Search Grows, But Instant Search May Have Cooked The Numbers

As colder weather settles across the US, search engine volume begins its seasonal climb that will peak during the holiday season.

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Measurement firm comScore released its monthly Search Engine Rankings this evening and reports the number of US search queries climbed to 17.6 billion, a 4% increase over August’s totals with one fewer day.  Google’s share continued a steady climb and remains the market maker with a 66.1% marketshare.

The data behind these measurements is likely changing because of the Yahoo-Microsoft alliance.  The numbers may be further skewed by Google’s new Instant Search feature.    comScore says they’ve adjusted their counting methodology and will now count a page of search results that remains displayed for 3 seconds as another search even if the person using the search engine continues typing.

Measurement systems like comScore’s or TV ratings are often done on a “panel” basis where a particular set of users represent all users.  This is scientifically sound analysis.   It works.  And had there only been one major change this summer, tonight’s numbers might be more illuminating.

After looking at the data, I’ve decided that I want to see at least another month or two of data before completely understanding how much Instant Search is influencing the size of the market and Google’s share of that market.  For now,  the most illuminating data is that Yahoo! search queries fell from 2.72 billion to 2.68 billion.     Even when looking at the June and July numbers, which were lower for Yahoo!, it’s clear that the #2 player is fading fast.

We’ve written many times about the US search market becoming a duopoly with two major players.  Until a Facebook partnership is created with one of them, the search marketing continues crawling to that level.  Your takeaway as a small business leader is to remain aware that Yahoo!’s role as an independent, major search player is ending.

Delighted By A Doctor

If you can make a customer look this delighted, your business will enter hypergrowth

A doctor asked me to obtain a medical record from another doctor who had seen one of my children in 1997.  A toddler then, my son is about to enter his senior year in high school.

Leave the flowers and “blink of an eye” stuff to Father’s Day.  1997 was a long time ago.

First I had to find the doctor.  I found him practicing with someone else in another town.  He was on vacation when I called, but had private voice mail so I was able to detail the situation for him.

His follow up and his recall were the stuff of service legend.

His first call buzzed my office phone at 9 a.m. on Monday the day he returned.  I had started work, but had gone for coffee.  We played phone tag and he called me a second time before 10:30.

Vendors I pay lots of money to don’t follow up that fast.

“I don’t have easy access to records that old,” he told me, and I immediately began thinking about how I could meet the new doctor’s requirement.

Then the original doctor astonished me.

He told me where I had worked when he first saw my child.  It was a new job, he remembered, and I groaned because I must have really gone on a lot for him to remember that. Then he told me about my two other children.  He got their sexes and approximate ages correct. When he told me we had been house hunting, I almost accused him of having a chart there.

Nope.

He got a couple of facts close but wrong.  But he clearly remembered his patient from 13 years ago.  He placed my life in context then–something I hadn’t been able to do as well in the new situation.

And then he offered to write a letter describing his original impressions and confirming that he had treated my son. That letter arrived less than 3 days after we spoke.

He did all of this–the lightning fast phone calls, the letter writing–free. There is no hope for repeat business, little chance of a referral that far away and certainly little upside in making these return calls a priority on his first day back in the office.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to consider what it would take to delight people so much they write a blog about you.

Our world continues a frantic pace of interconnected information.   What used to be called “user generated content” in the dark days of two years ago is now simply one of thousands of local review sites.

If you delight people, not just customers but anyone interacting with your business, your business will grow faster than any other way imaginable.

And you get to like what you do.  Because only people who love what they do can pull this off and not burn out before next Thursday.

This is more than word-of-mouth.  It’s delight.

Are You Ready For Your Close-Up?

You, your customers or your business has a shot at being in a Kevin Macdonald film to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.   The film is being executive produced by Ridley Scott and sponsored by Google and electronics maker LG.

Called Life in a Day, the film will be a “cinematic experiment” to demonstrate what life in 2010 was like according to Google’s official film announcement last night.   Finding partners with better pedigree would have been harder.  Macdonald’s directing credits include The Last King of Scotland, and you’ve likely seen anywhere from a couple of pieces to much of Ridley Scott’s work, including Blade Runner, Gladiator, Alien and TV shows like The Good Wife and geek-police show Numb3rs.

Google’s plan for the film is brilliant.   Whip out your camera and start shooting video on July 24.    Upload the content to YouTube by July 31.  If any of your footage makes the film, you’re a co-director.  Even if you don’t make the film, you’ll be one of the kajillion entrants.

But this really could be a home run for your business.

Who knows what image the director is looking for?  Sure, there are 6 billion people out there, but how many do what you do?  Great.  Now how many are submitting a video?  And what if something magical–a twinkle in someone’s eye, an unexpected smile or frown, a small piece of daily living–exactly fits whatever thing the director is looking for right then?

You know the worst thing that happens?   You submit your video, don’t make the cut and have lots of footage for video on your site, television commercials and even a training video.  Video is not hard.  Editing video well is hard, but you pay someone to do that.

They don’t do what you do either.

