SEO Update from Chicago

Everything just got a bit harder with the new Google Caffeine update for the search engine. If you haven’t heard about it yet you can check out the API to see how your website will rank in the new engine compared to the old engine.

I would say that most people began to understand the old engine in a logical way from experimentation over time and many businesses thought they were just “following the rules” building sites in a way that fit with that logic. Now the new engine will be completely different and all that work will be gone. I looked at some sites and saw how they will compare between the 2 and the results are a challenge.

One site went from 12th to 44th for a key search term. Another went from 5th to 23rd. It is almost universal that everyone who develops a business model around search will be hurt by the change whether they are spammy or not.

I am all for reducing and removing spam/affiliate networks/link schemes from google to reveal the real content but the actual companies with the products/services/tools that businesses and professionals use will be hurt by the update and some may suffer financially as a result. Google just doesn’t have the human ability and reasoning skills in a robot algorithm to tell whether a site is spam or not. They’re going after spam and hurting other legitimate businesses.

Investing in marketing might be something we start looking at like investing in stocks/bonds/401K/the market. They have had long standing recommendations on asset allocation between stocks/bonds/international funds/currency and other types of investments. They associate risk levels with each one and say things like; invest the percentage in bonds that matches your age or diversify and reallocate to maintain that level of diversification between investment types 2-3 times per year.

Investment Strategy with Marketing may look the same someday. SEO might bring in X% of revenue and cost Y% of budget but is highly risky, so you don’t invest as much in it, because it is all potentially going to vaporize when Google decides to update. Things like Branding on TV and Radio and Outdoor are more expensive and not trackable, but companies have been using them for decades and they are very low risk. You spend that money on awareness and people know who you are after that. PR is another wild card and social networking (viral) marketing is another component with low cost and high risk.

Companies may want to diversify their marketing and advertising dollars based on risk as well as the ROI because within a few clicks of a mouse in California, the entire web changes and all your efforts may go up in smoke. This idea definitley favors the old methods and in some ways, internet banner ads. Display advertising on the internet is way undervalued right now and people are also starting to look at ads online like they used to on TV. They are actually paying attention sometimes. The conversion rates have gone down on average, but for mainstream brands and trusted sites they are near 5% (up from .01% years ago) when you include post impression data (people who never clicked, but went to your site anyway).

So, I guess the mood I am feeling today is one that is cautious optimism about old advertising methods in light of Google pulling the rug out from under companies, in the way they always do. It doesn’t help that adwords pay per click costs are as high as $20 for many mainstream words and can go as high as $100 perclick. Then when the conversion rates are so low, nobody will pay that. Most of my clients are abandoning ppcads and someday may do the same with SEO. It just doesn’t pay.

Hallmark Keepsake Christmas Ornaments & Website Issues

I have been a Hallmark Keepsake Christmas Ornament fan since the late 1980’s when we discovered them. I was in Jr high at the time and the thought that a Christmas tree ornament could commemorate anything you want it to was liberating and fun. We ended up buying several ornaments each year until we had a full Christmas tree of just Hallmark Ornaments and white lights. We still buy hallmark keepsake ornaments every Christmas if they continue the series that we like. The classic cars, classic trucks and classic historic airplanes are three that my brother collects. He is determined to have a transportation only tree at some point, and after 15 years he is getting close to that. My mom and I prefer more winter and holiday themed ornaments and have bought some of the light and magic hallmark Christmas ornaments over the years.

This year might be the one exception to the rule, and it is mostly Hallmark’s fault. For some reason they don’t carry hallmark Christmas ornaments at Jewel food stores anymore. Maybe they aren’t as popular anymore? Maybe people have gotten tired of collecting them? Anyway there are also no Hallmark stores in downtown Chicago where I work and none in Oak Park where I live. So, trekking out to get these is getting more complicated. I wanted to order them on the Hallmark Website and in addition to the site being horribly organized and impossible to finding things THEY DON”T EVEN SELL THEM ONLINE!!! (what kind of organization system classifies ornaments by which series is starting and ending when everyone else just knows them by the cars theme? or their subject matter)  WTF? Why wouldn’t a site like Hallmark have an ecommerce site? After all they have done to promote their brand they use the website just to drive people to an offline store? Have they learned nothing about the Internet since 1996??

