John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

Advertising Failure

Diana Adams has a great post on Bitrebels.com titled “16 ways to use your wrist now that watches are obsolete.” Her post includes some really funny suggestions, with comical illustrations from Lunchbreath.com … including “Backup urinal cake” and “Portable Pot Pie.” (do not confuse)

There is advertising on Bitrebels.com – and I’m sure somebody is paying fror those impressions and click-thrus.  Of course, some of the best advertising is content-specific. If you can put your product in front of a person who is already interested, you have a much higher probability of making a sale. Google makes Billions from this concept. Other companies, and many people also make big heaping piles of money from this simple concept.  But sometimes it fails. Sometimes the best content algorythms and the smartest advertisers promote their product in the wrong places.  And sometimes those failures are remarkable.

Here’s an example:  If you are reading an article discussing wrist-watches, how obsolete they are and suggesting a direct relationship to… say… buggy whips and egyptian pyramid blueprints… are you really looking to BUY a wrist-watch? Maybe not. The content is there, but the CONTEXT makes all the difference.  Here’s a screenshot of the advertisement, on the page focused on “Wristwatch Obsolescense.”

Although I have a great appreciation for why the watches are up to 80% off, seeing that advertisement on that page doesn’t leave me inspired to buy one.  (as an fyi – the link from the advertisement was this: http://googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/imgad?id=CP6jxPL3spWLVBD6ARjvATII8BFY93VjUEI )  I suspect Google’s advertising bots, smart as they are, are still learning… but context is an enormously difficult thing to learn.

Advertisements

March 14, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Technology | 2 Comments

Audi, Lexus and Sponsored Tweets

Ive been watching Audi online more and more lately.  I went to a swanky VIP/RSVP thing at my local Audi dealership where they unveiled the fantastic new A8. It has a cockpit that is remarkable in every regard. My 2001 S4 seems as retro as a 57 Chevy by comparison.  I’m also kind of impressed by Audi’s push into the Superbowl.  The Kenny G doing Prison Riot Suppression video is the sort of quirky original thing that fascinates me. I have a search for @audi – on my Tweetdeck.

I was surprised this morning to see a Lexus advertisement on top of my @audi search in Tweetdeck.  There’s nothing new about advertising online using a your competition’s words, say as keywords and titles to SEO some people into your site instead of theirs.  Fans Flipping Out  on Bravo will remember Jeff Lewis getting VERY angry at a former business partner, Ryan Brown, for using some keywords a few years ago, and perhaps adwords to help his business. (season 3, of course) 

So – whats new here?   Lexus has sponsored @audi on Twitter. Anyone who has a stored search for @Audi in Tweetdeck and/or Hootsuite will see an advertisement for Lexus at the top of their stream.  Here’s what that looks like in Tweetdeck:

Certainly a delightfully creative way to advertise to your target audience.  Lexus – sombody there is Brilliant.

I think this interesting because LEXUS – sees Audi as serious competition for eyes, and buyers.  Lexus is so concerned about people following @Audi, they are paying Twitter for those responses.  Audi isn’t the only competition for Lexus. If I am in the market for a Lexus, I might look at other makes.  It occured to me that Lexus might be sponsoring other car brands as well.  Guess who else Lexus worries about… enough to pay for sponsored responses? BMW, Cadillac and Infiniti.  Lexus is NOT following Lincoln, Jaguar, Acura, Hyundai or Equus through.  (yet?) 

What do you think? Is this a new trend?

It is also interesting because other companies are sure to follow. Lexus is a leader here, and Twitter can surely use this for every other large company that wants to pro-actively protect their own brand, on Twitter, Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, etc…

February 3, 2011 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media | Leave a comment

Search Wars

Vivek Wadhwa sparked a bit of a firestorm on the first of January 2011 with his article “Why we Desperately need a (new and better) Google.”  Vivek’s first point was that Google’s search result-sets are overrun with content farms of junk data.”  “Google has become a jungle: a tropical paradise for spammers and marketers.” He also pointed out that alternative search engine Blekko does things differently. In reading Vivek’s blog, I realised that the Search Wars… may produce no victory – just casualties.

