Interesting times for Digital Marketers

interestingSome weeks very little changes across the platforms we use to reach our customers and prospects. Those are what I think of as good weeks. The only certainty however is change, and this week has seen a whole heap of changes from Google and Facebook. Here’s a little about each and some links where you can read more in depth analysis.

Google Places becomes Google+ Local

Google are beating the Google+ drum hard, despite the weak engagement numbers, and have given their local business product the Plus treatment with this overhaul of features and functionality. TheNextWeb concentrate on what Google+ Local means for users while Google Local expert Mike Blumenthal covers how the Google+ Local changes affect businesses.

Google kills etailers free traffic source, Google Products/Shopping

After a decade in beta, the trouble-prone (setting and letting it run never worked very well, with the constant data format and required field changes) Google Base/Products/Shopping part of Google is going away. When it worked it could be a reasonable source of traffic, but now Google have laid to waste the comparison shopping sites it was intended to compete with, by way of the Panda updates, they’re free to start raking in the cash by making it a purely pay to play deal. If you want your products to appear in the SERPs like they used to it’s time to crank up the Ad budget.

price-comparison-trends-uk-june-2012
UK Price Comparison Websites traffic trends since 2009

Facebook finally doing something for their real customers

Facebook, reeling from the reality check of their post-IPO stock slump, have rolled out a couple of long overdue new features for the people who ultimately keep the lights on: their advertisers. Page admins now have some shiny new abilities that will make managing a page just a little bit easier. First up is scheduled posts. Sure you’ve been able to do that before with third party services (and these services remain useful still, particularly ones that allow you to post an RSS feed to Facebook, but now you can schedule a post in the future. Mashable have a little bit of a kvetch about the interface  whilst AllFacebook set out how to use it.

Secondly, something that third party tools weren’t ideally placed to provide – you can now assign different levels of admin roles, all the way from ‘Insight Analyst’ – someone who can’t make or comment on posts (other than as their own personal account) all the way up to Manager, with each subsequent level gaining the ability to comment, add posts and finally the ability to assign admin privileges to others. AllFacebook has the details.

The truth about Android vs iOS numbers

Are Google’s Android team leaning on their Analytics colleagues to present their numbers in the best possible light?

or: “Hey Google Analytics, play fair with your Mobile Operating System numbers!”

Google have been shouting about their impressive Android activation numbers for several quarters now (less so since the latest iPhone and iPad I notice). Yet they still need to lean on the Analytics team to present the Android numbers in the best possible light?

Notice how the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch are all regarded as separate ‘Operating Systems’ yet all the myriad devices that run Android (tablets, phones, media players, TVs and whatever else) are all included in that Android number.

And they’re still behind!

Android as a combined entity is still behind the iPhone on its own. What are you afraid of GOOG?

So what are all these Android users doing with their phones?

(Because let’s face it, nobody’s buying the tablets.) What they’re doing with them is exactly the same as what people did when buying feature phones: they took home the shiniest phone the salesperson in the mobile phone operator’s retail store or telesales department would give them for free. Then they’re using them for playing games and sending texts and making phone calls. The things they’re not doing with them: buying apps, buying music or browsing the web. These recent numbers from Adwords alternative Chitika bear that out.

Image credit: Robert Nelson via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Should I mobile optimise my website?

Google are really pushing mobile these days (no surprise as Android’s at least the third most popular mobile platform, based on the numbers across all my clients’ Google Analytics accounts, behind iPad and iPhone). So much so that they’ve teamed up with a third party to mobile-optimise your website. But do you need to?

Local business? Stop reading now and go make your site mobile friendly

If you’re a local business, one that people actually look up on their phone when they’re on their way to or want to call to make a reservation or check the menu/price list (I’m looking at you Flash-obsessed restaurant websites) then you absolutely need to have a mobile optimised website, regardless of the percentage of your visitors who are on mobile because they are the hottest prospects you’ve got – they’re headed your way and they just want help finding you.

