Make Sharing Easy

Antivirus company AVG pushed a great report to me earlier today called a “Threat Report”.  You can see a copy at the bottom of this post.  The security company with the freemium model wanted me to give them credit for protecting one my computers from a series of problems.  It’s a smart, relatively passive way for the company to prove its product’s worth to a user who is a potential upsell.

Silver Beacon Marketing does a similar thing, showing clients their return on investment (ROI) for advertising campaigns or other goals from our search engine optimization efforts.  That is proprietary data that few would publicize, but I’ve lost count of the number of times a referral has quoted their friend’s ROI to me.

Bagging about the number of threats your computer stopped is something you might share with anyone.  The whole thing sounds like fun.  And even a small adoption rate can mean some great exposure.  Let’s say that the report showed your level of web savvy and a fun rating about your computer’s strength along with some Twitter and Facebook share buttons.  Your product gets valuable exposure every time someone sends that report to their Twitter or Facebook stream.

Enabling that sharing function is only a part of the battle though. Sharing has to be simple–absolutely frictionless–to get the best possible return.  And that’s what I experienced today when I reactivated a StumbleUpon account.

Signing up was easy–only four fields after I clicked “connect with Facebook”.  And the company was smart enough to ask, “Hey, since you’re recommending pages to strangers, how about recommending them to your friends?”

Why not?  That makes perfectly good sense.  And with each post to my Facebook page, StumbleUpon gets a big endorsement from me to anyone connected with me.

Asking that question is smart.  My Facebook friends might not have a StumbleUpon account, but all the work is done for me if I want to post a link to my Facebook page or other social media channels. That is completely  frictionless.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to consider how your company communicates its real value to stakeh0lders.  Special bonus points if you make sharing that information easy.

AVG Threat Report shows that businesses value to customers

AVG Threat report - click to expand

How Google Just Changed Your Online Reporting

One of the core metrics online marketers use is the number of impressions an advertisement receives.   That’s important in any advertising, but the prices advertisers pay for search advertising is based in part on the “click through rate” or CTR.

Today’s Google Instant announcement means that search results will change fast and that’s very cool.  You’ve undoubtedly seen media coverage or even used the search yourself.   The biggest browsers:  Firefox, IE 8,  Chrome and Safari will all use Google’s instant search.

But the impression counts are going to be completely shot.

As the announcement was being made, I asked two well known online marketers on Twitter what would happen to the impression count.  You see, every time a new set of ads was displayed, Google’s counters likely considered each ad displayed and incremented the impression count.

One’s response?

“Good question”

Inside AdWords, the official Google AdWords blog, admitted this afternoon that impression counts will vary.  Here’s the quote from Dan Friedman there:

It’s possible that this feature may increase or decrease your overall impression levels. However, Google Instant may ultimately improve the quality of your clicks since it helps users type queries that more directly connect them with the answers they need.

Feel free to stop reading after the first sentence.

Those fancy reports you look at every day or week or month?  The ones that folks like us look at daily?  One of the key measures–impression count–is shot.  Everything derived from that measure, including click through rate, is suspect. It’s not that the usability is good or bad or that the metrics themselves are good or bad.  Your takeaway as a small business leader is that some of your key measurements are no longer apples.  They’re oranges.

And that means your online advertising history will be like comparing two different fruits.

Google’s Jolt of Caffeine

As major Google updates go, the search community must concede that Google Caffeine was launched with plenty of warning.

And Google Caffeine is officially live according to a post in The Official Google Blog by engineer Carrie Grimes.   Her post explains that instead of refreshing some parts of its search index every couple of weeks that Google continuously updates its index now.

There are many reasons (some spelled Facebook, some spelled Twitter and some spelled iPod apps streamed to the web) for Google to move in this direction.  Real-time search–you’ve undoubtedly seen Twitter results on a Google search page by now–has been around for months.

Do Not Fear The Caffeine Monster

Real time search is going to be more prevalent.

