. Has a few respected employees with LinkedIn profiles. The founders raise their profile and begin speaking at industrial safety conferences (what? is it the SEO's job to explain to companies the benefits of being a good citizen? sigh... we're underpaid). And unfortunately, a few other inbound links may or may not help with link juice: the ones that show the company as legal precedent in the footnotes of a legal proceeding in an employee lawsuit having to do with pension funds in a different company entirely.
And if everyone's really on the ball, they can create a whole educational section with "how-to's," etc., on the website. That is actually stuff that someone might link to or mention.
That's all pretty hard work! And it does to show that many vendor websites don't naturally lend themselves to "whuffie" (the giving or receiving of social reputation). It's a struggle for many to reach the same whuffie power as mere, chatty individuals (esp. those with a lot of time on their hands, making up for their friendless-in-high-school status with a ton of similarly-afflicted virtual chums), or "content websites" that may bring to the table thousands of useful articles and daily posts and conversations.
Frankly, this is not an indictment of the vendor sites, or any proof that they don't "get it". There is a Whuffie Power Law: chatty individuals and "content sites" naturally attract 100X or 1,000X the reputation elements of many "vendor sites". They live and breathe in a World of Whuffie.
And frankly, it points to a flaw in the mechanisms search engines use to measure reputation and the value of a page or website. (But don't think they're not aware of that flaw. It's more the hectoring, condescending SEM and social media consultants that will try to make their clients feel bad, when it is in fact an inherent flaw of last-generation search algorithms.)
Much of it (the whuffie-measurement thing as applied to search algorithms, that is) is about pure math, and about "how much". But if your "how much" realm has a max of (arbitrary number) 100, and the chatty individuals and content sites (like what you're enjoying right now) have a max of (arbitrary guess) of 10,000, the math is skewed. The bar is set too high for the "vendors." And they tie themselves in knots trying to figure out how to make themselves into something they're not. We're comparing apples and oranges. And unfortunately, in B2B especially, but in all commercial endeavors, the searcher isn't always looking for a video, a map, a clever article, a friend, or a tweet. They're looking for the best industrial varnish. And no one is tweeting about the awesome varnish their company bought in bulk, unless they're some kind of weird social media whore. And it might be smart for them to do it, given that they now make their favorite varnish maker into a "have," rescuing them from their "have-not" status... but the question is, just because someone tweeted it doesn't make it true. And search engines are supposed to have an interest in accuracy, and filtering out noise, spam, and untrue statements. They're bad at it, but they should have an interest in it long term.
I sympathize with the vendors who want to gain reputation, because they're playing on a non-level playing field. They're forced to shoehorn whuffie into the normal course of their operations, to make it look like they're on a par with Robert Scoble, Gawker, or Kate Kardashian. It's not because they're not reputable. It's because they're not celebrities, or social media showboats.
But shoehorn many of them must. We live in a whuffie world, and since Herbert Simon wrote about it in 1971 (as told by Chris Anderson), a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. Thus, in the attention economy, quiet and obscure is bad for nearly all vendors and nearly all brands, even the ones that aren't selling their own celebrity.
So they have a few options, not all of them perfect, like the content-creation and limited link solicitation mentioned above. I'll run through some more of them in the next part.
Labels: online reputation, pagerank, whuffie
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Silicon Valley logic has seemingly ruled the economy for many years now. The culture of casual clothing, distributed work, and relentless downward pressure on some costs such as some software and of course storage (the "too cheap to meter" phenomena discussed by Chris Anderson in Free) are very familiar to some of us because we work close to or in that culture.
But the fact is, many don't work that close to that culture and some actively resist the folkways of high tech, especially high tech startups. So many of the "old ways" have persisted. Some people bravely predict a "return to traditional corporate culture."
Lately, though, I run across an increasing number of people who have taken more decisive shifts towards the informal, low-overhead culture. Not for cultural reasons, but for straightforward cost reasons. Customers want costs to make sense, so they hire vendors that avoid unnecessary overhead. Down with ceremony, up with efficiency. (To a point!)
That doesn't mean everything gets outsourced to India.
But it does mean, people don't act like they used to. And they don't spend on the same things.
In Silicon Valley (or just contemporary nimble wired company) terms, "bad overhead" means:
The low cost version of this is:
- Too much office space
- Too few contractors, and too many ill fitting in house people trying to cover all the bases
- Typical business wardrobes for all seasons. The right weight coat to wear over your various flavors of business attire, and nice shoes for all seasons too.
- Long commutes to ensure full face time, even if you moved to the suburbs
It's not everyone's idea of a good corporate culture, or of the perfect life, but the marketplace is asking for it, because it affects people's bottom lines. It started happening a long time ago. The trend isn't about to reverse itself just because office building groups or the makers of corporate business attire wish it would.
- Make-do office space, with more sharing, or in a cheaper location
- Contract stuff out when you can't do it
- Hoodies and sneakers: no problem
- Work from home more. Face time can be for business development, key meetings, or partying - not day to day distraction or routinized meetings.
This being a week of overwork for many of us, this "kick the week off" post for Monday didn't happen until Tuesday.
And now, there is no way (at least not yet) that I feel like posting about something serious (such as a review of Avinash Kaushik's new book, which definitely deserves a post).
To start the week off with a chuckle (or to start what's left of it off) might make more sense.
I thought I lost my cool dealing with United Airlines. A colleague once actually watched me drop an f-bomb on a gate agent's head, like something out of a bad reality show. And I *never* do that! So United must be pretty bad sometimes.
But John Battelle's mind-boggling experience, as a million-mile flyer, makes me feel so much better. Asking for the price of five seats vs. three, his seat fare went up from $447 to $2,011 per seat, and no one seemed to care. I have to hand it to John. He kept his cool for a long time. And when he lost it, he lost it in style.