I am an internet marketer so this is my business to know how people use the internet and what they want, and I can tell you for sure they do not want to have to shut off the computer, find their car keys and drive an hour to a flipping store. It is called point and click buying and last year more than 31 BILLION dollars were projected to get exchanged for goods online at Christmas. Why would Hallmark not want a piece of the pie? I think old people making risk averse decisions like this for a large company (who don’t know how or want to spend money to develop a website) end up screwing the company in the long run as they totally alienate the younger demographic. I can’t see the myspace or facebook generation being lured to a store to buy something when they twitter that they have to go to the bathroom online. I wish Hallmark would wake up and smell the propane and get with the way real people do business and shopping online.

Engagement Marketing Metrics, ROI & Open ID

I have been reading a lot about how conversion tracking isn’t enough data to make the best decisions and engagement is the new black. It is frustrating because no one defines engagement in the same way and no one can really tell you what it is.

I do agree though that engagement is the next evolutionary step in tracking onlinemedia for ROI purposes. I think the trouble people will have will be in customizing it rather than standardizing it. I think the meaningful parts of the process will be totally different depending on the company, the media, the process and the product.

What I consider the next thing for my own tracking purposes is prior ad exposures. This is an engagement metric for the ads leading up to conversion rather than site visitors for our own site. I don’t work with analytics usually or determine how to get someone to engage with a process over and over again. I do try and figure out ways to advertise affordably and get people to complete the conversion process. This prior exposures report should provide more insight into how many, where, when and how people come to the conversion site. I am thinking it should provide us information we won’t anticipate as well as show some information we knew would be there.

I am also a bit pissed off with this stupid marketing sherpa execuitive summary report. Pretty much everything written in it is complete bunk since there are a ton of caveats to each graph and I would bet more is according to how people track and assess results than how the media actually performs. If people would track media post impression they would see the value of banners rather than just for clicks. This is so frustrating until you see the data. Then it just makes sense.

People are influenced by banners (branding) and that whole banner blindness thing had to do with the crap companies that were allowed to buy ads with spammy business practices and scams.  They are still out there and as long as they are allowed because of corporate greed, people will keep ignoring some of the good ads for things they really do want and need. Targeting is part of the equation, but as far as targeting goes, we are still in the dark ages.

This brings me to another beef I have with the online ad industry right now. Everyone LOVES behavioral targeting, even if they don’t know what that means. (It has nothing to do with your behavior most of the time by the way.) It is a tracking of people who have been selected as a target by their profile info (Yahoo) or by visiting your site before and the ads follow you around on the web. The latter is the better way to do this (indicating actual interest rather than categorical inclusion) although we don’t know nearly enough about our target customers to really be able to target them online.

I am always asked why someone targeted for one category converts in an opposite one. Why? I have no F-ing clue dude! People are multi-faceted. They can belong to more than one interest or category even if marketers feel it shouldn’t be allowed. People have many aspects to their life and interests and they will always be that way. We won’t know all that data about them or how to process it for a long long long time.

That is what this stupid open ID thing will eventually lead to. A one stop shop for all your profiles and data so marketers can target you on hundreds of variables like what you do for fun, what you do for work and where you shop and live. (they have to sell out sometime) It would take literally hundreds of actual customer profiles to understand the marketability of each of these demographics, and then targeted messages to serve specifically to each profile type. It will take a few years to get there but I think it will get there sooner than I am personally ready for. I don’t know how to collect, assess or value those metrics about customers nor do I really want them targeting me like that.

Oy! Anyway, I am most interested in the overlapping cloud of ads that all influence someone to buy or sign up for something rather than I am in trying to figure out how to track a million personal profiles and target them with individual ads. Also, contrary to that stupid exec summary, pop-ups and unders still suck ass and you know it.