But your key takeway is that rankings will change more often.  They’re already subject to a variety of personally specific issues like your location, people in your social network, your personal search history and more.

Now the flavoring added to this stew is going to be Caffeine.

I adore her explanation of the process:

Caffeine lets us index web pages on an enormous scale. In fact, every second Caffeine processes hundreds of thousands of pages in parallel.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that you should have stopped chasing rankings a long time ago and it really doesn’t matter how vast Google’s computing power is this year versus last.

Last November, I wrote that leaders should stop demanding high rankings especially on arbitrarily chosen terms and learn about their analytics so they could focus on profit.

That doesn’t change, no matter which way you take your Caffeine.   Search engine results will be more dynamic, which means your SEO person (in house or hired gun) has a few more challenges, but we were already in a log rolling contest.  The people who guaranteed high rankings are bs artists at best.

Follow the money.  Focus on profitability.  And don’t stress about the changes because too much of this Caffeine will only hurt your health if you let yourself become stressed about the less important stuff.

Photo:  Lee Brimelow

Tynt Tools, Analytics Offer Compelling Data

Would you like to know how many times someone has copied and pasted text from your website, even to email a friend?  And would you love to add some code that appends your URL to the bottom of the code?

Sure you would.  Who wouldn’t?

Now go one step further.

What about knowing whether the information was posted on a forum or blog and how many clicks it generated?  Wouldn’t that be worth something?

Put your wallet away, though, because Tynt Analytics is a free tool.   I’ve been playing with it for the last day or two and plan to deploy it on several more sites this week.   The functionality that appends a site’s URL to copied paste is something I would monetize tomorrow.  The rest of the analytics appear to be strong and presented in a clean, easy-to-understand dashboard.

I’m not ready to move Tynt to the Tools We Use section yet, but you’ll see it up there by May if the next few weeks echo the last few days.  That’s because many of our businesses are pure-play content sites.  We create content and sell advertising space.  Some of our clients do the same and retain us to advertise their sites.   Tynt’s metrics are solid enough to be a good supplement for most sites.  But Tynt shines when it tracks engagement and its script appends the URL to copied content.

Tynt claims to be able to track some engagement metric between 2 percent and 6 percent of the count of a site’s pageviews.  Assume your small business has some articles and other content on a site that receives 10,000 pageviews each month.   Your business isn’t content, but there’s valuable knowledge you share with customers and prospects.  Using Tynt means that you’ll know about a few hundred times each month that someone copied and pasted your content elsewhere.

Maybe they sent that copy to a spouse or a friend.  Maybe it went to a purchasing office or boss.  I would sure like to know the latter.  Maybe there’s an online community that used your data and knowledge to answer a question or even solve an online disagreement.  This type of engagement is critical to know about, and there is now a free tool for you to use.

Go ahead.  Try copying and pasting some of this text in an email or on your own blog.  I don’t work for the company.  I don’t even get paid by them.  I’m just a big fan after seeing their core functionality.   Give Tynt a try.  I think you’ll be  a fan soon too.

Tynt Insight dashboard

Amazon Microtargets Consumers – Money Back Kindles

Amazon Kindle DX

Amazon's new microtargeting initiative

This is how microtargeting works and why the best continue to earn great profits.

Amazon (AMZN) is that e-commerce company that continually launched and refined until it assumed a position in worldwide retail, not just e-commerce.  Pundits scoffed at the free shipping for $25 offer until data showed that incremental purchases and lifetime value paid for the shipping.  Skeptics scoffed again when the company said it would deliver millions of Harry Potter books on each book’s drop date, but the company made it happen and secured millions of pre-orders.  And even more skeptics derided the notion of Amazon Prime, the $75 fee that provides free two day shipping and low cost 1 day shipping for a $75 annual membership fee.  I’m in my third or fourth year of Amazon Prime membership so I can’t scoff too much at that one.