I blame Marcus Frind – founder of Plenty-of-Fish and I also blame INC Magazine.   The cover of Inc Magazine on January1, 2009 was about how Markus Frind keeps money rolling in.   Marcus keeps the money rolling in by producing content that his customers want. (He also blogs about it, and has since 2006 – with his wordpress theme essentially unchanged as far as I can tell.) Marcus Frind figured out what content the most people wanted, and monetized it, initially with Google’s Adwords/Adsense toolset.  Other people realized that if Marcus can make millions off of Sex, then other topics could be less lucrative, but still valuable. When people realized it, then companies realized it. http://www.associatedcontent.com/ is Yahoo’s “official library.”Yahoo, most famous lately for selling Yahoo HotJobs to Monster, and selling Yahoo Personals to Match.com – BOUGHT Associated Content in 2010 for $100 million dollars.    What does Associated do for Yahoo?   A quote from AdAge: “Associated manages a network of freelancers, but has also built underlying technology that predicts what kinds of content consumers want, as well as surfacing that content through natural search on engines such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing so the library makes money over time” 

Translation:  Associated makes money by building content that stuffs Google and other search engines.  They are only ONE company that does this.  Ok. I admit it. Marcus Friend and INC magazine aren’t really to blame. There is nobody to blame. People search. Searches produce data. Data is valuable and has a price. Search engine responses have a price. Building content to respond to those searches has value – whether it is for an SEO consultant, a “content farm” a media company, or any other company.

Having a price for the value of the response of Google searches, and a documented way, a well-understood way, a reproducable way to monitize the value of that response has become a problem for Google’s core business model; and it presents an Opportunity for Microsoft’s Bing.  

Wired – and everyone else online – noticed the escalations in the business-war between Google and Bing.  Wired’s article is titled:  Google Catches Bing Copying; Microsoft says ;So What?’  but they really missed the point. The point is not copying, or customer data, or even money. The point of this war is risk.  By fighting the war, both sides incur risk.

Farsight 2011: Beyond the search box.  “The future of Search” was recently held.

Just before it was held, Danny Sullivan broke some very interesting – somewhat inflamatory information.  Google trapped Microsoft/Bing copying Google Results.  Microsoft admitted to using opt-in data. Google obviously has been in the browser tool bar business for quite some time, and they also use opt-in data. Microsoft and Google both make billions from advertising, from operating systems, from browsers, from devices, and ultimately from advertisers, based on hexa-giga-peta-bytes of “opt-in” customer data.

There is endless value in the data that comes from browsers. Microsoft knows it. Google knows it. Everybody knows it. Microsoft is using the data to improve the tool that its customers are using. Google uses that value to sell AdWords. Everybody makes money counted in the Billions.

This argument between Google and Microsoft is Risky for either or both.

Here are two possible outcomes that would benefit Microsoft.
1) If people conclude from the resulting press that Google and Bing are not that different… 
and if businesses conclude that neither has a competitive advantage, that is a huge win for Microsoft’s Bing.

2)If people are interested in having tools that learn from their input and misspelllllings, they might use Bing more often.

Considering that Bing (as of 1/14/11) has 12% market share vs 66% for Google, any win for Microsoft’s Bing could be extremely significant.

HOWEVER, If people believe that Microsoft is stealing, that might benefit Google. If people believe that Google is emphasizing this issue to reduce the problem of junk-filled content farms which you address above as being able to differentiate “content produced by regular people and large-scale junk produced by the spammers” that is a problem for Google.

It is most risky, however, for both. I think this spat has the potential to further help people understand the value of the data they provide, the button-bars they install, the software, hardware and search engines they use, the sites they visit, the information that THEY willingly provide. 

That makes this war very risky to both Microsoft AND Google. 

Search Wars may not have a winner, only casualties.

What do you think?

February 2, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Search Engine Optimization | 2 Comments

Less Clicks: Good and Bad

Having less clicks in an advertising campaign can be both good and bad, but not for the most obvious reasons. It is important to remember the business objective behind the advertising so that when you create an advertising campaign, so you can use the campaign to reach those objectives. It is important to measure those objectives and it is important to try to improve your results.   There are times when fewer clicks can be good for meeting a business objective. So lets talk about clicks. 

Generally when you develop a Google ad campaign, your ads are shown on Google as a response to a search, and you pay when people click on your advertisement. (generally meaning that they are taken to the particular landing page on your site where you try to convert that click, and that specific interest in your products and services into an action – a sale, a registration, brand building or whatever)

The theory behind developing your advertisement is to develop the ad that converts the highest possible percentage of ad-views into ad-clicks. Here is an example: If you have 1000 people search for “Buick Regal” in Winston Salem, NC, and you sell Buick Regals in or near Winston Salem, NC,  and you develop an ad campaign, you want to get a high percentage of those people to click on your advertisement.  You might have a text based ad campaign that says something like this current campaign from Vestal Cars:

2010 Buick Regal
Get your Buick Regal Internet Price
Now & call For Special Incentives
VestalCars.com

If you click on Vestal’s advertisement, you come to an inventory page that shows their current inventory of Buick Regal automobiles.  That seems well formatted, well directed, and as effective as possible. If someone is searching for a Buick Regal to purchase, Vestal Cars is showing them exactly those cars, in that location. If a potential customer searches for that, and clicks that, Vestal has done everything right to (a) convert views to clicks, and (b) convert clicks to action.   In this case, the business objective is to sell cars.  To sell cars, they need customers to consider their cars, to look at their cars, to visit their car lots, and ultimately to find a car they want.   Vestal Cars wants to get people who are already searching on Google for a particular car to see their inventory of that car.  Their thought is likely that a person searching for a particular model of car is apt to be interested in that particular car. In the nebulous world of search-advertising, that is a pretty logical assumption, and I think their well-crafted advertisement is as likely to sell cars for them as anything.  I’m not sure why they’re returning 2010 Buick Regal information instead of 2011 Buick Regals, but apart from that very minor quibble, I really like their advertisement. For the most part, they have done it right.  In their case, a higher click through rate will likely support their business objective – and fewer clicks would be bad.

