Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Facebook's new Like alternatives present brands with measurement problems

I like to warn brands – be careful what you measure as you tend to get it. An example of this would be brands who optimise their Facebook activities around the number of Likes they get. A Like is rarely a meaningful business objective. Facebook strategies can still be shaped in order to boost the number of Likes, though, sometimes at the expensive of better objectives.

But at least a Like is a countable, understandable and comparable metric. A post that scored 100 Likes was liked twice as much as a post that scored only 50.

This means Facebook’s new range of responses: Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry will present some brands with measurement problems. Does a Love count the same, or more, than a Like? Should a Sad subtract from the total?

Each reaction is still an engagement. Perhaps Sad is the correct response to a post designed to pull on the heartstrings.

We don’t yet know how Facebook’s algorithm will respond to the data that the new reactions generate. Currently, Facebook rewards posts with exposure if their engagement metrics are good. Will that change if Facebook’s algorithm notices that people who have to rate posts with Sad tend to spend less time on the platform?

It's hard to measure if we don’t know the value of beans we’re counting. It’s even harder to strategize if we don’t know the effect.

My advice, as always, is to think like a publisher.

Your goal is to grow your business; to get more from less while making sure you’re future proofed. Connect with potential audiences and grow their ranks. Your audience will include potential customers, advocates, SEO signal generators and, of course, current customers. Your Facebook strategy should be all about monetising the relationship you have with that audience, which means being useful to them, while sticking to your brand’s ethos.

While Facebook begins to study how today's rollout of new reactions means for the algorithm – so should you. This will likely mean doing your own analysis and, the scary part, it will mean producing content to explore the 6-wide new range of response emotions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Google's big changes mean you should review your affiliate PPC strategy

A big piece of news this week is Google dropping right rail ads for desktop and moving to sit above the organic results only. In a bit I’m going to explain why this means brands should re-visit their affiliate tactics.

In addition, for some competitive query there may be as many as four PPC ads at the top of the page.

As you might imagine there been plenty of discussion about this. Clients want to know what this means for PPC campaigns. Agencies are sharing their viewpoints. Rightly so.

I’m not going to use this blog post to dig into the PPC discussion. The summaries agencies and pundits are producing pretty much agree; competition for fewer spots means higher prices so the usual tactics of finding out exactly which keywords to target and refine are even more important. The main disagreement from agencies seems to be whether this is a good, long term, decision that helps align desktop with mobile, or a bad idea.

There’s also been chat about what this means for SEO. It’ll certainly influence clickthrough rates for organic positions. The more expensive the PPC and the harder it is to appear on the first page means that SEO success becomes even more attractive. It may also be the case that for some queries there’s above the fold real estate for organic results. Overall; let’s call this a score draw for SEO.

Google’s own advice to websites is not to load the top of the page with ads. Let the jokes fly.

I’m yet to see much discussion on what the changes mean to affiliate marketing. I think, for some brands, this change represents a huge opportunity and therefore a challenge.

The default affiliate strategy these days is not to allow affiliates to bid on brand terms, on related terms or straight through to the merchant’s site. Affiliates have to build their own niche sites, that aren’t anything like a merchant’s site, and look for matching niche keywords to bid on. Coupons and voucher codes grew from niches into a huge industry.

There are other strategies though.

Search term domination
Affiliates can be used by brands to dominate the PPC results. Imagine you’ve a brand and two affiliates, driving traffic to allied sites, bidding on key brand hybrid terms. In Google’s old PPC landscape that wouldn’t have filled up all the paid search results. In the new PPC landscape that could (add one extra affiliate to make sure).

Further supporting this approach is the news that Google will shutdown Google Compare in a month. This removes one of the ways competitors could get some of their financial products in through your PPC wall of domination.

Cost optimisation
This is very much in the test and learn category. Usually, an analysis of whether it makes sense to let affiliates bid on key terms (especially brand or brand hybrid) comes to conclusion that it is not cost effective. Letting the affiliates in simply increases the action in the auction and therefore pushes prices up.

Will this be the case in the new limited space auction? It might be that the bid prices competitors are coming in with are above that of affiliates. If so then letting affiliates in won’t affect your bid price, if you’re determined to have a winning placement, but might act as a secondary catchment.

Performance PPC
On the far end of the ‘cost optimisation’ model is to run a brand’s PPC campaign entirely as a performance model/affiliate deal with an agency. The agency is paid a commission based on profit rather than a management fee.

Performance deals tend to be most popular with brands when it is hard for them to run a profitable PPC campaign in-house and when it doesn’t make sense to look for economies of scale by awarding a media agency combined PPC, display and other biddable media responsibilities.

