Does anybody really know what time it is…..Does anybody really care?

11 04 2013

I was going to start this with an anecdote about how I was walking down the street one day, but that was too much. I was discussing Ad:Tech in San francisco and the search industry in general with a friend of mine. One thing is and was painfully clear and that is when it comes to Yahoo / Bing (Yabing or Binghoo I can’t decide) no one really knows what is going on. With a new Captain at the wheel everyone is wondering which direction she will take on search. There have been numerous rumors and first hand accounts of shakeups, meetings and other inside conversations. Still it seems no one is exactly clear on the direction and how much influence Microsoft and Bing still have on the business.

Recently business was affected when (as the story goes) Bing decided to adjust the TQ ratings to a formula they understood better. The industry has been trying to recuperate ever since signaling that (as we all suspected) Microsoft is as mystified by how TQ’s work as everyone else. For that matter it also came across as a clear sign that quite possibly Microsoft still doesn’t understand search themselves as it relates to the outside world.

Meanwhile Google has just tried to ignore or kill the so called long – tail outright. This way is much more dubious as it does not have to deal with tier 2 or 3 and there is no direct questions about Google analytics if they are out of the picture. The answer then becomes, :It’s Google analytics, this IS your traffic”.

Which leads me back to the title. I have been at this for ten years and the only other thing I have been involved with that long that I still don’t understand is my ex wife. The search landscape has been evolving and expanding and contracting as long as I have been in it. But never has there been so much confusion as to where it is headed and what is going on than now. Ask anyone how they plan to deal with Yahoo and what their process is moving forward and you will likely hear a lot of stammering. Then add to that how to tackle big data and what to do with it, how to accurately score traffic, what actually is good traffic and where does it come from and industry people who have been around as long as me start to scatter.Do we make bold moves and forge ahead or do we tread cautiously? Is everything hinging on what Yahoo and Google do next or will advertisers finally get tier of getting jerked around and branch out? Wil we ever get metrics right and accurate or will they continue to be the big lie based on where you get them? The crystal ball is a little hazy at the moment and that has everyone standing at the sides of the gym waiting for the signal that it’s ok to dance again without making a fool of yourself.

For now choose your dance partners wisely and keep your eyes and ears on the Prom king and queen (Google and Binghoo, Larry and Marissa) for what comes next.


If you are a publisher or advertiser relying on Google or Yahoo or Facebook….Why?

20 06 2012

Traffic Optimization Tips for Marketing – Bryan Gissiner of Tada Search

The Zombie Apocalypse has already happened

27 05 2012

It doesn’t look like what we all thought it would look like or Hollywood portrays it as…..but the zombie apocalypse is already here. No flesh missing, half dead humans roaming the earth in this apocalypse. No, the apocalypse we are witnessing is fully alive yet unaware human beings. They come in all ages, sizes demographics and ethnicities. Follow me on this…….we have generations of humans that cannot function without daily reliance on electronic devices. People who cannot remember loved ones phone numbers if their laptop and cell phone were to crash simultaneously (I am guilty here but if I can get to an Apple store or Best Buy, etc. think I will be ok). I chuckle as I type this out on my MacBook Air and pray this does not crash as I am typing it because I couldn’t remember what I just typed.

We lack human interaction these days. Everything in our lives is connected somehow to a database somewhere (probably owned and indexed by either the Government of Google). Without it we are glazed over fumbling zombies who can’t remember loved ones addresses, phone numbers or other important information about ourselves and possibly even our children. Speaking of our children, if you want to see the zombie apocalypse in action observe their faces while they have their headphones in drowning out the world, or are parked in front of facebook ignoring all that goes on around them.You may have already experienced this when there is a knock at the front door (yes this still happens at some households) and there is no visible reaction from anyone in the house and they later claim they never heard anything.Now tell them you will be taking away all electronics in the house for one week and begin by putting the xBox, PlayStation, PSP, Nintendo DS, iPhone, Laptop etc. in your closet to ensure there is no cheating. To fully appreciate how they feel and in fairness, do this to yourself as well.
Now sit back and watch how they react. My guess is there will be screaming, yelling, maybe even tears involved. A whole week without TV, Video games or being connected to their friends through Facebook or texting or skype, facetime or other method will cause severe withdrawal symptoms. While this is interacting with other humans it seems only to be a superficial type of connection. It is much easier to turn off a device, or de-friend someone when they make you upset than it is to walk away during a real conversation. Shutting the world or other humans off seems to be the latest way to avoid responsibility for ones actions or confrontation. That glazed over look is a sign the Zombies are here and they may very well be us. What is even more scary is the “What if”in this scenario. Now that our lives are connected, our data is out there, our kids are all but spoon fed everything through electronic means….what if that is all being controlled and manipulated? Maybe it’s not a “what if” scenario.

