Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Kickin' It Old-School

For the first time, Google is testing out print advertising. The plan: Buy advertising space in magazines and resell that space in chunks to AdWords advertisers. Reactions have been mixed, but some parties are excited about the idea of Google bringing its Midas touch to an old-and-busted medium:

Bill Adler, chief executive of security software company CyberScrub, another of the Google advertisers in PC Magazine, said print ads are a welcome alternative to pay-for-click, which "tends to be somewhat up and down as far as effectiveness, for any number of reasons."

Welcome to Labor Day Weekend, son!

If I were an AdWords advertiser, I'd be rather skittish about taking part in this venture. It's damn hard to accurately measure your ROI from a print ad for your website. PPC (pay per click) model advertising is so much easier to work with, from an analytical standpoint, than traditional print media advertising. Apparently Mr. Adler would rather be able to shrug his shoulders and make up numbers he likes than have to face the sometimes unfavorable fluctuations of data he can trust.

Measuring business generated online from an ad displayed offline is hellaciously fuzzy. Note that the ads show the advertiser's URL and phone number. The Inksite and 602 Software guys (or whoever wrote their ads for them) were clever enough to provide a URL ending in "/pcmag", so they can be fairly sure that anyone who ends up at that page got there because they saw the print ad. Except that, uh, I didn't have to pick up the magazine to find those URLs, since they're right there in the online version of the ad... assuming the URL in the online version is the same as in the print edition (and I ain't going down to Fry's to check)... You see what I mean? Hard to track. Furthermore, I hope that those phone numbers are either also special lines set up just for readers of the ad ("[877] INK-SITE"... probably not), or that the CSRs answering the phones are asking callers if they called up after seeing the ad. And that they have a magic wand for making sure they don't double-count people who see the PC Mag ad and then both visit the website and call the phone number.

Of course, figuring out how much business you got by advertising in a print magazine becomes even harder when that magazine has a naughty habit of doctoring its paid circulation numbers.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Another One Bites the Dust

I love Daily Dinosaur Comics. The strip's creator, Ryan North, has just posted an AdSense tale of woe that rings all too familiar. He's right, you know -- as I understand it, AdSense customers are just as vulnerable to click fraud as AdWords advertisers, but apparently AdSense customers are presumed guilty and blackballed whereas AdWords advertisers get account credits. (To be fair, there are obviously more happy AdSense customers out there than unhappy ones, but happy people don't make noise. You only complain when your toy stops working; you don't comment when it's running smoothly as intended -- in fact, you don't even notice. That's success, after a fashion.)

I've heard and read similar complaints from AdSense customers before, and it distresses me to hear that nothing's changed in the last couple of years. A little more transparency would really befit AdSense here. Yes, I know they've got to defend their payment model, like their other intellectual property, from reverse engineering by cloaking its workings in a "black box," but the side effect is that a lot of people feel they're getting screwed over: they're at the mercy of AdSense, and when they run afoul of it, AdSense customer support has stonewalled them. When you anger bloggers, they blog about it. And who needs more negative PR? (Heck, at least these days, if you have a bad experience, now it can be told.)

Am I failing to understand the issue here? Isn't it possible for the AdSense payment model to be more transparent without exposing the IP and thus jeopardizing revenue? Less hand-waving, more hand-shaking, guys.

"Don't like the ToS? Don't sign the contract," I hear you say. Well, yeah. There are other services out there for those who've been burned by AdSense or (as posted here previously) simply find that the other service makes them more money. However great your product is, if your customer service sucks, you'll lose business... to the competitors who have sprung up without even needing to RE and rip off your IP for their own service.

(It looks like I'm in a bad mood today, pontificating on a service I don't know much about. I'm going to go get more caffeine; you go read Jen Slegg.)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Quality-Based Bidding: One Man's Poison...

CNET reports that AdWords advertisers are feeling the burn from the new "minimum bid" system, while AdSense customers are seeing higher revenues. This is in line with what I've been hearing over the last week and a half. One audience member at my BAR Camp talk said his AdSense revenue had tripled in the prior few days.

If you're adding new keywords to your AdWords campaign, I recommend starting out with a higher max CPC than you'd normally use. If you bid really low (as you might have been wont to do under the old system), and that bid proves to be well below what most others are bidding, your ad will display in a low position, resulting in poor CTR, resulting in the keyword's getting disabled, and as a result you'll be asked to pay a higher minimum CPC to reactivate it. That is, if your ad even gets a chance to show -- I've already heard tell of keywords that were just added getting disabled immediately, with Google setting min CPC to reactivate at way above the original max CPC the advertiser had chosen. On the other hand, if you bid too high to start with, you can always adjust downward later. Keep an eye on things. We're all going to have to baby our accounts for this first while.

