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Archive for March, 2013

Another nail in the coffin of the fragilista way of life

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Many of us make our app and platform decisions based on a certain calculation: go with the large, integrated provider that has momentum. The alternative is inconvenience, a lack of integration, possibly clunkier functionality, lack of “cool factor,” and in some cases, cost.

For example, our company recently adopted Google Apps for Business, joining the legions who have already done so. It hasn’t been without its issues. But our old way of doing things was worse.

For various tools, though, I’ve often felt that a less efficient mix-and-match approach was somehow healthier. I arrived at this view based on my belief in something I call the Single Overlord Adoption Threshold. America itself was founded on the basis of checks and balances. It’s an ideal; an ideal of multiple centers of power and influence so none gets too big. It’s such a valuable ideal to so many, that Americans put up with a lot of political gridlock, for fear of the alternative (tyranny).

People are starting to get it.

Om Malik has recently declared that he’ll never use Google’s new competitor to Evernote because of how arbitrarily they shut down the much-valued Google Reader… even if it’s better.

That’s sort of why I still like and use Basecamp from 37 Signals. Anytime a more impressive, integrated alternative has come along, I’ve wanted less integration… less “impressive.” For some reason. Probably for reasons similar to what Malik and the American founding fathers had in mind.

Better-integrated, more impressive, cheaper systems developed by a single overlord have many advantages, but if they can all be snatched away, that syncs up perfectly with what Nassim Taleb criticizes as “fragile” systems.

Adopting non-Google solutions for mission-critical business and personal use, by contrast, may make your life more robust, if not anti-fragile.

So I’m really not sure — when the case is so obvious in this “Evernote-competitor” instance — why people are so unwilling or unable to see the same dynamic in action on other fragile, all-in Google moves of a more far-reaching nature — like Android? At a plenary session at this week’s SMX Toronto, I just heard a roomful of Canadians (all but two) essentially swear they’d never get another BlackBerry. But if the OS is as good as Android or iOS, and there are many other attractive reasons to use the non-overlord product, why the paranoia that somehow life won’t be as optimized or integrated if we don’t rush into a Google environment?

The funny thing about this is — this is exactly how many people used to behave with “Microsoft stuff” before Apple, Netscape, Google (and others) became the clever upstarts that toppled them. Of course, in many cases it would have been absurd to suggest people even had a choice. To stick with Corel Wordperfect for documents (once the leading word processing software) became, at a certain point, “impossible.” (But was it, really? What about all those Apple users who for years didn’t use Microsoft’s Office products? Remember the years where document format translating companies made a ton of cash helping people convert stuff?)

And Google’s behavior — “embrace and extend” and try to play even in verticals where it doesn’t belong or doesn’t truly have its heart in — resembles that which was once so vilified in Microsoft.

Certainly, when it comes to project management, note-taking, etc., we have credible alternatives to the overlord products.

In other areas where many of us have left ourselves vulnerable and fragile — Google Analytics, say — it can seem tougher to easily replace or at least “back up” our data and workflow so that we can be covered if some Black Swan event occurs. But maybe we should be thinking harder about, if not replacing Google Analytics, then at least implementing a backup. BUBGA (Before Urchin Became GA), only a small percentage of business owners were site analytics mavens, but that percentage tended to dig deeper into the field, willing to deal with cumbersome logfile analysis software of various stripes… so that they could have more control over their own data. Now, most of us are just handing over the keys to that kingdom – directly to Google.

(As an aside, I still feel it was quite a blow to us when Microsoft abandoned Gatineau, the code name for its direct competitor to GA.)

I think it’s food for thought. We too easily race for the convenience and integration of the leading products, ignoring their risks. Largely that’s out of herd mentality, and a wish to conform and avoid criticism.

When there truly are credible alternatives — such as the Blackberry 10 OS — it’s time people realized that it’s worth trying out those alternative… even if it’s simply on principle.

In many of these areas, Google is the new Microsoft. Does that mean, then, that they will someday also fall out of favor and become “tired,” like Microsoft apparently did? Not necessarily. There’s no law of nature that says that will happen.

(And of course, how tired is any company worth hundreds of billions of dollars, really? A friend was telling me today about how much he loved his Surface tablet. I suppose some blog commenter will want to explain to him that he is just “wrong!” The point is, it’s his choice, and he’s made it! “Logic” of a certain sort says he shouldn’t have. The price point for the version with a keyboard makes no sense in the mass market; nor does the positioning — do I need a laptop that works with a tablet, and why pay for a third or fourth device? But most of those calls are made by people thinking about what people “should” or “will” want, in the context of a belief that (say) Google or Apple are basically all-knowing and either inevitable or impossibly cool. And yet, when someone picks up a Microsoft or Blackberry product and likes it, their positive reactions are genuine, and the dollars they’re willing to spend are genuine. There is no “inevitability” in any of the current trends.)

Overall, many people are underestimating the “Founding Fathers factor” here: a populist will to stop simply adopting everything Google is already gradually emerging, as evidenced in Om’s rant about Reader. Over time, I believe many more people will begin joining this “on principle” rejection of “better, cheaper” Google products.