Now here’s the gamble that underscores how a company doing its research can create amazing sales lift.

TechCrunch is reporting that Amazon has a 30 day money back guarantee on its Kindle e-book reader with shoppers allowed to keep the Kindle even if they get their money back.

Before you go running off to burn Amazon for a free Kindle, the offer is only available to certain customers.  I didn’t get one, and I’ve spent thousands at Amazon over the years.   Smart money says that Amazon is screening demographics, buying characteristics and web analytics for prolific buyers with the goal of getting more Kindles into circulation.

Some people will get a free Kindle.  More will buy the Kindle, like it, goose sales of e-books and influence others, maybe even become evangelists.

The lesson is that being rigid about your analytics and metrics allows you to be an aggressive marketplace.  About seven years ago, I created Carfax’s BuyBack Guarantee program.  That was an aggressive program too that essentially promised that the data company would buy any vehicle if a Carfax report had been purchased and a problem title was later found on the vehicle.

The marketing team loved it.  The CEO loved it.  The money people, the insurance people, even some of the data people were a wee bit skeptical.  But I had enough data to overcome Board objections, to convince the insurance people and to roll to market.   Our agency even recut our ads to tag the new program at the end of each spot.

I just checked their site and the program is still active, just like Amazon’s $25 free shipping program is interwoven into that company’s brand promise.

The whole thing starts with data.  If you don’t understand all of your data, you can’t be aggressive and profitable.

Google Broadens Pay-Per-Call

phone booth

Not a smartphone.

This is a long time coming, and boy, is it big.  Yes, this is Google news related to telephones, but we won’t talk about Nexus One (still).

Google is launching pay-per-call advertising.  Now.

There have always been variants of pay-per-call available, but this shows how serious Google is about invading the local search advertising space.  The program, announced today via email before Google’s other announcement, is arguably more important and profitable in the long run.  Here’s how it works:

  • A business will get a 5th line in a Google advertisement that shows a local phone number on smartphones (or as Google calls them, “high end mobile devices”)
  • Google says they’ll check the phone’s location and show the phone number for a nearby business.
  • The searcher simply has to scroll to your number and click.
  • Advertisers get the full range of analytics and metrics associated with keywords, this time with a telephone call as the conversion.

The best part for advertisers is the cost.  Pay-Per-Call has traditionally cost a much higher rate than a click to a website.  For now, anyway, Google is keeping the rate the same.  That’s quite a bargain for advertisers.

Meanwhile, the infighting with Microsoft continues.  Google described the covered phones as “iPhone, Android, Palm WebOS”, but didn’t mention Windows Mobile.  I asked Brandon Miniman, the CEO of leading smartphone site pocketnow.com, about the omission and the future of Windows Mobile in an Android and iPhone world.

“Windows Mobile is becoming less relevant because version 6.5 offers no big innovations and is mostly unchanged from a decade ago. That said, Microsoft has been working on Windows Mobile 7 for many years. When released in 2010, it could finally bring Microsoft back into the smartphone arena,” said Miniman.

Google PageRank is Dead – Fast Friday Fact

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23:  Google founders Larr...

They brought us Google. And PageRank. We forgive you the second one. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Most people working in the online marketing world have known the truth about Google‘s infamous PageRank scoring for several years:  it didn’t work, it wasn’t terribly accurate and attempting to classify the billions of pages on the web into 10 clusters was just plain silly.

PageRank was named after Larry Page, one of the two Google co-founders.  The company included the score on its web toolbar so that someone surfing from one site to another could see that they had moved from a PageRank (PR) 4 location to a PR 3 location.

That meant nothing to anyone, of course, and PageRank grew more meaningless over time.  It grew so meaningless that Google removed the metric from its Webmaster Tools section this week.