For everyone else: it depends

Overestimating Mobile

The new interface of Google Analytics has a prominent new option – MOBILE – in the Audience section. There’s just one problem. The iPad, and myriad other copycat tablets, are all included in mobile. They might run ‘mobile’ operating systems but they’re not really that mobile. Most people use them at home, on the couch. Most websites, as long as they don’t make exclusive use of Flash or really bad javascript, will work fine on them and forcing a ‘mobile experience’ that’s optimised for a phone screen is often worse than serving up the full website. Why does this matter? Because when Google include tablets in the numbers for mobile, you’re getting incorrect info. The ‘tablets’ proportion of those mobile visits, across tens of thousands of visits across several of my clients, averages around 60%. That’s how much ‘mobile’ is being overstated by. Beware of numbers touting the huge increases in people ‘shopping on mobile’ – the majority are shopping on tablets, not phones, and as long as the desktop site works fine (no Flash, no rollover-dependent interface elements) there’s no pressing need to change.

So I can just sit tight?

Well no. You need to keep a close eye on the ‘real mobile’ segment and make sure that you’re not serving up an inaccessible website to any devices; phone, tablet or regular computer. Mobile, as a percentage of your audience, is creeping up, whoever you are. If you’ve got an ecommerce site, bear in mind that even if people don’t place orders via a web browser on their phone, they’re checking your prices. You owe it to all your users to serve up appropriate, optimised pages.

Image credit: Original image by Riggzy used under a Creative Commons Remix Licence

Are price comparison sites still relevant?

Whilst researching the relative costs and market share of UK price comparison websites for a client I used Google Trends for Websites (log in to your Google account to get actual numbers on the Y axis) to compare some of the big players.

The graph below tells a sorry tale. Even before March’s first Panda update, squarely aimed at aggregators, scrapers and middlemen, Google clearly had the long knives out for price comparison sites, demoting them in the search results, ousting them in place of their own Google Products/Shopping results.

Price Comparison Sites Google Trends Chart

If these numbers are to be believed, then the traffic to price comparison sites has dropped off a cliff. Whether price comparison websites are relevant or not depends on how much you’re paying per click (the usual way you’re charged for traffic from such site) and what your conversion rate is. If you’re still making money and it’s worth the effort of setting up and managing product feeds, paying the invoices and monitoring whether the traffic you do get is worth it, then yes. If you were looking at being listed on a price comparison site as a way to buy a boatload of traffic, then you may need to look elsewhere. And it’s no surprise that the elsewhere in question is Google’s own Adwords program.

Dear Facebook…

Facebook ConferenceQuit messing with the user experience and go after Google already!

Seriously, is this the best you’ve got?

You hold your annual conference, just a day or so after Google throws open the doors on Google+, aimed square at you, and all you fire back with are some changes to the news feed, a Twitter inspired subscribe feature, music sharing stuff, convincing some media sites to allow more of their content to appear within your walls, and a gaming platform update?

Man up and pick a real fight

In Q1 of 2011 Google generated $2.43 billion of revenue from their Adsense program, from which they paid $1.7 billion to Adsense publishers. Annualised, their profit on their Adsense business is nearly $3 billion. Facebook’s estimated ad revenue for the whole of 2011 is $3.8 billion. Getting a piece of that content-partner action could make a big difference to those numbers.

You know why Google are launching things left and right in a bid to create their own mass-adopted social network? It’s because they’re scared of Facebook, scared of the time people spend there, scared of how much Facebook knows about their users. They would LOVE to know everyone’s age and hometown and marital status. You know why they’d love to know it? So they can advertise to them. Google knows this is coming and that’s why we have Google+.

Instead of futzing around with the user experience, Facebook should go head to head with Google’s Adsense programme and show ads on partner sites, splitting revenue 70/30 (as it appears Google does, in general) with publishers. You can leave the fundamental Facebook experience alone for a while and nobody would complain – it’s only when you change things that people are up in arms about it. The one thing Facebook do surprisingly well is the advertising interface – it’s clean, straightforward and easy enough for small businesses to use self-serve to create ads. Just add a ‘content partners’ checkbox (but do make it opt-in, don’t want to appear ‘evil’ and opt people in without their consent – I’m looking at you, big G). Later you can add some refinements allowing advertisers to pick and choose the site their ads appear on but right now it’s not important.

