Thursday, January 27, 2011

Which sectors will be impacted the most by the ASA's new digital remit?

I spent this morning with the ASA with other brands and marketers discussing the extension of the CAP's remit into websites and digital marketing. You may have already seen the ASA’s poster campaign which highlights to people they’ll shortly be able to complain about misleading websites. That's what's going to happen; in March the authorities will be taking a much closer look at what marketers and brands are doing online.

I’ve already written a piece for Econsultancy that highlights it is possible the ASA will investigate techniques deployed for SEO reasons. For example, undisclosed commercial agreements which make recommendations or make it seem as if a blogger is sharing their opinion when it’s really a script or text provided by an agency will be in remit. Those “recommended links” sidebars will become minefields in March.

Perhaps what I didn’t highlight enough, given the confusion in the comments below the Econsultancy post, is that the ASA aren’t going to do anything daft like try and crawl or police the web for breaches of the rules. In fact, the CAP and ASA are being very level headed and reasonable about the whole expanded remit. The ASA make use of a complaint led process. Once a consumer complains then they’ll investigate. The Office of Fair Trading, however, is more likely to take a pro-active interest on areas that concern them – sponsored tweets being a key case in point.

The ASA’s data shows that people tend to complain about different things when it comes to the web and compared to TV. People tend to complain about taste and decency when it comes to TV ads. If people think that scaring kids with stories about drowning pets as a way to warn people about climate change is a step too far then they complain to the ASA. That doesn’t tend to happen to the content people consume on the web.

People tend to complain about misleading claims and prices when it comes to the web. If a PPC ad claims “Flights from £32” and then you discover it costs an extra £10 to book online, £5 extra to use a credit card, £50 for flight tax and £10 to bring a bag then they tend to complain to the ASA. The ASA’s been able to investigate PPC ads like that for quite some time.

The new remit, which comes into place in March, means that a webpage that says “Flights from £32” will be in scope. The claim made on the site gets the same treatment.

Retailer and vendors will have to think carefully about the images and text they include on their product pages. If a product picture makes you think the action figures come with the playset but, actually, you have to buy them separately then you may get complaints and the ASA may start to investigate.

I’ve got some graphs provided by the CAP on the complaints they investigated December 2009 to 2010 last year.

This next graph shows the complaints that came in last year but where deemed to be outside the old remit. These are the complaints that may well be inside the new remit.

Compare and contrast that to the cases they had to turn away. Categories like “Computers and Broadband” are much higher. Broadband speed claims will be a thorny issue.

The “Holiday” sector also picks up a bit. I’m certain the way many travel companies structure their pricing increments are the main reason for this.

I think this is a “time will tell” issue as it’s hard to guess just how the ASA’s advertising campaign will impact on consumer behaviour. It may well be that only a similar number of complaints come in this year. However, it’s also possible that come March extra hundreds of people are contacting the ASA with grumbles about misleading information they’ve spotted online either on sites, mobile apps or ads.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Will social signals save Google from content farms?

Image representing Demand Media as depicted in...Image via CrunchBaseGoogle’s blog post on the status of its search quality has not gone unnoticed. Two good articles to read are Tim Bradshaw’s at the FT and Patricio Robles at Econsultancy.

Both articles point out the impending Demand Media IPO and wonder what this means for the firm. You see, in Matt’s Google post he put the spot light on “content farms”. That’s exactly what many people consider Demand Media to be.

Some of the people who dislike the Demand Media approach prefer blog posts, articles and other website content to be expertly handcrafted by a well paid journalist. Or, if not that, they want the content to come from an enterprising and genuine blogger. The idea that a faceless corporate entity generates content to vacuum up search traffic is one that upsets them.

There are also concerns about the quality of the content. Quality, though, is hard to measure. It’s subjective.

Google already has patent applications discussing quality signals in this area. One patent suggests that blogs publishing at exactly the same minute every day could be giving off a negative quality signal. The same patent application points out that blogs publishing exactly the same size of posts could also be considered as having characteristics that would warrant negative quality signals.

Two easy examples - albeit given up for public examination in the patent doc. Being able to determine hand written and valued content from hand written and farmed content will be significantly harder.

One theory is that Google will turn to social signals to help sort the farmed content from the organically grown content plucked from the vines of care and consideration.