Googler Susan Moskwa posted about PageRank in an official Google forum Wednesday:

“We’ve been telling people for a long time that they shouldn’t focus on PageRank so much; many site owners seem to think it’s the most important metric for them to track, which is simply not true. We removed it because we felt it was silly to tell people not to think about it, but then to show them the data, implying that they should look at it.”

What Susan didn’t unfortunately comment on was that Google’s toolbar that many non-marketing users have access to still includes PageRank.   Those numbers haven’t matched up with “real” PageRank in years, and the marketing community has differentiated between the two for years by referring to the latter as “toolbar PR”.

PageRank is not a meaningful metric, and you should immediately stop using it in any context.  If your marketing agency refers to PageRank as a metric, you should fire them just for being dunderheads who are out of touch with the marketplace.

This underscores a big issue.   Just because you know a piece of data doesn’t mean that you have the context, training or skills to interpret that data.  My doctor sent me an electronic medical recod on CD with all my tests from my last physical.  Not having gone to medical school (sorry, Mom), I have no idea what the numbers mean, but I’m sure that some web site somewhere will convince me I can read the chart.  For my sanity, I think I’ll let the medical folks worry about that data while I explain to them that they can stop worrying about PageRank.

Now if only Amazon would admit that Alexa’s data is easily manipulated garbage, we would could really start cleaning up.

Today’s Search Word = Attribution

Marty McFly
Go back to the future with this guy and see if the conversation is different.   Image via Wikipedia

Much conversation today at the big Search Engine Strategies show in San Jose about attribution.

What’s that?

It’s a concept, discussion, argument as old as marketing.

Where did the business come from?

And here is where small businesses have to keep their eye on the magician, not the diversion.   The real answer is that we can target and identify more than at  any other time in marketing history.  But we’re not there yet.

Panelists during an analytics session today sized the number at up to 40% of sales coming from “we’re not really sure”.   And that 40% is high based on many businesses we work with.  Because if we’re doing your digital advertising, and you have a Facebook fan page and a brand name and some repeat customers with word of mouth, well… was it showing up first in a search today that turned the trick?  Maybe an ad? Some combination of all?

Attribution.  Strive to attribute as many sales as you can so you can continue that activity and even project similar future activities.

Hopping into a DeLorean time machine with Marty McFly and jumping back forty years would simply give you ad agency people who had never heard of business casual, click through rates or Starbucks.   They would, however, be arguing about how many sales came from Joe’s outdoor campaign versus Mary’s direct mail when people called on the phone.

We just moved the needle.  The question still exists.  Keep asking.

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Marketing Metaphors Become Cool, Not Cliche

PhotoID: 2003925151633 Submitted by: MCB Camp ...

A sniper's rifle. Image via Wikipedia

The bravery of Richard Phillips, merchant captain of the Maersk Alabama, remains unquestioned.  His crew insists that when faced with four gun-wielding pirates that they stabbed at one and were attempting to repel the others when Captain Phillips offered himself as a temporary hostage. The pirates apparently reneged on the deal and even stood fast in their little lifeboat with a tightly trussed Phillips in the shadow of Naval vessels carrying hundreds of sailors. Much of the world knows now that Phillips was rescued by three simultaneous sniper shots and applauds the action and skills of those U.S. Navy snipers who ended the crisis.

But while scanning the news about new piracy efforts today, I was surprised by the number of words that mirrored my own presentations to small business clients.

Laser-like, target, surveillance, strategy, negotiation, training.

The Gulf of Aden is not your local small business conference room and Microsoft PowerPoint isn’t a sniper rifle, no mattter what we geeks did with those little laser pointers in the 1990s.  But the concepts behind Captain Phillips’ rescue operation and a well executed marketing plans remain as close as when the publishing world compares every business to every past military leader.

But online marketing really uses the kind of precise science that a sniper may use in calculating ballistics.  My online biography often encourages people to contact me if they know the difference between bidding for a singular term and a plural term.  Between real time web analytics, tracking phone numbers, ROI models focused on gross profit and pre-built seasonal campaigns, I can often tell a client that a certain conversion occurred because of the use of a word or link on a site on a given day.