People realise that Facebook know what websites they’re on – we’ve all seen the Like buttons that tell us how many of our friends like something, or the recent items liked and shared on Mashable or TechCrunch by our friends. At this point will anyone really care that the ads seem uncannily well targeted? Hey, Google are going for this exact thing with their behavioural targeting in Adwords.

Go all in

Don’t go at this half-assed like you did with Facebook Places and Deals, a nightmare to administer as a business owner, especially with multiple locations. Go for this with all your might. This is where you get to take Google down a peg or two, by taking the fight to them.

Maybe you will

Ben Parr of Mashable ‘has seen the future’ and apparently it changes everything. Maybe Facebook will step into Google’s territory or maybe it’s all going to be ’emotional’. Here’s hoping there’s more to it than that because right now everything Facebook has put out is weak sauce compared to the rocks Google has been slinging.

 

Image credit: Thos003 via Creative Commons on Flickr

Credit where its due

How to attribute credit to your brand building and offline efforts in Google Analytics

logosAn often mocked excuse given by non direct response advertising media and its proponents when charged that such advertising is wasteful is that the money spent on the ads ‘builds brand awareness’ or ‘improves brand recall’.

Did you know it’s actually pretty easy to measure that online? Instead of the credit going to ‘search’, where it’s far too easy to think that the traffic is down to online efforts such as SEO, you can measure the traffic coming from branded searches and direct web address type-ins.

What you need to do is set up an Advanced Segment, called “Brand Traffic” in Google Analytics that matches:

All organic traffic where the keyword is one of your brand terms

This is all the people typing in your brand search terms into Google, Bing et al. This is called a ‘navigational’ search. Don’t forget to include a keyword that matches your domain name, you’d be surprised by how many people get the location bar and the search box confused.

PLUS

All direct traffic

This is everyone who comes to your website from a bookmark, a link in email from a friend (unless they were using webmail client, then the referrer will be the domain that they were browsing on. If you want to get more specific about separating that traffic out, then add some more lines to your filter) or a link clicked from a twitter client rather than the twitter web site, when the link doesn’t have any utm parameters on it to reclassify the traffic.

There’s no such thing as 100% accuracy

One of the first things to accept about web analytics is that there’s no such thing as 100% accuracy. There will always be cases when things aren’t tracked properly but we’re not really looking for exact numbers, just a trend.

Watch your branded traffic trend

When you’re done with setting up this advanced segment you’ll have an idea of the change in time of your web traffic that is the result of your brand building efforts outside of search. Make sure you use the Annotations feature of Analytics to mark any big offline efforts you’re involved in.

 

Image credit: All my life’s logos by captcreate via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Finally some sense about Google Instant

When Google announced Google Instant yesterday, where the search results change as you type, some people proclaimed SEO dead, whilst displaying a stunning lack of understanding of how Google Instant works, how users interact with it and what SEO really is.

If you’re not getting Google Instant, you should check that you’re signed in and using Google.com or .co.uk. Other Google domains don’t appear to be enabled yet. If you’re using it and it bothers you, turn it off with a control to the right of the search box.

Here are three excellent explanations of why Google Instant is a GOOD THING for SEO, and far from the Extinction Level Event claimed, by people who really know their stuff. Google Instant didn’t come to bury SEO but to praise it.

If you’re curious as to the effect of Google Instant on your traffic here are a couple of howtos for segmenting out that traffic in Google Analytics – essentially you get to see the original query (e.g. “choco”) and the expanded query that Google displayed the results for (“chocolate”).

As an aside, anyone else amused by Google Instant coming on the heels of the Caffeine update?

Image credit: Roadside Pictures via Creative Commons on Flickr

Use WordPress? Feel a Need for Speed?