Updates abound…

A recap of some random things floating around in my head this morning:

1. The Golden Globes were anti-climactic without a big star studded event surrounding the awards. I actually don’t think anyone cares who the best actors or movies were this year when they can’t see those people live on TV at that moment. I don’t think anyone thinks any of these winners are any better this year because they didn’t see the people behind it or the big showy spectacle. I suppose it questions the validity of these kind of award shows. Do people care at all who wins? Is it indicative of better quality entertainment? Is it just a publicity blitz for the entertainment business in general?

2. The Christmas decorations are much harder to put away than they are to put up. And more exhausting.

3. Sinus infections suck. I woke up with what I thought was the beginning of one, but hopefully allergy meds have solved this. I feel better now.

4. The reviews about the movie The Kingdom were wrong. It is a very good movie in the sense that it examines alot of information about a problem and lets you make up your mind about what to do about it. I prefer that to just a canned solution that they impose on us, especially since no one has found the solution anyway. 

5. I am swamped at work again. So please don’t expect a lot of posts here in the next few weeks. It’s going to be busy so I probably won’t be able to post.

6. New trends in Internet marketing continue to emerge on blogs and a lot of newsletters I have gotten in the past few weeks. They are right in that people are more fragmented than ever, but I don’t think we know enough about the people we want to target to really make use of all this technology yet. Few marketers I have ever met really know who they are looking for (and all their demographic info) to sell their products to. Just buying a bunch of media with a broad audience and guessing isn’t very smart. ROI will jump with better information from product and consumer research on existing customers and analysis for trends among them to target new people. The ROI process has a limit between the cost and conversion data only.

7. Being friends with an ex is harder than it looks. I was moving in that direction ok, but Kev wasn’t. I think he wanted to be able to go back, but alas you never really can. He just said he wants to not talk for a while and I resepect that. I am sorry though that he can’t do just friends because he is a good friend that I hate to loose. I do understand his situation though and hope that in the future has friends that are gals that aren’t going to blur the line as being more and that he is ok with that. 

8. Chicago Sketchfest was great. So many talented performers so little time. Plus you run into a million people you know there!

9. I’m doing ok on my goals for the year so far. Although it’s only been 2 weeks. I haven’t lost much notable weight (only about 2lbs) and saved a ton of money yet, but I haven’t given up or messed up big yet either.

10. My parents will get to meet Steve for the first time this weekend I am both nervous and excited at the same time. I am sure they will all get along, but I still hope it goes well in a slightly nervous way. Things are going really well between us and I hope that it continues. It is good to be comfortable and happy in a relationship and not have to worry about loosing it or something bad happening. It seems like I just trust this more than I usually do. Now we get to add the rest of the family to the mix and see if it holds up.

New Email Marketing Social Network Site

I am always interested in what other marketers have to say and are working on. There is always a lively debate about theory and practice of any marketing medium or method going on. Email marketing is also a huge success area for marketers and they debate heavily on what is best, worst and the new latest thing. Yes the email newsletter has still remained on top for providing push marketing messages out to consumers and creating conversions to purchase when there are sales goals to be met. We all get the “limited time only”, “huge sale” and “new product” emails from retailers and some of them actually work.

icontact logoThere is a new online social networking community just for email marketers now. It is from iContact. They are an email marketing management company. Someone you buy email management and sending services from to manage your email marketing process. They want marketers to not only use their management solutions, but to also log on and chat with other marketers. I think this will give both the marketers and iContact insight into what works and doesn’t work and what innovations are needed. The new iContact community is a lot like other social networks allowing people to rate and “digg” stories and content. There are also a lot of blogs and newsletters about email marketing that contribute there too. I have not done any email marketing for a while so I might go check it out just to keep up my knowledge up on this topic.

The web community service already has 120,000 registered members (so it is going strong) that are logged in and because it is a professional service they charge $9.95 per month. (this is something your company would most likely reimburse you for) Check it out to see what is new and working in email marketing right now. http://community.icontact.com