Some of those words or links or ads don’t get much traffic and activate with stunning success when a casual visitor happens upon them.  Others are like the local shooting range’s manager — the person who can put round after round in the same spot.   Two of our tutoring clients, for example, consistently win new business on three clusters of topics.  The offer only matters in adjusting the response rate.  The real payoff is that we know that the words mixed with the proper creative work so well that they are like laser-guided sniper shots.  There is no broad advertising here.  This creative is like a single sniper shot when visited by a person in the right demographic.

The costs for these campaigns are far lower than the typical branding campaign, someone learning on the job, or heaven help us, some service that promises all the right results.   To be a true sharpshooter, a sniper fires round after round in all sorts of conditions and environments.  So do marketers.

John Wanamakers famous grumble about not knowing which half of his advertising works is quoted on our site.   The difference, as we proudly boast, is that we track client advertising to the penny.  We’re no heroes like Captain Phillips and the Navy personnel who rescued him.  But we use their words in every day life to convey the precision a professional armed with knowledge, practice and the right tools can bring to a problem.

Now I just have to remove the sniper slide from my PowerPoint deck.  Some real snipers on another deck deserve the attention this time.

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5 Ways To Generate Productivity on Pseudo-Holidays

A CEO I once worked for told me how much he hated CEO holidays.    Especially bad were mid-week holidays as this year’s Christmas and New Year’s Day fall.   He tried keeping his emotions in check but would sputter and fume about the way staffers not on vacation would aimlessly drift through the day.   “Tell one of your directors to deal with it,” I remember him snapping one Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Good idea, I thought.  It’s a shame I told my gang they should take a two hour lunch and unwind since the place was dead.

But over the years we found some tasks that can be done each pseudo-holiday (and yes, tomorrow is one) so that some value happens.  Here are some ideas aimed at marketers, but easily adapted to other functions.  This is not busy work.  These are all things you should have done before hectic days got in the way.  Pull out this document again around mid-February, polish off the list and go take a long lunch.

  1. Check your analytics packages from every system you use.  This is when you find all the vendors you give view or even write access to and forgot to remove.  As I write this, my personal account has access to 3 clients we don’t work with anymore.  My business account has 2 others.   We were friendly, sure, but should I really see that one of them is spending an awful lot of money on [redacted for his good]?
  2. Did any major social networks or email services roll out for which you haven’t practiced good protection?   Twitter immediately jumps to mind.  For the uber-geeks of 2007 to the mainstream geeks of 2008, this may be a microblogging  platform for several years to come.   If so, you should have your personal name, your company’s name and your major brand names all protected on Twitter.   There are 1 million registered users.  Don’t lose your name to someone else.
  3. Have you purged all rented lists?   One day you’re not going to be there and someone is going to marvel at the deal they get for 50,000 more names.  If you’re out of license, either buy the list, extend the license or get rid of them.  And don’t get rid of them by asking IT to drop them in your prospect file.
  4. Pull the domain records for every name you own.    Start tracking the name, registrar, and DNS.  Then renew any you’re keeping for the maximum you can through your registrar.  Get 10 years if you can.  If the domain in question is a business, trade or product name and you’re unwilling to spend $100-$200 to lock down the name for a decade, please rethink your domain strategy.  Or call us, and we’ll do it for you.  But seriously, didn’t you spend more bringing in pizza for the last lunch meeting?
  5. Change the password on all “shared” SaaS accounts, internal email groups and email all key vendors with the names of approved buyers.  Yes, you forgot that you added the intern’s name in July because giving that person access was easier than logging in each time yourself.  Understandable.  Now please remove their access because your security person is about to cry.  And yes, if you don’t have a security person, we can hook you up with a referral.

I’m not sure, but ours may be piloting the Space Shuttle from his lair tomorrow while everyone else is on pseduo-holiday.