If you’re looking to take your WordPress site from slow-poke to Speedy Gonzalez, install WP Minify plugin.

Faster pussycat!Since Google have now been very public that site speed is a ranking factor, albeit a minor one, now is a good time to get testing your site’s speed.

I’ve been using Google’s Page Speed Firefox extension, you can also use YSlow from Yahoo. For either you’ll need to install Firebug first.

There are plenty of tutorials online for how to use these Firefox extensions, and each of them has built in suggestions and information on what it all means. Some of the suggestions can be a bit cryptic, also there’s a limit to how many of the suggestions you can implement (seriously, how do I ‘parallelize downloads’ by loading static files from different hosts and at the same time keep DNS requests to a minimum?).

Most of the suggestions (Enable compression, Leverage browser caching) can be handled using .htaccess rules, but some are a bit more involved.

This one’s a three-fer

Some of the suggestions would be a pain to implement manually but you can get at least 7-10 points closer to 100, using the WP Minify WordPress plugin. This marvellous bit of code will take care of the ‘Minify CSS’, ‘Combine external CSS’ and ‘Combine external JavaScript’ suggestions, on the fly too, and it’s just a case of turning it on.

Implementing this plugin, and a couple of .htaccess rules took this site to 86/100 according to Page Speed. The rest of the suggestions would be impractical to implement, requiring the use of a content delivery network that a personal blog like this wouldn’t warrant, and spending a lot of time rewriting CSS.

Image credit: heikof via Creative Commons on Flickr

Tighten up your PPC strategy

Many small businesses love Google’s self-serve Adwords programme. Just sign up, create an ad, choose some keywords or let Google choose them for you, get traffic, pay the invoice.

Not so fast!
That’s all nice and simple but there are a few things you could be doing to make sure you’re getting the maximum juice from the squeeze.

Google is your friend. Sort of.
Google wants you to get some traffic, Google even provide you with tools to measure that traffic optimally. They even push you to do the most you can with the traffic you’re paying for, but the last thing Google are going to do is voluntarily reduce the amount of revenue they make.

It’s all about the conversions
If you’re not paying attention to the conversions (whether that is orders or leads) that you get from your Adwords spend, you need to, right now. You can track things internally if you like – assuming your content management system’s lead forms or your e-commerce platform show you all the ways someone got to your site (for extra credit, not just last-click tracking too). If that’s not possible, Adwords provides conversion tracking for you. You set up a conversion, add a bit of javascript to the conversion page (final page of checkout or contact form sent page) and you’re done. Conversions will be tracked right down to the campaign, ad group, ad variation and keyword that brought you the sale or lead. Once you know what’s working, do more of that, and less of the keywords and ad variations that are bleeding you dry.

Coming in to land
Landing Pages are REALLY important. Seriously, so important that I’m going to say it again. REALLY IMPORTANT. Got it? Good, let’s move on.

A landing page is, very simply, the page that the user arrives at immediately after clicking on your Adwords ad. Your ad is a highly targeted ad for blue widgets. Do you bring the user to…

  1. your home page
  2. the contact us page
  3. a page about blue widgets, with a ‘buy blue widgets now’ button and a ‘contact us if you want to know anything more about blue widgets’ button

Is it 3?
Well done. Gold star. Bringing the user to anywhere that creates a disconnect between what they searched on and what is on the page is a bad idea for two reasons.
1) Google checks the quality of your landing page – that thing it does with the animated abacus when you enter your destination URL? It’s checking two things – one, that your destination URL exists and two – what’s on it. It also re-checks periodically in case you’ve changed it. Google uses the content of your landing page, and the behaviour of people who have clicked on your ad to determine a quality score. A higher quality score equals a lower cost per click.
2) Users don’t like having to work out where to go to find the information you were promising them. You have mere seconds to impress a visitor.

Apple and Pears
Imagine you’re at a market. You hear a stallholder shouting ‘lovely golden delicious apples, get ’em here, two euros a kilo’. You’re shopping for apples anyway so you go over to his stall, except he’s gone, and you can’t see the apples. Do you stick around, or go to another seller? Now why would you want to do exactly that to someone on the web?