Anti-Microsoft sentiment, at one time, was so widespread you could answer the doorbell and hear your mail carrier talking about open source and how he was going to get a “Linux box.” The sentiment is out there, and if Google pushes too far… it will return in force. All people need is alternatives.

Bye for now,

Andrew

P.S. This post and blog are powered by WordPress for one reason, primarily: after we’d been using it for six years, Google drastically reduced support for Blogger.

SMX Toronto Preview: PPC Analytics – Crunching Your Own Data

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Great times! What could be better than a search marketing conference in Toronto, home of Richard Florida, six legitimate starting pitchers, and Page Zero Media?

Tomorrow you can catch me speaking at SMX Toronto, on the subject of PPC Analytics: Crunching Your Own Data.

I’ll cover some semi-advanced issues with attribution and search funnels, of course. But as is my modus operandi typically, I’ll seek to uncover complexities in seemingly simple processes and data. I’ll argue that you need to get your arms around these complexities and work from a clear plan… because you probably aren’t.

Take ad testing. There are at least four or five common approaches to ad testing. But most campaign managers mix and match strategies… change tack all the time… which isn’t a strategy at all.

The vast majority aren’t even aware of how to determine whether tests are statistically valid. Most of the rest are aware, but don’t stick to a plan or consult the statistical confidence stats.

Among other things, I’ll also cover cool and key segments to manage… and include a couple of key nuggets as folks gear up for Enhanced Campaigns in AdWords. See you there!

But That’s Cheating!

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Right now at Page Zero, we’re running a couple of internal ad creative contests, where we throw open an ad group to the expert participation of experienced members of our own team, in an attempt to improve client results with a testing process we sometimes refer to as “internal crowdsourcing.” The idea is to tap into the diverse minds in our company (but coupled with lots of deep experience and extreme competitiveness in this one specific field: generating max ROI on PPC), to discover unexpected variations (genetic mutations, if you will). This is something you really can’t do effectively in traditional media – not in the same way, anyway.

Despite the incredible power of ad rotation in AdWords, most campaigns underperform on the creative dimension. It’s a constant struggle to find that next leap in performance.

Seth Godin had a term for using diversity to stumble on new directions and thought patterns: it’s called mDNA (or “meme DNA”).

We’re closely watching our tests right now… trash talking… watching revenue figures… and eagerly anticipating the mouthwatering dinner that the company (or colleagues) will have to buy us if we win one of the contests.

What’s going on with the winning entries? How about the losing ones? In both cases, massive learning.

A real hallmark of these tests is the realization that almost half the time, someone is attempting some way to win that the others react viscerally to as “cheating.” Although all the ads are well within the contest rules, the client’s parameters, and Google’s editorial and other rules — for some reason, people are coming up with loopholes you just didn’t think of.

Someone picks a different landing page as the destination URL. Someone does something a little different with the display URL. Someone puts unusual (but perfectly acceptable) punctuation in the headline. Someone uses DKI unexpectedly. Someone tries something sneaky to increase the average order value. Someone tells you how to browse the site, because the landing page might not be explicit enough. (Among other things, the latter is a meta-message. Not only does the offbeat CTA help you decide what to do next, it’s also reminding searchers that *this is advertising* about *searching for a product* that is hard to find. Maybe that’s why it works. It both entices and filters.)

And then there are the surprises that break no rules, but didn’t occur to you. Someone uses copy that is a bit more flowery and full of itself than you ever thought would work for what you assumed was a commodity product. Someone speaks to a vanity benefit that you just wouldn’t have bothered to try, because you unconsciously dismissed that as a motive for buying this product.

At the end of the contest, there will be one winner per ad group. And much will have been learned.

Above all, when a half dozen or a dozen professionals enter a really contentious (but friendly) competition to test something, you are reminded of how little testing typically happens when a single person is trying to “run a test” with their own ideas of which elements to test.

And isn’t it amazing that when given a challenge and a wide scope with fairly unrestrictive rules, we create our own mental prison anyway? Subconsciously, it’s all about “Oh, I thought when we meant ‘testing’ we meant try these couple of relatively inconsequential variations, plus one benefit statement we threw into the mix for good measure, and we were just about done.”

Not every second pair of eyes will do much to improve on well tested ad copy, to be sure. Often, new contenders fail. But put half a dozen, or a dozen, highly motivated pros in there and ask them to break stuff for bragging rights and a free dinner – and watch the fireworks. :)

I’m also a firm believer in aligning performance with motivation. And if you can fuse fun, incentives, competitiveness, and plain old trash talking with client performance goals… all the planets and stars align.

Get a second pair of eyes on that? A good idea? Umm, yeah! At least a second pair.

Who says cheaters never prosper?

P.S.:

Is it cheating if we ask you to vote for us (that’s @webmona and @andrew_goodman) in the PPC Associates 2013 Most Influential SEM tournament? Now that’s our kind of March Madness. Vote early and often. We’re in the quarter-finals.

 


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