If Google’s new PPC landscape makes it very hard to make a margin on PPC in some verticals then brands may well start to look around again for purely performance-based partnerships.

Double check brand bidding
By now, hopefully, most brands have a schedule for testing and re-testing whether brand bidding, along with core keywords, makes sense or whether the approach is just cannibalising PPC.

Google’s changes means that the testing schedule for this needs to be moved forwards. Competitors will be changing their strategy and affiliates, yours and theirs, will be changing their strategies. It’s a new world. Double check the basics.

What's your take on the new PPC world order? How do you think strategies will change?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What is influencer marketing?

I remember debating with an agency-side Head of Social whether influencers really existed. She thought not. I thought so. However, even as I made my case I agreed with many of her points; there’s a big difference between reach and influence.

For example; I followed Kanye West’s Twitter rant this week, it reached me even though I’d normally have nothing to do with the guy, but he’s not one of my influencers.

Influencer marketing, I argue, is essentially another spin off from “press relations” and like SEO it should have been owned by the PR industry, it isn’t because it’s heavily digital, and instead is used mainly by SEO, content marketing and social agencies.

So, what is it? I think we’re all publishers now which means it isn’t just newspapers, magazines and traditional media outlets that can reach audiences nor is influence the preserve of those channels. Today, celebrities, bloggers, community owners and curators are all capable of influence.

Influence doesn’t always manifest as encouragement to buy product. Today’s influence might simply be used to generate clicks and valuable impressions, it might spark conversation which could lead to increased social clout or additional editorial coverage, perhaps links, for SEO value.

Influencers are generally approached to help promote a story. A common tactic is to get the influencer involved in the story thus giving them and any loyal audience skin in the game.

Influencer marketing is easy to talk about but hard to get right. You can spend a lot of money for very little in return or you can spend a little and unlock great value.

This post is inspired by the news that Bloglovin’ has bought Sverve. I knew both companies.

I never got into Sverve, I don’t think, as a blogger. I looked at it but couldn’t quite reassure myself that they had the scale and pitch quite right but always felt they were nearly there. Being bought by Bloglovin’ might be exactly what they needed to push over the success line.

I’ve mixed feelings about Bloglovin’. I love the community, didn’t need the RSS reader alternative and corrupted the follower count system.

Let me explain the latter. The number of people following your blog on Bloglovin’ (the RSS reader alternative) is public. The more you have the more popular your blog looks. My problem with that comes from my agency experience; most of the people who use Bloglovin’ are other bloggers. The Bloglovin’ follower count simply measures the echo chamber.

In some cases I think it makes sense to subtract the amount of Bloglovin’ followers a fashion or lifestyle blogger has from their Twitter or Facebook followers, for example, in order to get a better feeling for what their natural audience size is (sans fellow bloggers).

The new platform, replacing Sverve, is called Activate by Bloglovin’. Let’s hope it doesn’t lean too heavily on Bloglovin’ echo chamber metrics.

I think the match up is a good one. I bet Bloglovin was frequently approached by brands and agencies looking to do some influencer marketing. With Sverve/Activate by Bloglovin’ in place they’re better able to handle those requests and turn a profit.

Hopefully Bloglovin’s awareness of what bloggers are writing about (trending posts is already a thing in their platform) can combine nicely with Sverve’s own influence metrics and the new platform can really help identify a range of influencers (small to large) and empower people to pitch them safely and effectively.

The proof is in the pudding; I've signed up to see how things go.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees

The UK has a search engine called Everyclick, that’s powered by Yahoo, and raises money for charity. Thanks to Everyclick I’m familiar with the concept and challenges of third sector search engines.

That’s why Ecosia caught my attention. As I search and click (interacting with income generating ads is key) it earns money and then donates that to tree planting progams.

Ecosia has planted over 3 million trees in this way. That’s about one every 12 seconds.

Bing powers Ecosia’s first page. It’s a good test of search relevancy. Without familiar logos you might well wonder whether you’re looking at Google results.

As it happens, Ecosia has a Google tab and the search engine has become a new favourite way to compare Bing to Google results. I’ve planted 5 trees with it.

Is there a catch? I noticed Ecosia wasn’t registered as a charity and asked founder Christian Kroll about that.

We believe in the power of social business. Instead of only trying to maximize our profits, we try to maximize the number of trees we can plant in the long term. We make this very transparent by publishing all our donation receipts and monthly business reports. As a social business we have the possibility to scale and generate more revenue to donate than we would as a charity. Thanks to its business model, Ecosia has been cash flow positive from the beginning. There is a lot of money in search advertising and we want to make use of that so people can do good without any further costs or effort on their side. We've already been very successful with this in the past, as the number of trees we've been able to finance, shows. Our next goal is to exponentially grow our number of users, so we can reforest the planet even faster.

