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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bryan Eisenberg (.com): Guru, Teacher, Dad, Friend... and Just Plain Right

It's unusual to post on the launch of a blog from someone you may have already heard of - in this case Future Now founder, prolific author, and globally recognized conversion improvement (Persuasion Architecture) speaker, Bryan Eisenberg.

For example, I never got the chance to say - hey guys, Seth Godin's got a blog, you should check it out! That would have been absurd. You would have found it yourself.

I probably mentioned Danny Sullivan's blog, Daggle, when I found it, because he writes so much professionally that many in the industry found it fascinating how much personal insight he snuck in over at Daggle. Just illustrating the wide range of sensibilities people bring to the mix between personal and professional. There aren't any hard and fast rules here.

Having the chance to catch up with Bryan in Norway (on a 2 hour fjord boat tour, among other things), I certainly had a great opportunity to take in the personal side. It isn't to Bryan's taste to share much of that publicly, so BryanEisenberg.com, his new site, is strictly for professional purposes.

Despite Bryan's caution with oversharing online, audiences and colleagues like Bryan for more than just what he says. They take in the full spectrum of who he is: passionate about personas, obsessed with conversions, innovative in business models, but also, Brooklynite, newly-inspired lifestyle guru, dad, and a confident speaker with a wacky sense of humor (who never fails to derail the momentum with that gross dog diarrhea example... j/k Bryan). And the reasons for him shifting the locus of operations to the website with the personal name is connected to what makes him tick today. His primary passion is speaking, writing, and teaching, so it stands to reason that to get more quality speaking gigs he should have a website that says, "hey guys, it's me, Bryan Eisenberg".

I learned a few things hanging out with Bryan last week. They fall into a few categories. The first was just some kind of confirmation about how many regular global speakers share the same attitude towards the travel thing and the places they visit. They don't party too much (it's all relative), because on their day off they want to hit the ground running and walk for many miles to take in every sight they can. And when you're walking with them, aside from the local culture and business topics, they invariably talk about family. Well, of course. They miss them!

I also learned that you can make an immensely good living if you figure out what you're passionate about and focus on that without comparing yourself to anyone else. This may be nothing new, but either the dot com bust in 2001-2 or the current economic malaise got a lot of people. Waylaid them on their march to global supremacy. Made them ask, to cite the Po Bronson book title, What Should I Do With My Life?

It just may be that Bryan's next book would be a good sequel to Bronson's. Stay tuned for more on that from Bryan.

Bryan is no longer going to work 15 hour days grinding himself into dust. He'll work more efficiently and take time out to relax, be with family, and religiously follow his new exercise and diet regimen. You guessed it: Bryan's new life dovetails with the title of a forthcoming (marketing strategy meets personal empowerment) book he'll be working on: "Trim the Fat!" In the end, I bet he winds up earning more in his newly streamlined lifestyle. But in the meantime, he'll also have strengthened his whole life, to say nothing of his heart, lungs, etc. He's lost 50 lbs. since March... and is still going.

More practically, hearing Bryan confirm his persona as a sought-after speaker was a reminder to me that there is a marketplace for fantastic, value-adding speakers. In his groundbreaking book, Free, Chris Anderson recently related the Stewart Brand clarification that "commodity information wants to be free, and scarce information wants to be expensive." Combine scarce with motivating and mobilizing, and that's information that businesses will pay for and travel for.

I tend to think the conference circuit worked itself into a glut of events overfilled with so-so speakers who are pretty fair at putting out eight minutes of material. That's OK, but there's just too much of it. Like Bryan, I don't have any intention of contributing to the glut of 8-minute sound-bite-style presentations any more than I have to in the coming years. (That's part of why you'll see me delivering a full 45 minute standalone, Advanced Paid Search Brain Candy, at SES Chicago in December.)

None of this friendly stuff would matter to most of us, though, unless Bryan's material was constantly inspiring us to test new things with our websites, whether it be using a formal tool like Google Website Optimizer in concert with tips in the book he co-authored, Always Be Testing, or applying principles more broadly to different forms of problem-solving. Bryan's brain is the main thing that motivates me to hover nearby. :)

From time to time I'll offer more concrete examples here, no doubt. But for brevity's sake, just one for now. Persuasion Architecture puts much stock in the typology of four types of information searchers based on the dimensions fast vs. slow, and emotional vs. logical -- resulting in four basic personality types: competitive, methodical, spontaneous, and humanistic. My personal take is that as psychology, this is very rough-edged. But it is also very germane psychology when it comes to our task as interface designers and marketing communicators. Eye tracking studies showing the behavior of the four types are almost hilarious in how evocative they are in showing how people's searching and comparison shopping behavior differs. Those doggone methodical people stare down every link and heading on the page!

So in Q&A after his keynote talk in Oslo, I was curious to find out why a variety of "competitive" elements (of marketing copy, interfaces, etc.) seem to repeatedly test out so well in the direct response world (Google AdWords, landing pages, purchase conversions). Is the world becoming more competitive? Are frequent purchasers skewing towards more competitive types of people?

In Bryan's view, overall the trend is for buyers to use logic more than they once did, and less emotion, at least using online interfaces. (So, competitive is a subset of that use of logic, it's just the hair-trigger version.) This may be chicken-egg. Certain interfaces prompt us to be more logical and especially competitive as to how quickly we can get to the "right" solution for us. The tools are better. Those of us who are even slightly predisposed towards this are not easily taken in by that cute hero shot - though humanistic elements may lurk in the background to support the strength of brands. In our behavior, we flit from site to site. Finding best deals, comparing from bigger inventories. Finding more unique products from companies with niche (but better) products, and being able to buy quickly while getting to know the designer (OK, so that's just a tad humanistic). We're wringing every bit of performance out of this "buy now machine" called the digital world that we possibly can.