You should also be thinking about what keywords you're really attached to: you might allow some keywords that are of lesser importance to you (i.e. not worth it to you to pay the minimum bid) to get deactivated, and reallocate that money to your core group of keywords. Figure out which keywords have been most successful for you, which are core to your branding, and conversely, which have been poor investments. Do you have keywords that are getting high CTRs but don't convert well after the user reaches your site? Consider getting rid of 'em. The Long Tail is sooo five minutes ago. Take a long, hard look at that keyword list and think about thinning the herd.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Y!SM Doh

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Nearly Roadkill

[First off: Per request, my BAR Camp slides are now available in PDF format.]

We are getting very close to the Online Marketing Millennium, in the old-fashioned sense of Christ's 1000-year reign on Earth. The Savior is coming in the form of totally customized marketing to individuals on The Internet, and it's slouching pretty close to Bethlehem as we speak. We're close, but the process still has its hiccups: someone at BAR Camp was talking about how he spent some time on Amazon hunting for children's gifts, and thereafter Amazon would only recommend kids' items to him, when he was actually looking for, like, O'Reilly books or whatever.

I was thinking about this issue yesterday after my response to NeilFred's comment on my last post: Google most likely is working on a scalable enterprise-class customized personal marketing solution. ("Bingo!") Serving ads based on a query, considered in isolation, is old and busted; the new hotness (well, recent warmness, I may be behind the times) is serving ads based on an entire user profile, based on a context built up over time, sync'ed with the individual's current needs*, and pulling data from a variety of sources -- from your search history to what interests you list on on Orkut to the tags you attach to your Picasa photos. Not so much psychographic marketing as -- let's call it id-ographic marketing. Market segmentation into a set of size 1.

It's coming, but it's far from a new idea. It's one of the more interesting themes in Kate Bornstein and Caitlin Sullivan's book Nearly Roadkill, wherein every person must Register themselves with the government on the Internet under their true, legal identity; not to do so is a federal crime. A male policeman who is not very good with computers accidentally registers as a female (it's a binary choice, mind, you can't check "Other"!), discovers he can't hit "Back" in the registration wizard to correct the error, and finds himself doomed to an eternity of tampon ads. Watching the evolution of online advertising, particularly Google's contributions, has made me hearken frequently back to Nearly Roadkill. So I decided to post about it today, only to discover that danah boyd beat me to it by two years. She seems to be thinking mostly about the social aspects of the book, though, while I'm looking at the marketing part (as you might expect from danah and me, respectively). That's not to say I haven't also spent a lot of time considering other themes in the book, but since this is my marketing blog and not my (nonexistent) recovering English major blog, I'll stick to mentioning NR's eerie prophesying of the coming millennium.

If anyone can immanentize the Eschaton, it'll be Google.

"Speed it, O Father! Let thy Kingdom come!"

UPDATE: Dogster's Ted Rheingold's got some related thoughts.

*I include this clause because Amazon still recommends LSAT study guides to me, even though I took the LSAT a year ago and have already navigated the law school application process. Why doesn't Amazon make note of my buying an LSAT study guide, wait one year, start recommending standard 1L books on CivPro and the like, wait another three years, and then start recommending bar exam study guides? Unless, that is, it collects data in the meantime that suggest I've abandoned the law school thing.

Monday, August 22, 2005

BAR Camp: Thank You

To all the people who made BAR Camp happen: Thank you for putting on what has to be the best conference I've been to. Thanks to the organizers for pulling such a cool event together in just one week; to the sponsors for feeding me, clothing me, and housing me; and to the attendees for blowing my mind. I could practically hear the rusty gears of my brain screeching from unaccustomed use. The best part was that people weren't just talking, but Doing, right up through the very end of the conference. Organizers, you catalyzed a great thing, and I am looking forward to BAR Camp 2006.

New: Google Desktop Sidebar

Y'know, if I were trying to promote my company's hot new product feature, I would've taken a screenshot at a time when the company stock wasn't down $4.17. But that's just me.

Nice-lookin' Sidebar, anyway. I like the scratch pad. Wonder when they'll add advertising in a panel you can't minimize or remove. Would that be evil?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Robert Scoble Asks, And Robert Scoble Shall Receive

I'm at BAR Camp, where I gave a talk on Saturday about Google AdWords basics. Robert Scoble complained that I had no blog. Scoble, me voici.

This blog will be devoted exclusively to Serious Professional Stuff: search engine marketing (SEM), search engines in general, and other highfalutin topics. To kick things off, here are my slides from my AdWords talk. (I probably should develop a Serious Professional Website also in the near future.)

All I want is for people to know what the hell SEM is so that I don't have to keep explaining myself every time I meet someone new and get the inevitable question, "What do you do?" This has been a lifelong problem: my father works in the epitaxy sub-field of the semiconductor industry, which I understand vaguely as "putting things on top of other things" (namely, a thin layer of crystals on a silicon wafer). My mother, when I was younger, was a Japanese<->English technical translator. I would tell them, "Why can't you be a construction worker and a secretary, or something similarly commonplace?" And here I am, following in their footsteps, working in an industry that currently can't be summed up for most people in a neat little phrase. Moreover, I've learned to celebrate not being commonplace. Thanks, Mom and Dad.