Sure, it takes time, and sometimes money, to craft landing pages for every ad you want to run on Adwords but if you don’t do everything you can to get every click to convert, you’re wasting your money, and you end up chalking your Adwords spend down as some kind of Google Tax, where it’s your way of paying them for all that organic traffic they bring you.

For some quality tips on landing page design, read this from SEOmoz. If you’re having problems optimising your pay-per-click strategy, get in touch and I’ll let you know how I can help.

Image Credit: Paolo Camera via Creative Commons on Flickr

What privacy? You’re all for sale

tentaclesThat’s the message we take from this weeks various privacy issues, from Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent comments to Facebook’s ‘new, simpler privacy settings’ where they recommend you open your Facebook status updates to the world.

The Google situation is expertly summed up in this long, all-encompassing and very brave post by Aaron Wall highlighting Google’s hypocrisy when it comes to privacy (and others intellectual property for that matter). This is immensely brave because he’s an SEO expert, he has to ‘work’ with Google all the time. As Google’s ranking parameters get broader, Aaron exposes himself to censure by the big G.

Dan York examines the Facebook privacy changes over on his Disruptive Conversations blog.

Read both of these for background, they’re the two best blog posts I’ve read all week (and I read a lot, so you don’t have to).

My take on the Google situation is that their latest moves are just some of the more obvious steps they’re taking on the road to monetizing everything that you do.

8 out of 10 cats
Personalised search, so that if you ‘express a preference’ for results from a couple of websites when you search, those sites float to the top, isn’t intended to make your life easier. There may be more relevant results that don’t get shown because you’ve previously been to other sites that were amongst the found set for that query. You miss out on a new, maybe more appropriate result. How does a new player in a market break into your preference for shopping for music at HMV, Play or Amazon? They advertise of course. Google are moving away from ‘create great content’ to get to the top of the organic results to entrenching the position of incumbents. The strange thing is they could have presented the ‘results from sites you go to a lot’ as another section of the page or a ‘mode’ but that would have tipped too many people off to the fact that Google was watching them, whether they’d logged in or not.

The jealous older brother
Facebook’s move to hoodwink nudge people into opening up their status updates to the whole world has nothing to do with simplifying privacy and everything to do with their envy of Twitter. With Twitter’s recent deals to give Google and Bing access to the ‘firehose’ and the attendant press coverage, Facebook is like the jealous older brother sulking in his room when it’s his sibling’s birthday and all the relatives are round, showering little Timmy with gifts and attention.

Here’s the thing – Twitter was never meant to be private – sure you can set your account up so that nobody can follow you until you approve them. Almost nobody is using it that way, that’s just not the point of Twitter. This is why Twitter has become so important amongst brands – monitor for mentions, participate in conversations.

Brands have better and deeper engagement tools on Facebook, but that’s not enough; Facebook want their 350m users to be available to marketers in the same way that Twitter users are. Facebook users didn’t sign up for that though. They don’t want or expect to be ‘listened to’. Facebook is a walled garden, with adverts confined to subtle, easily ignored elements in the sidebar. Facebook need to get over their Twitter envy and work out better ways to monetise than attempting to gull their users into opening up more than they ought.

It all comes down to money

In both cases these aren’t moves to make the user’s life better or easier, they are ways for companies to monetise their visitors. Don’t hold it against them – Google is a company, not your friend. They have shareholders, those shareholders expect growth every quarter. You don’t grow like Google has without upsetting some people. First it was other search engines, then advertisers, then publishers, finally the next pips to be squeezed are the users. As a user all you can do is take it under advisement that Google don’t have your best interests at heart.

Facebook wants attention, it is privately held but doing everything possible to increase the valuation for when they do go public. Attention is how you do that. Twitter has attention, Facebook want some, so Facebook think copying Twitter is how you get it. Childish really but there you go.

Image credit: brunkfordbraun via Creative Commons on Flickr.