Going against that trend may prove expensive. In a naked digital world, your customer may be wearing a more dispassionate hat than you expect. And the definition of "in a hurry" keeps changing. Everyone gets faster, even the methodicals. Hide the banana and yet another of your prospects just may puke before you can finish the sentence "my bounce rate sucks."

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, August 18, 2008

Pocket Review: Bryan Eisenberg and John Quarto-vonTivadar, Always Be Testing

I just got through a bit over half of Bryan Eisenberg and John Quarto-vonTivadar's Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer, on the plane on the way from Toronto to San Jose. In the last hour of the flight, I quickly scanned the remaining chapters. Funny and all too familiar story: I left the book in the back of the seat when I got off the plane, so I expect United Airways personnel, or the next passenger, to begin feverishly improving their online presence any day now.

The "hard" sections of the book are the deep underpinnings of consumer motivations: personality types, goals, personas, etc. Anyone who has attended an Eisenberg conference session will have glimpsed these. These are insights worth digesting carefully - and are the most difficult to put into practice. Professionals only, please.

The inspiring sections come early on, when the authors simply do a great job of making the case to test at all. In my mind, they're rivaled only by Seth Godin in subtly shaming marketers for allowing organizational inertia for failing to test. I particularly liked the sentence that mentioned that you can get your testing motor running by choosing a key landing page to drive paid search traffic to. (Google Website Optimizer will measure conversions from all types of traffic, but it's clear that you can accelerate your testing towards profitable conclusions by sending more relevant paid traffic to the test page in a fast spurt. Thus Google doesn't tie use of its free product to use of Google AdWords, but they certainly stand to benefit from increased advertiser confidence.)

The actionable sections are all over the place. In the first half of the book you get a nice tactile sense of what you can test right now: the key drivers that can vault a small company's conversion rates up 100%, and a large company's page performance up by 25% -- assuming they didn't suck in the first place, in which case improvements might even be greater.

There's also an interesting discussion of offbeat types of testing that measure outcomes other than simple conversions: divergent paths; specific clicks; time on site, etc. Although web analytics folks have often churned through such data and pontificated in the general direction of management, it's safe to say few have kicked it up the required notches to make those stats into actionable tests. Marketers like you, me, and the authors are evidently going to be stretching the capabilities of Google Website Optimizer well beyond its initial build. The good folks at Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer have produced a robust initial product, but Eisenberg et al. won't just pat them on the back and leave them there. This amazing free tool is no doubt going to add a whole bunch of new capabilities on top of its existing solid core.

Cool examples abound. The small world of conversion science already holds the keys to much improved e-commerce performance, in a kind of database of ideas (not certainties... that's what they are, ideas about what you can try). Take Dell changing the phrase "Learn More" to "Help Me Choose," and then revamping some of the subsequent content accordingly. Which approach do you think works better to close a sale?

There are reasons testing aficionados will continue to run up against organizational resistance. Implicit web developer assumptions about information architecture often stop at pleasing but ultimately non-closing types of user patterns. Eisenberg et al. are no slouches at information architecture -- indeed there is a meaty section on designing better categorizations in this book. But the default initial build (or three) of a large company's site might still tilt too much toward: "put our information out there, install a cart system, and hope they buy." Conversion science is about asking for the sale, in the granular context of particular site visitors and their needs. And no, it doesn't always have to be a sale. But if it's not some kind of measurable event, then it's gossamer (ain't it?).

Comprehensive "catalog style" sections on the elements and minute sub-elements that you could test serve as a nice complement to the tactile "here's some basic ways to test" sections. Not to hype ya, but this little catalog of testing ideas could be worth tens or hundreds of thousands of bucks to your company. Eisenberg has generously open-sourced them.

I bumped into Bryan just minutes after getting off the plane, and he stressed that while the catalog-style section of testing elements is overwhelming on the surface, the book is meant to be the type of reference that sits on your desk to be used whenever it's needed. I'll certainly have one on mine, and copies for my team... after I replace the one I just left on the plane, of course!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, March 24, 2008

Notes From SES... Er, Great Times With Larry Chase and Bryan Eisenberg

As anyone in our industry will tell you goes without saying, the people are some of the warmest and most genuine you'll ever meet.

This year's SES New York was particularly rewarding from that standpoint. Along with getting to know several people better - yes, even people I already knew, like Kevin Ryan and Rory Brown, along with new faces (to me) like Pauline Ores, the social media expert at IBM - the week was fantastic.

But particular special mention has to go out to my friends Bryan Eisenberg and Larry Chase. Prior to SES, Larry hosted a dinner at one of his favorite haunts in Manhattan, where we got a chance to network with several new people as well as old gurus. Larry's tales of a long-ago trip across Canada, running out of money, and working his way across the prairies and the Rockies, were particularly fun. (That's Mona Elesseily and me deciding what to order.)

Larry has a detailed recap of SES New York here. Highly recommended.


As anyone hanging around in the speaker room (Tim Ash, Li Evans, Rory Brown, Matt McGowan) knows from the leftovers they scarfed down, Bryan kidnapped a few of us and took us on a little walking tour of Brooklyn, complete with genuine delicious Brooklyn pizza. Search people are nothing if not authentic.

Thanks, guys.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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