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Archive for November, 2011

Who Pissed in [Everyone's] Cornflakes?

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Have you ever read a comments section for a major news source? (I know you have.) Yikes!

The problem seems to be particularly bad in Canada. There are a handful of companies/players that seem to be the “official” and authoritative sources of news for the nation. So the volume of comments major stories attract is high.

And 90% of the comments are angry.

It goes something like this: there is a relatively innocuous story about a league thinking of building a stadium in one of several locales, and one city in particular has the inside track.

Typical response (paraphrase): “Flarrghhhghh! Stupid you! Article bad! People dumb make silly! Wrong wrong wrong why even do let alone write aklgadh;garrrrfjlllllll1!!!!!”

Now this is nothing new online. Online forums have been full of vitriol forever. But now we’re applying this vitriol more widely, to mainstream news, in a peaceful and prosperous place where you think we broadly agree about many things.

Does no one respect anyone or anything anymore? Is this splintered, divisive view of every issue really reflective of reality?

Maybe it’s just that NIMBYism is the default mode of engagement with every possible issue. You have some legitimate environmental concerns with large-scale pipeline or hydraulic fracking projects: bring on the healthy debate and dissent. But I’ve seen the vitriol (and the do-nothing, anti-everything default position) extend to innocuous improvements like extending bike paths, or the decision of which mid-sized Canadian city to put a CFL team in.

At a certain point these so-called ["$!@!!%!!!!"] voices of reason engender cynicism about the whole idea of public input. It becomes a parody of genuine civic engagement.

In Toronto, local businesses and citizens relentlessly fought common-sense plans for streetcar right-of-ways down horribly chaotic Spadina Avenue, and later, St. Clair Ave. West. Now that these projects are in place, what’s the result? Only better-moving traffic and the ability of public transit to move people along in large volumes, much more efficiently.

And this is when well-meaning public servants begin to filter out “input” that seeks to block and disrupt even the most innocuous improvements. And when well-meaning public servants become hardened to “process” and begin to just “ram things through,” imagine what kinds of tactics the more hard-boiled ones are going to get up to, because the meaning of public input has been discredited by temper tantrums and molehills elevated to mountains.

I’d love to know what the secret is to bringing positive, constructive voices into these virtual spaces, to balance out the endless stream of soul-killing, wet-blanket “$!$@!%!”.

In the meantime: “go bike paths! go CFL!”.

Andrew Goodman likes these.


The Value of Trust: Average Order Value by Audience

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Back when Overture (previously, later became Yahoo Search Marketing) was preparing its prospectus for an initial public offering, the company spoke often of the paid clicks (to which by now we’ve become so accustomed) as “paid introductions.” It was a good choice of language.


With the recent growth in and precision of the remarketing technique, it’s fairly easy to observe different characteristics observed by different audiences of prospects and/or returning visitors. One striking one is average order size.

For a long time, consumers have exhibited a certain pattern when it comes to e-commerce. Even to this day, they prefer to get involved with businesses they know, and they prefer to get to know that business by trying a small order first. That’s what makes it so challenging for businesses who specialize solely in high-ticket, high-consideration items to get their marketing strategies figured out. You have to deal with a lot of zeroes, a lot of bounces, and a lot of rejection (notwithstanding the potential for more sophisticated analysis and better strategy).

Looking at one client’s remarketing conversion stats for the past 60 days, I see the following average order sizes:

  • Reached the first page of checkout in the past four months, but did not purchase: $80.
  • Had already purchased something in the past six months: $140

[Exact values disguised to protect confidentiality. Proportions accurate. Statistical significance of these numbers: extremely high (based on a large dataset).]

Those who had simply stumbled on the site and not made it into the funnel in the past six months rarely clicked or bought anything in response to remarketing.


  • Trust is difficult to build. Permission-based assets are also costly and difficult to build. They are also often worth building.
  • Attribution remains an art. Email, Facebook, and remarketing audiences are all assets that cost your company money to build via a variety of channels… including other media and great customer service. In the great “demand generation” vs. “demand harvesting” debate, it’s still important to be fair to the part that does the “demand generation.”
  • But the demand harvesting channels truly do cost very little. Short of annoying your loyal customers to death… for a marketer, these channels are awesome for ROI (even if it isn’t “real” ROI).
  • You can grow a lot more than you think just by delighting the customers you do have, and earning their trust and support.
  • But you have to build that base from somewhere. Lifetime value should be factored into the equation when you consider the worth of “paid introductions.” LTV isn’t a copout or an excuse.
  • (Then again, businesses that have virtually no potential for repeat orders or ongoing business are dealing with significantly more challenging business models, with very little margin for error.)

7 Tips to Filter Out Lame Searches

Monday, November 7th, 2011

In a recent column, I explained that ad formats and copy can send meta messages beyond what is literally conveyed in the text. You aren’t just trying to “convince” a pre-digested subset of willing buyers, but rather, you’re engaged in a sorting exercise whereby users measure you for “fit” as their eyes flit across a number of listings on a SERP page in rapid succession.