For example, a niche blogger might blog several times a week and associate the blog with a similarly named Twitter account. The Twitter account might generate a handful of retweets throughout the week. The blog might also pick a up a comment or two. That gives Google a ratio. A big blog like Mashable or TechCrunch posts many more times during the week (dozens each day), has a Twitter account (at least one) with thousands of followers and will generate thousands of retweets and comments. That gives Google another ratio.

A site using content farms, without the same social quality signals as a newspaper or recognised blog, might be more inclined to produce a volume of content similar to the big blog but might only have the interaction, recognition or importance of the small blog. That’s the ratio Google could look to help raise suspicious the content is coming from a cheap source, ie, a content farm.

I’m not sure this is terrible news. It’ll certainly encourage all shapes and sizes of publishers to write for the human (not the spider) and really work on their audience interaction. It is, however, just one theory and one possible approach Google could take. In all reality a blended approach is more likely.

It may be a challenge that Google will score twice on if it wins. Once you've worked out a way to recognise "farmed contenet" then it's an easy step to treating links and other signals from that content differently.

I do wonder how you can determine the difference between farmed content and bought content. I’ve not seen anyone suggest that content from someone like the Press Association counts as “farmed” and yet the Press Association certainly has a content creation arm. It’s a group that advertises at some digital marketing events.

I’m not dismissing this challenge as Google’s challenge either. Google’s challenges effect us all in digital marketing. This latest push will affect everyone from big brands we’re currently building a fabulous web site for all the way through to a long tail affiliate we’re helping produce content for. The emphasis really will be on digital marketers to understand what sort of content Google likes and how to integrate that into a marketing plan at a cost effective level.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

LBi creative talent: Brawling billboard case study

I had the chance to catch up with some of the recent creative initiatives that have burst forth from the beating heart of LBi London. It was an interesting experience!

In particular, I wanted to share this one video because the whole project was done entirely for charity. It also answers that very common and popular question. "Who would win in a fight? A banker or an agency-type?".

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Google's relevancy challenge for translated foreign pages

Google has a pretty neat ability to let you restrict your search to translated foreign pages. For example, check out this result for [DNS].

It's not a feature that's used by English language searchers very often but it's used more heavily by power searchers in Europe and the Middle East.

It presents an unique relevancy challenge to Google. For a start, which language tops the search results? Is a page translated from German going to be any more relevant for a search of [BMW] than a page translated from French?

The screen grab below also shows the entire top set of results dominated by Wikipedia. Is someone searching for information about DNS really interested in reading four different versions of UGC content about DNS? Or just one version of Wikipedia (which one?) be listed before an alternative authority is suggested by Google?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Your media versus the Joanna Yeates murder investigation

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 27:  The family of...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeIf you're in the UK you'll have heard about the tragic murder of the Joanna Yeates. You’ll have heard that her landlord was questioned over the case, most likely as well.

So where does that leave the UK legal system? Would you now be disqualified from being a member of the jury? If you have an opinion on the case then you should be. For example, if you suspect the landlord did it - then you're not a valid choice as a member of the jury.

There’s such a thing as the Contempt of Court Act (for English law) which is supposed to make it an offence to publish anything that would jeopardise a fair future trial. The police don’t think the media have been following this very well in the Joanna Yeates case.

It is alleged that ITN were banned from a press conference about the investigation by the police.

ITN have said that this is an “attempt to censor what information we can broadcast”.

Avon and Somerset police have complained to Ofcom over a broadcast ITN made that criticised the investigation.

ITN are hardly alone in pushing the boundaries of what might “endanger a future fair trial” though. For example, the Daily Mail ran an article titled "We thought ‘nutty professor’ was gay, say ex-pupils". The article then goes on to suggest that men would be a more likely target of a sex attack from the landlord than a woman.

These comments come from the media. In the UK where a non-journalist can go to jail for tweeting about Robin Hood airport we need to think about what social media coverage of the murder and investigation might mean in the legal sense too.

Have you tweeted about Joanna Yeates? Have you read a tweet about the murder and investigation? Would that tweet be considered Contempt of Court? Maybe.

It strikes me that we're approaching a tipping point for social media. Whether it's the ASA responding to complaints about online content, the police worried about the spread of information (or false information) or even the legal system coming down heavily on individual users I suspect we'll hear a lot more of this in 2011.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The growth of QR codes

I think Audi took the phrase "QR codes are getting really big" rather literally.

I'm not complaining though as the result is a quirky, simple but effective ad. I've not tried to scan their QR with my phone yet. Rather nicely, I don't have to as the ad shows me what should/could/might happen.

Disclaimer: Entirely free and unprompted blog post