So is Ecosia just an oddity and of interest to digital marketing geeks like myself? Perhaps not. The search engine’s market share is tiny but growing. Kroll was able to provide me with some stats;

Our worldwide market share might be miniscule compared to a monopolist like Google, but 10% of all non-Google users in the DACH region use Ecosia. This percentage is currently quite noticeably growing in other regions, too. Especially in the UK, probably due to Google's tax situation. The fact that users now change to Ecosia shows us, that the future belongs to tools that capitalize on a daily habit to offer an additional social or environmental benefit.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A world first? Human virus downgrades computer game

We know about computer viruses messing up computer games but now we have a human virus, which is far more serious, also being able to impact on games. I think this is a sign of the times and an indicator of just how culture is being interwoven with technology.

The game in question once belonged to Google but spun out last year, raising funds on the way. That’s almost unheard of, right? Google just shuts down companies it owns but doesn’t want any more. They didn’t even sell the Google Affiliate Network (once part of DoubleClick). They just closed it.

Niantic Lab’s Ingress is different. It left Google and then got funded by Google and other backers like the Pokemon Company.

Ingress is also a different sort of computer game than you might be expecting. It’s a smartphone game that requires you to get off the sofa and roam around your city to play. I’d call it an augmented reality game since it’s a virtual overlay, using your location data, on the real world.

In Ingress there are two factions fighting for the future of mankind. There’s the Enlightened (in green) who want to harness a mysterious alien energy and help humanity grow. There’s the Resistance (in blue) who recruit agents by claiming the mysterious alien energy (and the unseen aliens) are dangerous and should be opposed but who have now been exposed, in the game’s three year plot, as actually working for a second alien faction all along. Traitors. Yeah, it’s a twisty plot but there’s a summary video at the end of this post.

The rivalry between the two factions is significant because Niantic organise large clashes, twice a year, known as Anomalies. One of the main Anomalies this year was supposed to be in Rio. This is the same Rio that’s supposed to be having the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This week Niantic downgraded the Rio event and moved the main clash of factions to Seattle. This makes sense; Ingress is a game where you have to physically be in the right location to play and an Anomaly in Rio would mean players from around the world (and 14 million people have downloaded the game; millions play every month) would have to travel to Brazil.

In a Google+ update Niantic said;

... due to escalating concerns by the World Health Organization regarding the Zika virus, and the challenges it presents, the #Obsidian Rio event has been reclassified as a Satellite Flash Shard anomaly. The new Primary city for the events occurring on 27 FEB will be Seattle …

In other words; as Ingress blends reality with gameplay an event in Rio would mean exposing computer game players to the Zika virus.

I think this may be a first. In the future I think we’ll see more real world and augmented reality clashes where events in one affect decisions in the other.

If you’re interested in joining Ingress, helping the Enlightened fight for choice and turning your daily commute into a game then scribble your email down here and I’ll get in touch.

Monday, February 01, 2016

What's Next ... In Media

DigitasLBi’s “What’s Next” phrase isn’t supposed to be used as a question; it’s supposed to be used in the context of digital transformation and those agencies that can help brands achieve that.

But I like using it as a question. I like questions. Asking questions is what keeps us savvy, keeps our heads up and eyes open while we predict what’s next rather than just try and cope with it when it comes.

Thankfully, the "What’s Next ... In Media" day we held in London last week raised lots of questions. Here’s a quick video summary.

Lots of high profile and intelligent speakers. I was very pleased to see a mix of publishers and brands. I’m an advocate of thinking like a publisher. This is not because I’ve a content marketing proposition to sell but because brands have no choice. Brands are now publishers whether they like it or not.

I think Anna Watkins, the MD of Guardian Labs, made some great points. Many years ago I once called the combination of anchor text -> title tag -> h1 the holy trinity. Those days are long gone. Anna uses the phrase to describe the need for world class content, technology to help distribute at scale and data to target the right audience.

In particular, I was interested in the challenge around “cut through”. How do you get noticed when everyone else is doing the same thing? This is the media challenge. This is the point of media – creating value from your assets by connecting with audiences. Branded communications, publishing and media campaigns (paid or earned) the overlap is huge.

Anna said there’s almost an obesity crisis when it comes to creating content. Branded content marketers may have a harder job than journalists (I’d suggest they’re less trusted, certainly).

I think this “cut through” challenge is both “What’s Now” and “What’s Next” in media.