I have a hypothesis about this. If you look at the studies the LEAST connected group of humans is the 1% we all complain about. They watch very little TV, they listen to very little pop  or mainstream music, and they are the least connected to pop culture or entertainment media. Why? Possibly because they are too busy controlling it and telling the other 99% what we need. This controls the markets and ensure wealth for them for years to come. This is why things change very little. Extraordinary ideas and breakthrough findings are kept out of the spotlight of popular culture and mass media. Make any assumptions you want. 

Many will ask then how did breakthrough products like the iPad & iPhone make it to the market? Because they were a way to deliver more media and get more information from us while getting us more hooked on the delivery of this method. We resist when ever ID chips, cards etc. that could lead to us being tracked are introduced, so what if they create a device no one thinks they can live without, that allows us to feel more connected, while still allowing them to get more information on us and track us at the same time and ……..instead of having to force us to have them we pay large sums of money to get them and keep them running.

The good news is unlike the dawn of the living dead we can possibly reverse this damage and save ourselves. In the process we might even be able to make some progress, get half of all American households off some kind of government welfare and change the ratio from 99% vs 1% to something more like the wealth distribution we strive for though laws, and imposed taxes. If we can unplug and find products and services the other 1% need then we can begin to shift the world.

Trust But Verify

16 05 2012

Publishers……Reagan said it and it is more true now than ever. If you are taking advertising by ANY network you need to trust but verify especially when it comes to the larger networks. Don’t not take chargebacks sitting down. Keep an eye on which advertisers are running and make it a point to contact them from time to time if you are using any service to discuss your traffic with them and see if there is an issue. Also ask the larger networks for click reports or anything that will substantiate any chargebacks coming your way. With Wall St. involved and numbers and expectations to meet chargebacks have become a way to help ease the pain of smaller and smaller keyword bids and shrinking budgets in some cases. So while it may be the typical reaction to think they won’t fudge the numbers just a little, even if they do provide the analytics or other data, always verify the numbers with the advertisers and keep a periodic check on whether or not those supposed complaints about traffic are real.

They may be large and it may not be easy to fight back but it can be done. talking to the advertisers directly or via e-mail if you can and then presenting this to the ad network often times will help recoup some of the lost chargebacks and should be done periodically to verify the numbers you are being given. It is sad but fraud does work both ways these days. 

Back to Basics Part 2

16 05 2012

We have looked at advertising, we have discussed data and we have also looked at the two types of data that are commonly compared.

When digital advertising came along it came as the wild wild west. No one was sure how it would all work or if it would work. After the first Web “bubble” advertisers learned fear. All the money they had spent advertising with huge companies had not helped to sustain these companies. So where do they turn now and how do they get numbers they can use? In came the digital marketers. CPC came along so that advertisers didn’t have to spend huge chunks of money on advertising just to have their brand displayed.Now they only paid if someone actually clicked on their ad and visited their site. Unlike TV and Billboards the viewers could actually be counted and quantified. Advertisers now had actual numbers to shove into the face of CEO’s and board members when questioned about ROI and viewers. Soon the questions turned to “Are these real visitors?”, “How can we tell if they are real or bot?” as fraudsters, incentivized clicking and clicks by competitors entered the picture. Soon we began building filters to track mouse movement, look at valid user agent information, analyze screen sizes, catch rejected cookies, look for hidden links or redirects, make sure the javascript information is passing the visitor correctly all in an attempt to build a better mouse trap to catch an ever evolving fraud mouse. Advertisers still only want to pay for “real clicks” and “real visitors”. Never mind their sites may not be able to hold the attention of a gnat, or market baskets may be failing and customers are bailing on order that way, or that the prices for what they are selling are out of line with the competition or any other number of factors that come into play when dealing with site stickiness and consumer intent or that they had for decades before paid millions of dollars for a SUper Bowl ad that only caught the attention of the dog while the actual viewer was in the restroom or getting a snack or on the billboard who’s print was too small or on a highway next to a tree where the branches blocked the actual ad from view.  Digital had promised real, targeted viewers that would also deliver all kinds of personal data, geography data, time of day data, type of device data, mouse click data, size of screen data, first or second screen data, you name it….by GOD this was SCIENCE!……….or is it?