You can find out more about the Life in a Day project at the Google blog or watch their nifty video below. Oops, I mean trailer. Welcome to Hollywood, baby.

Blowing Credibility When You Miss The Facts

I subscribe to a blog/newsletter via email.   I’ve learned a few tidbits over time and get some chuckles every so often.  My impression before Saturday was that it was an email I would regularly open.

They published a story last week about the big UFC match between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin.  I forwarded a copy to my friend Roheblius who knows everything about boxing, MMA and other fighting sports.  Roheblius has been following this stuff for years and knows the fight game inside out.  His response floored me.

Some of the information in that newsletter was wrong!

I don’t mean disputed information like “Who discovered America?”, but factually inaccurate.   Not typos either.  I would be most forgiving of those.  I had suggested to Roheblius that he might want to subscribe.

Now I’m wondering if I put too much faith in a usually unsourced publication and if I’m comfortable ever sending a copy to anyone else or even reading the information.

The doubt that entered my mind is the same kind of doubt you can unknowingly pass along to a prospect with misinformation in your marketing or on your website.  Your advertising claims, your website copy and your images need to be spot-on accurate.  Your takeaway as a small businessperson is that a lack of accuracy kills credibility.  You can’t guess or use folklore or street knowledge or any other guesswork.  If you print it, you have to know.

Without credibility, your small business won’t last long when there are plenty of alternative businesses that can do the same things and be factually accurate while doing so.

Headline Fail – VP is Safe

More blunders as mainstream media attempts to copy what makes web players successful.  This major headline fail occurred on a slow spring Saturday night.  The oil spill was consuming the world, but somehow CNN forgot to mention that the US was fighting wars in two countries and that the US and Europe had massive economic issues.  In fact, the Dow had cratered 300 points just 24 hours before this was the main section on CNN.com

We had the missing blonde girl again, a sex scandal in the NFL (yes, I read that one),  a porn actor who maybe committed suicide, a car crash, a plane crash and general interest news.  Take a look at the stories (click to make the image bigger)

Besides CNN lacking any sort of credibility that goes with gravitas, look at the circled link.  I was frustrated the second I saw the words, “vice president” and “attack”.  I knew it wasn’t anything major, but I immediately begin thinking of minor things that would warrant a story.

Did someone get close enough to Vice President Biden to throw a liquid on him?

How did the Secret Service allow that person to get close?

Oh man, I sure hope no one threw oil at him.

Because only CNN can do justice to their over-the-top headline, I’ll quote the first two sentences of their article.

Joe Biden came under friendy fire during a summer-kickoff barbeque at the vice president’s residence Saturday.

During the event for White House reporters and their families, the president’s No. 2 was attacked with sqiurt guns by his grandchildren and by children of members of the press corps.

Wait–some grandkids squirted their grandpa with a water gun?   And CNN has the gall to put that in a link with the terms “Vice President” and “attack”?   Writing compelling copy for the web is hard.  The audiences are different, the styles are different and the reading (more often scanning) is far more difficult.

CNN .com’s headline failed because they tried a direct response trick of writing an outrageous headline that generates a click.  Except when we do that in advertising, we anger the prospect unless we deliver the actual event.  They leave the advertiser’s site and the advertiser has paid for the click.   CNN did the same thing and paid not with a 50 cent click, but with continuing erosion of their ability to be reliable and relevant online.

Your takeaway as a small business is to not use wild over-promises to generate web traffic.  At best, you’ll simply waste money.  But you might take brand damage.  And that’s not damage from a water gun, even if you end up all wet.

Exposure to Pharma Advertising Drives Patient Demand

Prescription medicine bottleSpeaking with some young entrepreneurs last week, I kept circling back to the point that thinking something was far different from knowing something. The issue for these really smart guys was how they could leverage smart analytics analysis to better understand their business.

Today, they are in thinking something mode.

Also today, I believed that big pharma DTCA (direct to consumer advertising) must have at least a branding impact because big pharma is great at two things:  marketing and its lobbying sibling.

I was in thinking something mode too.  Thanks to a study of DTCA pharma campaigns in the current issue of The Canadian Pharmacists Journal, I know at least one study that corroborates my assumption.  The work by Dr. Michelle van den Engh and pharmacist Lori Bonertz shows that exposure to advertising creates patients who ask more often for medications.’

Some numbers that jump out at me from their study:

  • Almost 40% of subjects had recall on at least 10 pharmaceutical ads in the past year.  Go ahead and test yourself now. Can you name ten? Twenty?  Even more?
  • The study was conducted in a remote Canadian area.
  • People under the age of 50 were more susceptible to pharma ads.
  • The “low exposure” group that had recall of less than 4 ads did not ask for any advertised medications by name or type during the study.
  • The “high exposure” group asked for medicine by name in 1.6% of cases.

Pause here.

Going from zero to a measurable percentage in anything is huge.  To put a number on the notion, there were about 157 million adults in the US between the ages of 18 and 55 in 2008.   If the 1.6% number in the Canadian study held for the US, the incremental number of people asking for a medicine by name grows to more than 2 million.