If you play your cards right, the act of sending cues to “your” prospects can simultaneously achieve the purpose of filtering out non-buyers. Apparently, for every searcher with high buying intent, there may be dozens of lame people just casually roving around the web, looking for diversion. Don’t cozy up to them!

Here are a few categories of meta messages that might be relevant to your ad strategy. As always, the purpose is to elicit better responses in order to improve CTRs, conversion rates, quality scores, and ROI.

  • Brand name in display URL? You’re halfway there if you’re lucky enough to have a slam-dunk brand. If not, you’ll have to provide some other reason for customers to be drawn to you. Think of it this way: if you’re not seven feet tall, standing in front of someone and telling them “I’m seven feet tall” will do you little good. As a little guy, you’ll need to focus on other areas like pricing, comparative advantage in a niche, USPs, promotions, attractive offers, etc.If you’re leveraging a built-in brand advantage, the rest of the ad copy shouldn’t “shout” above the brand’s weighty presence, since it doesn’t need to. For example, if everyone already knows about your famous return policy, you needn’t waste space on it in the ad (it’s on your website anyway).
  • It’s not an ad unit, it’s a tasty menu of links…your links. Over the years, Google has done a fair bit of experimenting making PPC ads blend in as a natural part of the user experience. Perhaps the majority of users don’t think ads are identical to natural search results, but it’s definitely the case that little cues, such as using a keyword-rich display URL, feeds into the user’s bias towards being given a dispassionate, “fair-minded” system for making a choice. Many searchers would like to believe that the search results page is helpful as opposed to being a playground for aggressive marketing messages. Experiment accordingly. The tendency is only exaggerated in the case of the large Sitelinks ad unit, which looks similar to the same unit as deployed in organic listings. If clicks on your brand term were expensive, this unit might backfire on you. But because you can often get those clicks for under 10 cents with this unit, it helps you draw attention away from other players in the ecosystem who may be “drafting” on your brand name. And it does so with dignity.
  • Don’t be ambiguous with the “buy now.” There has to be no better cue that you have a shopping cart than the blue “Google Checkout” icon, but calls to action like “buy now,” “free shipping over $100,” etc. are also great – not just as benefits or calls to action per se, but as means of confirming that you’re not an information site, directory, service provider, or some other category of vendor.
  • Buy now and here’s how! Depending on how it’s done, I make a distinction between ads that are “shouty” and those that are ultra-clear. I recently created an ad that told users where to scroll to see the options for this particular product category; I had to do so because of (yikes) an awkward interface that made this category harder to find on the website than some others. In so doing, I accidentally stumbled on a successful strategy for a higher-ROI ad! For some reason, this made it ultra-clear to prospects what they should do next if they wanted to customize their purchase. And again, perhaps the even larger accomplishment was to ensure that it penetrated through to casual searchers: you’re going to have to customize something to make a purchase. If you’re browsing only for interesting videos and general articles, stay away.
  • Big savvy retailer, or parent company fluff site? Unfortunately, your giant brand doesn’t always do you a favor. Do the other running shoe companies have an annoying tendency to create elaborate informational sites with arty Flash movies about Nobel Peace Prize winners running through the desert? Sometimes well-known resellers and retailers have better brands than you, the parent company. Not in general, perhaps, but specifically stronger for the purpose the buyer is looking for: to buy something at a discount from a large catalog, from a cart, with a great company experienced in logistics and customer service. If this applies to you, you’ll need to compensate somehow.
  • Include geo-signals. If there is a local angle to all or part of your business, it’s imperative that you take account of the various local advertising options at Google today, such as full use of Google Places. Other tactics like a) including a city name in the display URL, b) breaking out campaigns to be more granular by geography, and c) using local extensions where the geographic location of a company is displayed under the ad unit, are all ways to convey local presence without saying a lot about it. Geo cues can bring buyers “home” to your business.
  • One-stop shop? By referring to a large selection, you not only reinforce the notion that you are in e-commerce in the first place, you reassure visitors that it’s worth their time to visit your site and to browse around. It’s often wrongly assumed that extreme granularity is the key to paid search. It can be, but oftentimes users straddle both impulses: specific desires, and a desire to add more to their cart or to find something even more appropriate to their needs. If there is any advantage to online shopping that stands out above all others, it’s the promise of virtually unlimited inventory. If yours is small, people are going to wonder what they’re missing elsewhere.

My favorite thing about meta messages is that they typically achieve multiple goals in a tiny space. Because of this, their impact on campaign performance can be surprisingly large, proportional to the space they take up. Use meta messages as a means of squeezing more signals and cues into those 95 character spaces.


This column originally appeared at ClickZ on April 22, 2011. Reprinted by permission.


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