THIS is where we lost our way. Digital networks and sites began to over promise and under deliver. Fraud got in the way as it always does and now we not only block a lot of the bad clicks but we have made it next to impossible for the actual consumer to get through to complete a transaction due to all the security filters in place. So we are close to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Also there is now fraud on the other side. There are HUGE ad serving / search companies who are now using “Advertiser chargebacks” (amounts advertisers withhold from their payments due to fraud they claim to have captured in their data) to help them meet or beat Wall St. revenue expectations. They do this by claiming the advertiser never paid them for a certain amount of views or clicks due to fraud even though the advertiser made no such claim. They can do this because the probability of the publisher going back to the advertiser to see if there was a problem with the traffic is low AND because some of the ad serving companies have gotten so big that most just assume fighting the issue is a waste of time.

So how do we get back to the golden age of digital advertising? First lets ask, can we really deliver more than broadcast media who’s numbers are more like throwing lawn darts. Close but not there for complete accuracy. That answer would be yes. Even with fraud and consumer privacy factors you still have numbers that will give you the basics such as geo location, previous browsing history if the cookies are still in tact, or even direct intent in the case of search. You can even make assumptions based on the user agent data such as income. All are something broadcast can only come close to but not offer the accuracy of digital.

Advertisers need to realize that as in retail advertising budgets should include fraud. No matter how many better mousetraps are built there will always be a better mouse waiting to be released. Also they will never be able to provide the “holy grail” or user intent. That all knowing answer delivered in a bow for advertisers to jump on knowing exactly why the consumer was there and if they intend to purchase. Advertising will always be a combination of guessing and basic data protected by consumer privacy and mixed with a bit of fraud to send you off the trail.

So lets get back to basics. Take the data we are getting and remember it still is a numbers game and is all about quality of the product, stickiness and ease of use of the site and lastly intent of the consumer. Draw a triangle and remember you can only have two of the three Volume, Great offerings, Consumer Intent.

Do we need to go “Back to Basics”?

8 05 2012

When did we lose our way in the PPC xml ad network industry? Right now I see disarray as everyone tries to regroup after the latest Google algo change or study saying the glory days are over. Plartforms are making changes to protect their bottom line while PPC’s continue to drop and advertisers continue to protect their assets by committing reverse fraud.
The numbers we are using are all being supplied by a company that has a huge conflict of interest in the numbers it is reporting yet no one seems to care. Advertisers know they will be protected by this company because they need them to keep their reputation as an industry leader so everyone else walks off the edge of the cliff blindly following the numbers provided because they are the industry leader.
Meanwhile everytime an advertiser steps out of line and complains they are seeing abnormalities in the numbers we create a new filter to catch the suspected fraudsters while at the same time blocking some of the good traffic in an over zealous attempt to please the advertisers.
When did we get away from the basics of this industry and forget why the advertisers came to PPC in the first place. Here is the basic idea I was trained to understand back in the early stages of PPC xml. I came from a broadcasting background so much of this made perfect sense then. See if it still does to you now.