That’s worth some advertising spend, isn’t it?

The researchers’ biggest finding in my opinion is that low exposure individuals asked for a medication just under 5% of the time in the study.  Those in the high exposure group asked for a prescription medication 10.2% of the time –even if the medication wasn’t one they had seen advertised.

One important takeaway from the study is that pharama DTCA effort grew direct sales and the industry as a whole.  That number is big.   Simply advertising the category helps all boats rise together sometimes even if the payoff isn’t in direct sales.

Photo: Dani Simmonds

William Shatner Wants To Punch My Friend

An email hit my box this weekend that was written by someone so livid that steam was still visible.

My correspondent had received a salvage email from priceline.  You know what a salvage email is.   “We know you haven’t been a customer, but let us entice you…”  The company personalized the graphic and showed a picture of William Shatner with his right fist drawn back in a punching stance.

This is that picture.

William Shatner in priceline ad

The copy was punched-up too with a specific call-to-action.  It’s been a while since you booked a trip on priceline. Claim your $50 Bonus Cash coupon below and I’ll remove you from my “people I’m going to judo-chop for paying full price” list.

My correspondent didn’t care to be threatened despite any campaigns priceline is running.   I talked with some people who thought my email complainer was being sensitive.  But this is just bad marketing all around.  A nice aside came from 22 year old son who is majoring in sociology at George Mason University.  ”If the ad were for wrestling or MMA, then they might pretend to be violent,” he said.  But even he agreed that pretending to be violent would be along the lines of threatening to make you watch the show, not specifying how the fighter would beat you up to do so.  And he understood that without context, the ad could be offensive.

Priceline missed here because their copy was too descriptive and their ad was too assumptive.   And because like my kid said, “There was no context” and no permission to add the former customer to the context.  Priceline thought my friend was following their series of Shatner broadcast ads.   They guessed horribly wrong, and they’ve lost a customer for life.

Meanwhile, it’s been years since I studied martial arts, and I never studied judo, but I always thought that hand strikes such as a “judo chop” were not part of the technique.  So besides being threatening, the copy is lazy and substitutes “judo” for “karate” because I guess all those things kind of look alike.

Next: I’ve been blacklisted!  It’s amazing.  I got the notice yesterday.  Subscribe to the blog below or in the upper right to learn who blacklisted me and what I’m going to do about it.

Learn From My Family’s Favorite Catalog

Every so often, my family gets one catalog that gets passed from person to person, left in the living room for a couple of weeks, circles to at least one kid’s room before finally disappearing in the recycling.

The catalog is from ThinkGeek.   A reasonable question to ask is why the company catering to super geeks still uses catalogs.  Or as the company puts it, “we put photos of our products on dead trees and mail them to people.”

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If you haven’t been to ThinkGeek, you need to head there now and revel in the fun.    They sell Tshirts with sound effects.  They sell ruggedized MP3 players for toddlers.   Binary and IP jokes abound, and there’s the obligatory poster of Princess Leia in her bikini.

They mail catalogs because they get marketing at its purest form.  It’s portable, its ubiquitous and its in whatever format someone wants to see at particular moment.   Print media may be dying an agonizingly slow death, but these geeks are smart enough to know how to calculate ROI and kill anything that doesn’t drive profit.

These products are consumed online every single day, but the ThinkGeek people didn’t automatically dismiss catalog sales because their audience was geeks.  And what do you know?  It works.   And it’s worked for years.   Everyone from my high school aged son to my visiting, retired brother-in-law took at least a gander at the latest issue.  I heard the phrase “Oh cool, I like that…” at least twice.  (You can sign up for the ThinkGeek catalog too – I get no commission.  I just think it’s a fun read)

Here is the real question for you:   what marketing channels have you dismissed in your business because they don’t meet your notion of where your customers are?    And if you have killed marketing channels, did you have data to back up your decision?

Because there’s a flash drive hidden in a watch or a Tshirt from The Big Bang Theory online, but one company knows it can earn profit by printing pictures of their technical wares on dead trees and using the U.S. Postal Service to send them to people.

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.

Stop Demanding High Rankings

Drawing of a self-service store.

Do you want visitors or profit? Image via Wikipedia

I watched another potential lead go by today and decided not to purchase the information because the prospect was in a medium sized market.  Their sole criteria was that they wanted to rank in the top 3 spots for a certain local phrase.

It’s important that you as a small business don’ t make this mistake:  there are no more ways that rankings can be counted. There are lots of SEO specific phrases that tie into this concept.  Ignoring them for a minute, here’s what you need to know:

  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on the physical location of the Internet connection you’re using.
  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on whether you have a Google account and are logged into that account.
  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on how other searchers have interacted with a page and query over time.
  • The Google results you see for a query will likely vary based on constant testing Google does for thousands of variables.
  • And our new favorite, Google Social Search.

Forget about Social Search for a moment.  Remember this because it’s critical business advice that predates the Internet by thousands of years.

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