Google’s Adwords are a very effective way to advertise, and per-click charges make billions of dollars of revenue and profit for Google each quarter. Large companies spend millions of dollars on campaigns annually, and for particular events.  (AT&T spent more than $8m on the iPhone 4 release, and BP spent more than $3.5m for “oil spill” related searches recently.) Those companies, however, are really enormous.

There are cases in which smaller businesses, and entire categories of smaller businesses might not want someone to click their advertising. Think about that. For particular categories, an absolute minimal % click rate might be optimal. For these businesses advertising campaigns, fewer clicks would be wonderful. Why?  Why would you develop a campaign to target less clicks?  That campaign would be done where less clicks is a more effective way to support the business objective.  What would that look like? 

Here’s an example where the fewest clicks possible produces the best results – the most optimal business results.Twin City Towing Tow Truck  Although that is good, not for the obvious reason, it is also bad, and also not for the most obvious reason.

I recently put together a campaign for Twin City Towing.  Their business objective was to increase their volume of towing. To do that, they want Google advertising to increase calls to Twin City Towing for people who want  Towing services and the other services that they offer:   Here are the two advertisements that I put together as part of this campaign.

Twin City Towing, W-S, NC
24/7 flatbed towing – Cars, Trucks
Boats, Etc,Call 336-692-2615
www.twincitytowing.net
$59 Quick Tow, Car Towing
Call
(336) 692-2615 WS – NC
More Towing & Services Available
www.twincitytowing.net 

This campaign was designed to target searches that were done in and around Winston Salem, NC for about a dozen terms like “Auto Towing”  “Local Towing” and “Tow Truck.”  All of this is pretty straightforward. I also targeted the advertisements for good placement.

Here is my most important point: A perfect response to this advertisement would be someone who saw the advertisement and called Twin City Towing to get towing services.(not a person who clicks through to Twin City Towing’s website.)

Because the advertising is charged per click, I want great placement on the advertising, and I also wanted the highest response to the advertisement for people, but I also want the lowest possible click conversion.  Here are possible response rates and their implications: If there is a click through rate of 2%, and 100 advertising impressions shown at a cost of $1.00 per click, my cost to reach 100 potential customers is $2.00. If I have a 20% click rate, my cost of reaching those same 100 potential customers is $20.00.  (or, for the same $20, I can reach 1000 customers.)

Think about this: If a business wants someone to CALL for a tow – why bother getting them to click to a website that tells them what to call? Why not simply include the phone number in the advertisement? Including the phone number in the advertising means that a stranded motorist who does a mobile phone search for tow truck doesn’t need to click through to a website, he needs to call a tow truck. Including the phone number saves the customer a step. It is simply more convenient for someone that needs to get towed, and that should increase business.  This is a case in which a lower click through rate simultaneously gives customers what they want while increasing business more cost-effectively. So what has the response been for this ad campaign?  From August 31 to September 6, 2010, here are the actual raw statistics:

Impressions: 959  –   Clicks: 4  – Click-rate:  0.42%  –  Cost per click: $1.29   –   Total cost $5.15

For most campaigns, that would be an extremely low click-through-rate.  If the campaign continues at this rate, a theoretical advertising budget of $100.00 could last for almost 20 weeks and reach almost 20,000 people.  If the business has added two tows this week, their cost for adding each tow will be approximately $2.57.  That is extremely cost-effective advertising, built on a counterintuitive philosophy of Less Clicks.

So – that seems good, but it is actually both good and bad.  Where is it bad?  Earlier I described search advertising as nebulous. The downside of advertising for a response that does not result in a click is that without other changes, it will be impossible for Twin City Towing to know, based on their call volume, and also impossible based on Google’s advertising campaign statistics if particular towing calls are actually coming from Google Advertising.   If there is an increase of call volume from towing customers, it might be cyclical, it might be due to a decrease in car reliability. It might come from Bing, or Yahoo, or perhaps the yellow pages. Because the response is NOT click-based, the perfect response to their Google advertising produces zero in specific and measurable statistics. 

So is this a good ad strategy?  Would it also work for cab companies? Would it work for other business segments? Are there better ways to quantify how this ad campaign meets the intended business objective?  

What do you think?

September 7, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Technology | Leave a comment