Online advertising and most notably contextual advertising came to be whenYahoo and Google fired the first shots with the AdSense and AdWords products. Both were an easy way for advertisers to display their listings in a “premium” manner next to organic results as “paid advertisements”. These quickly spread to websites, blogs and other sites wishing to monetize their traffic and content. The boom had started and enter the fraudsters and “competitive clicking”. Because this was in the early days, click reports looked like three or four column spreadsheets that displayed website visits, clicks and revenue generated per click. The advertiser paid and everyone as happy. Soon after that someone got the idea to track the clicks and place “cookies” on the visitors computer so they could then contact them again with follow up offers and begin to collect a database of visitors to their site and ads.These could be a goldmine of targeted customers. But something interesting and ugly came from this. It was found that for some of the ads the clicks were coming from competitors trying to deplete ad budgets and get the ads off the internet by running out the budgets.Worse was that some of the website owners displaying the ads or ad networks acting as middle men or agencies began creating “bots” to click on the ads to run up the revenues and depleting the budgets.
Enter the Filters – thus began the creating of user agent filters, mouse movement filters, later it was screen size filters, then cookie filters to detect if the cookies were able to be placed, the javascript filters and more. As the filters got more sophisticated so did the fraud. Pretty soon Advertisers were yelling “wolf” at everything that didn’t convert. This is where other markets like CPA or CPE came into being. Different action required for the site owner to get paid for the action or execution by the visitor. It is also the place where it all began to lose its way.
In a move to “protect” the site owners and give marketers something to take to CEO’s and CFO’s to show ROI metrics were born. How many site visits, how long are they on, how many pages do they view, what are their click patterns, plus the filters, plus conversion rates, bounce rates, etc.
Most if not all of these being brought to you by a company with more at stake in the numbers than anyone. It would be like doctors saying if you want to be healthy and strong they think milk is the best drink for you. Then telling you the only data you can use to back this up or dispel this is data from the dairy farmers association. But the Dairy famers associations numbers are incomplete so you have to get the numbers from Bob’s Dairy. What do you think the numbers are going to look like? Of course Milk works and “does a body good”. But not just ANY milk….Bob’s Dairy milk is the BEST! Now so as not to make it look too tainted they will follow up with any milk will meet the minimum requirements but Bob’s dairy gives you just a bit more quality. Even worse every three to four months Bob’s Dairy will change the criteria it uses to show how it is doing wonders for your body making sure the numbers that are highlighted are their best numbers compared to everyone else, virtually putting everyone else out of business because they begin not to meet the minimum requirements based on the criteria Bob’s dairy chooses.

Let’s go back and compare this to what advertisers used to have. Newspapers which were failing miserably but are beginning to do a bit better as an electronic media.They went strictly by circulation or how many people actually bought newspapers that month. That quickly went to subscribers which newspapers quickly had a number in mind as to how many subscriptions they could give away to still be profitable while trotting out higher numbers to use to charge advertisers more.
Advertisers then moved to broadcast media.They still wanted to reach large audiences and broadcast was a great way to do it. But how do they show how many people watched their ad and how did they know if the money they spent helped sell their product? Enter one of the first true third party measurement companies. Neilsen would send diaries and pay the respondents to fill out the diaries with their daily viewing and listening habits and send them back. Results would be tabulated and “books” with ratings would be released. It became common practice for TV and Radio to run contests and promotions during “sweeps weeks” where books would be collected soon after in order to get their number of viewers or listeners up.
Yet in the end it was all about eyes and ears and numbers were calculated and dissected by age and ethnicity, region of the country etc. so as better to target the ads. At the end of the day advertisers really want your picture and a complete list of products by brand and how many times you bought those products, how much you paid, why you bought, how many people in your family and how much you make in order for them to be happy. What they get becaus eof privacy laws is that you saw their ad, that you moved your mouse to click on it or not and where you came from, type of computer and operating system you used and where in the country you are. After that there is very little personal and useful data to them. The data they do get is basic and one can only make assumptions on what you are really bringing to the table for them.
In the next installment we look at the information just presented and how we lost our way based on what has just been mentioned.

Data that’s not too complex.

30 04 2012

I recently read an article that said data should be delivered at different levels. My first reaction was that funny quizical face. Then I read further. Analytics data is too complex it says because it says because the average CMO, CEO, CIO isn’t wired to read the same things that come out of the reports because it contains data specific to each department in one report. So the data should be dissected and re-reported back to each department giving them only what is pertinent to their departments.

 There is only one glaring problem with this……the data is tainted to begin with. It won’t matter how much you dissect it, dumb it down or massage it if the data is bad or massaged to begin with. I rarely trust data that comes from a company with a vested interest in the industry it is reporting numbers on. Yet ad agencies and publishers have been doing it for some time now. Publishers, because it is the reporting method most agencies have adopted as gospel. So they are stuck taking their lumps and moving on in order to keep the advertisers coming back. This serves the purpose for only two masters. One would hope the numbers reported would be made to look better so as to support more traffic but actually less is more if you can get the CPC’s up to a respectable level then volumes of traffic are not needed.

Still the data is manipulated and no matter how much it is segmented or dumbed down it won’t add up no matter which department. ROI is impossible to achieve if the numbers are not true to begin with.