Pretty funny, too, that he asked if he had reached the "special" line when his complaint was escalated. Um, not exactly. "I'm an agent." How special John must have felt.
Now where shall I post my complaint about the surprisingly crappy attention to detail in the Sheraton Downtown Nashville? Ah, how about right here. Great service from the parking guys and the wonderful smile of the breakfast waitress, Carolyn, sort of canceled it out, so no tongue-lashing on TripAdvisor. But when I checked in after a long trip - and after upgrading to a club floor - I had no towels! They took over an hour to arrive (apparently no call of TOWELS! CLUB FLOOR! STAT!), but regardless, I didn't wait and took advantage of the absorbent qualities of the bathrobe. Next morning I discovered the coffee maker was also very broken, despite the tantalizing presence of the Starbucks sachets. Surely five or six guests had already noticed its lack of function, judging by the water left in it.
I think Battelle and I are agreed on this point: we don't particularly care if you treat some of your customers like cattle. Just don't let it be us. We've got the miles and maybe a couple of wrinkles to prove we've earned, let's say, towels.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
- To stopping something. To our brave war veterans. In Canada, this is called Remembrance Day. On this day, I'm often overwhelmed with pride at Canada's role in world affairs (not always perfect); about the same feeling I get on July 1, Canada Day. World War I was hoped to be "The War to End All Wars." Would that it were so. And so tempering that pride, I reflect on the sheer magnitude of those thought-to-be-unthinkable conflicts.
- To starting something. Beginning the 15th year of publication! In 1995(!), Dr. Ralph Wilson started Web Marketing Today, about the same time as the commercial Internet itself got underway. As his subscriber list has grown to a whopping 101,000, he has tirelessly demystified all the building blocks of web marketing -- email, search, content, shopping carts, blogging, you name it -- for small and midsized businesses. Ralph defines what it means to be a pioneer. If you're one of those SME's and need to get back to basics, can't figure out which of the many voices to trust, subscribe to the newsletter or check out one of Ralph's many ebooks. There's always solid value there.
Friday, November 06, 2009
It may seem like a small point, but "pay-per-click" was the nickname given to paid search advertising back when it started out, but it only describes a pricing method, not the nature of the media or what we seek from it. (In the proto-days of that same technology, "paid keywords" or "buying keywords" was another way of describing it.)
I was reminded of this whole mental muddle today reading the headline from an email solicitation, something about "getting more PPC without using Google".
But that whole line is kind of old hat. It's the come-on that opportunistic, non-search-based ad platform companies used to sell their crummy, remnant, and sometimes fraudulent contextual text ad inventory. Sometimes it couldn't have even been described that neatly. It was traffic, and you paid for the clicks, and potentially you used keywords to guide the system towards certain publishers, but that was about it. You might as well have paid the effective CPM rate, as bid on clicks. Didn't matter.
That's why I always advocated paid search as the term of choice for people who really wanted to go after clicks from ordered results placed near search engine results, but it scarcely matters what I advocate! -- people will use all kinds of terms.
SEM is another term that arose. Agenda-setters in the business tried to remind everyone that paid search (or "PPC") is one sub-type of SEM (search engine marketing), and SEO (on the "organic side") is another sub-type. But the fight to make SEM exclusively the global term, and not to be used as synonymous with PPC or paid search, was lost. SEM is often used interchangeably with PPC or paid search.
No matter. With all of these nomenclature battles being unwinnable, we should turn our attention to the whole reason "PPC" was so attractive as a pricing mechanism. It's because it represented a happy medium between CPM (paying only for impressions -- "cost per thousand impressions") and CPA ("cost per acquisition" -- paying for lead conversions or even revenue-generating sales conversions).
You can draw up equivalents across these mechanisms, and measure or express them all for your keyword (paid search) campaigns. So the click isn't anything special. It can be expressed in its CPM equivalent and you can and should also be measuring ROI, ROAS, or CPA.
Indeed, according to some scholars [see "Greedy Bidding Strategies for Keyword Auctions"], the most rational strategy for bidding in a digital media auction would take you straight to CPA or revenue if that was possible. If you could bid directly on the customer acquisition or revenue, you would. (And in fact, that's what some forms of bid management automation attempt to do, at one or two removes. And it's what manual campaign management also attempts to do, painstakingly.)
But step back further. Are search, keywords, or clicks inherently special? Why the drive to distinguish them from other forms of media? Is it for what they are, or what they represent?
It has to be the latter. They represent potentially the most extreme (and measurable) form of granular targeting and flexible bidding, of a certain type. This is reflected in the sky-high effective CPM rates for some keywords.
But that means that all of this distinguishing one type or another is done mostly for economic or practical reasons.
Search and keywords (and clicks) fall into the general category of auction-based digital media. Whether we're bidding on clicks, acquisitions, impressions, or other, the universe of digital media is amenable to similar tests. From a rational bidder's standpoint, there should be no inherently good or bad media, nothing inherently "creepy" or "wrong," nothing inherently above reproach either.
That's mostly true. It's not entirely true. (Dropping ad-laden anvils on prospects' vehicles is interruption media, and some companies would pay for it, but it's stupid and illegal.) But isn't it a good starting point for analysis?
"PPC" doesn't matter per se. So pitches like "now you can get 'PPC' from other channels than Google" shouldn't have any special weight. You shouldn't be looking too hard for that inventory if your economic criteria show it's not going to pay off for you. Nor should you have been ignoring it all along just because you thought that "PPC" or "Google" were special for some inherent reason.
Labels: contextual ads, digital media, display ads, google adwords, paid search, ppc
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